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History > U.S. History > 19th Century

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Before They Could Vote Cover

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Before They Could Vote

American Women's Autobiographical Writing, 1819–1919

Edited by Sidonie A. Smith and Julia Watson

The life narratives in this collection are by ethnically diverse women of energy and ambition—some well known, some forgotten over generations—who confronted barriers of gender, class, race, and sexual difference as they pursued or adapted to adventurous new lives in a rapidly changing America. The engaging selections—from captivity narratives to letters, manifestos, criminal confessions, and childhood sketches—span a hundred years in which women increasingly asserted themselves publicly. Some rose to positions of prominence as writers, activists, and artists; some sought education or wrote to support themselves and their families; some transgressed social norms in search of new possibilities. Each woman’s story is strikingly individual, yet the brief narratives in this anthology collectively chart bold new visions of women’s agency.

Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House Cover

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Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House

Elizabeth Keckley

###Behind the Scenes# is the life story of Elizabeth Keckley, a shrewd entrepreneur who, while enslaved, raised enough money to purchase freedom for herself and her son. Keckley moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a seamstress and dressmaker for the wives of influential politicians. She eventually became a close confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln. Several years after President Lincoln's assassination, when Mrs. Lincoln's financial situation had worsened, Keckley helped organize an auction of the former first lady's dresses, eliciting strong criticism from members of the Washington elite. ###Behind the Scenes# is, therefore, both a slave narrative and Keckley's attempt to defend the motives behind the auction. However, the book's publication prompted an even greater public outcry, with the added racial subtext of white society's disdain for Keckley's audacity in publishing details of the Lincolns' private lives. Keckley's dressmaking business failed, the Lincoln family cut all ties with her, and she lived out her final days in a home for the indigent. Scholars have acknowledged the book's valuable account of slave life as well as its intimate view into the Lincoln White House. Biographers of the Lincolns have quoted extensively from Keckley's text.

The Best Specimen of a Tyrant Cover

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The Best Specimen of a Tyrant

The Ambitious Dr. Abraham Van Norstrand and the Wisconsin Insane Hospital

Thomas Doherty

In 1847, young Dr. Abraham Van Norstrand left Vermont to seek his fortune in the West, but in Wisconsin his business ventures failed, and a medical practice among hard-up settlers added little to his pocketbook. During the Civil War he organized and ran one of the army’s biggest hospitals but resigned when dark rumors surfaced about him. Back home, he accepted with mixed feelings the one prestigious position available to him: superintendent of the state’s first hospital for the insane.
            Van Norstrand was a newcomer to the so-called “Hospital Movement,” perhaps the boldest public policy innovation of its time, one whose leaders believed that they could achieve what had long been regarded as impossible, to cure the insane. He was a driven man with scant sympathy for those he considered misfits or malingerers. Even so, early observers were impressed with his energetic, take-charge manner at the hospital. Here at last was a man who stood firm where his predecessors had weakened and foundered. But others began to detect a different side to this tireless ruler and adroit politician. It was said that he assaulted patients and served them tainted food purchased with state money from his own grocery store. Was he exploiting the weak for personal gain or making the best of a thankless situation? Out of this fog of suspicion emerged a moral crusader and—to all appearances—pristine do-gooder named Samuel Hastings, a man whose righteous fury, once aroused, proved equal to Van Norstrand’s own.
            The story of Abraham Van Norstrand’s rise and fall is also the story of the clash between the great expectations and hard choices that have bedeviled public mental hospitals from the beginning. 

Birch Coulie Cover

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Birch Coulie

The Epic Battle of the Dakota War

John Christgau

Black Cadet in a White Bastion Cover

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Black Cadet in a White Bastion

Charles Young at West Point

Brian G. Shellum

Born in slavery, Charles Young (1864–1922) was the third black graduate of West Point, the first black U.S. military attaché, and the highest-ranking black officer in the Regular Army until his death. Unlike the two black graduates before him, Young went on to a long military career, eventually achieving the rank of colonel. After Young, racial intolerance closed the door to blacks at the academy, and forty-seven years passed before another African American graduated from West Point.

Brian G. Shellum’s biography of Young’s years at West Point chronicles the enormous challenges that Young faced and provides a valuable window into life at West Point in the 1880s. Academic difficulties, hazing, and social ostracism dogged him throughout his academy years. He succeeded through a combination of focused intellect, hard work, and a sense of humor. By graduation, he had made white friends, and his motivation and determination had won him the grudging respect of many of his classmates and professors.

Until now, scholars of African American and military history have neglected this important U.S. Army trailblazer. Young’s experiences at the U.S. Military Academy, his triumph over adversity, and his commitment to success forged the mold for his future achievements as an Army officer, even as the United States slipped further into the degradation and waste of racial intolerance.

Black Elk Speaks Cover

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Black Elk Speaks

The Complete Edition

John G. Neihardt

Black Elk Speaks, the story of the Oglala Lakota visionary and healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863–1950) and his people during momentous twilight years of the nineteenth century, offers readers much more than a precious glimpse of a vanished time. Black Elk’s searing visions of the unity of humanity and Earth, conveyed by John G. Neihardt, have made this book a classic that crosses multiple genres. Whether appreciated as the poignant tale of a Lakota life, as a history of a Native nation, or as an enduring spiritual testament, Black Elk Speaks is unforgettable.

 

Black Elk met the distinguished poet, writer, and critic John G. Neihardt in 1930 on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and asked Neihardt to share his story with the world. Neihardt understood and conveyed Black Elk’s experiences in this powerful and inspirational message for all humankind.

 

This complete edition features a new introduction by historian Philip J. Deloria and annotations of Black Elk’s story by renowned Lakota scholar Raymond J. DeMallie. Three essays by John G. Neihardt provide background on this landmark work along with pieces by Vine Deloria Jr., Raymond J. DeMallie, Alexis Petri, and Lori Utecht. Maps, original illustrations by Standing Bear, and a set of appendixes rounds out the edition.

 

Black Flag Boricuas Cover

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Black Flag Boricuas

Anarchism, Antiauthoritarianism, and the Left in Puerto Rico, 1897-1921

Kirwin R. Shaffer

This pathbreaking study examines the radical Left in Puerto Rico from the final years of Spanish colonial rule into the 1920s. Positioning Puerto Rico within the context of a regional anarchist network that stretched from Puerto Rico and Cuba to Tampa, Florida, and New York City, Kirwin R. Shaffer illustrates how anarchists linked their struggle to the broader international anarchist struggles against religion, governments, and industrial capitalism. Their groups, speeches, and press accounts--as well as the newspapers that they published--were central in helping to develop an anarchist vision for Puerto Ricans at a time when the island was a political no-man's-land, neither an official U.S. colony or state nor an independent country.

Black Legislators in Louisiana during Recontruction Cover

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Black Legislators in Louisiana during Recontruction

Charles Vincent

Concentrating on the performance and presence of blacks in the Louisiana legislature from the Civil War through Reconstruction, Vincent shows that although black legislators were a minority, they were not powerless.

Black Walden Cover

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Black Walden

Slavery and Its Aftermath in Concord, Massachusetts

By Elise Lemire

Concord, Massachusetts, has long been heralded as the birthplace of American liberty and American letters. It was here that the first military engagement of the Revolutionary War was fought and here that Thoreau came to "live deliberately" on the shores of Walden Pond. Between the Revolution and the settlement of the little cabin with the bean rows, however, Walden Woods was home to several generations of freed slaves and their children. Living on the fringes of society, they attempted to pursue lives of freedom, promised by the rhetoric of the Revolution, and yet withheld by the practice of racism. Thoreau was all but alone in his attempt "to conjure up the former occupants of these woods." Other than the chapter he devoted to them in Walden, the history of slavery in Concord has been all but forgotten.

In Black Walden: Slavery and Its Aftermath in Concord, Massachusetts, Elise Lemire brings to life the former slaves of Walden Woods and the men and women who held them in bondage during the eighteenth century. After charting the rise of Concord slaveholder John Cuming, Black Walden follows the struggles of Cuming's slave, Brister, as he attempts to build a life for himself after thirty-five years of enslavement. Brister Freeman, as he came to call himself, and other of the town's slaves were able to leverage the political tensions that fueled the American Revolution and force their owners into relinquishing them. Once emancipated, however, the former slaves were permitted to squat on only the most remote and infertile places. Walden Woods was one of them. Here, Freeman and his neighbors farmed, spun linen, made baskets, told fortunes, and otherwise tried to survive in spite of poverty and harassment.

Today Walden Woods is preserved as a place for visitors to commune with nature. Lemire, who grew up two miles from Walden Pond, reminds us that this was a black space before it was an internationally known green space. Black Walden preserves the legacy of the people who strove against all odds to overcome slavery and segregation.

Bodies of Reform Cover

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Bodies of Reform

The Rhetoric of Character in Gilded Age America

James Salazar, 0, 0

“James Salazar takes the term ‘character’—pervasive and elusive—and accounts for its centrality by showing how it embodies the contradictions of modern America. In a series of intricate literary readings, he analyzes the ways in which the late-nineteenth-century obsession with building ‘character’ vivified social distinctions but also, in its instabilities, became the pivot for critique.”

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