Week 4: Patriarchy, Social Order & Agency / Finding Sources

***We will meet in Wells Library E252***

This week we will be reading scholarly histories by Laurel Ulrich and Kathleen Brown that examine the significance of marriage and household government in colonial New England and Virginia. Our goal is not only to understand Ulrich and Brown's arguments, but also how they went about constructing their stories. Last week's readings introduced you to some of kinds of primary sources that can be used to study early America. Look for ways these come into Ulrich and Brown's histories, but also at how they go beyond them.

The main written assignment for this week is the not-optional Source Evaluation Exercise. The point of the exercise is build skills you'll need for your final project, and to physically get you into the library. For your forum post, you can either ask a question about the readings, or address a question to History Librarian Celestina Wroth, who will be joining us for the last part of our class meeting. If you wish to get one of your optional short papers out of the way using this week's readings, you may write this in addition to the Source Evaluation, using the writing questions below.


Reading and taking notes on secondary sources:

For secondary sources, see the useful guidelines for "How to Read a Source" on the J300/J400 Resource Page. In general your notes on secondary sources should aim to include the following:

  • citation information
  • the period covered by the reading
  • the kinds of sources used
  • Quotations of and/or a restatement of the articles’ the main question(s) and argument.
  • Two or three examples of key points & the evidence that supports them.
  • Questions you have about the article. These can be points needing clarification, or things that connect it to other readings.
  • If you are reading a book, look at what other scholars have said about in their reviews.

Understanding how these secondary sources are put together:

  1. Name some “sources” that probably helped you develop your ideas about marriage. (Be specific: don’t say “TV,” but rather “x, y & z shows that I watched when I was 10 years old;” if a person was particularly influential, say something about how or why.) If some students from Mars (or some other foreign setting) asked you the best places to look understand spousal roles in American marriage today, what would you tell them to do? Can you draw any analogies between your contemporary examples and the primary sources, or to other sources mentioned by Ulrich or Brown)? If not, why not?
  2. Give a specific example from this week's readings of how a historian handles uncertainty. What do Ulrich and/or Brown do when their evidence doesn't address all the questions they'd like to answer?

Questions to write about:

  1. What did it mean to be a "Good Wife" in colonial America, and what - if anything - does this have to do with modern American ideas about "good wives?" Both Ulrich and Brown title their books “Good Wives,” playing on an early modern English term of respect for a mature women from the “middling” classes. What ideas do you have about what it means to be a “good wife, and where did you acquire them? Does your understanding of the term overlap with any of the meanings it had in early America? Are their any ways in which contemporary ideas about "good wives" are completely unrelated to colonial ones?
  2. Were wives in colonial America powerless? Non-historians often take the common law practice of coverture to mean that early modern women were "the property of their husbands.” What would Laurel Ulrich and Kathleen Brown say about this claim? In what ways do your primary source readings support or challenge it?
  3. Was there room for love (or pick another term) in colonial American marriages? Identify an instance in the primary source readings in which a concept or term we have covered in class appears. How does the way it is used in the primary texts compare with the way it was used in our classroom conversation and by the historians we have read? For example, William Gouge’s detailed table of contents includes references to marriage as a sacrament. After reading his outline, how do you think his views compare with the use of the term on the first day of class? Other concepts might include household government, love, forgiveness, public and/or private. Alternatively, you might also comment on a concept that is conspicuous by its absence. This could be a term that seems important to the understanding of marriage and household in the primary source, but which we haven’t discussed. It might also be a term we used in our definitions of marriage that is missing from or at odds with the ideas in these sources.
  4. What role did marriage play in creating racial slavery?