noticing bones

"Some people leave only their bones, though bones too make a history when someone notices.” ― Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History

Chloe Kim

Chloe Kim (image via

Chloe Kim (image via

While I know everyone is probably gearing up for the Olympics, and while all of those athletes are awesome and deserve posts of their own, it seemed like it would be nice to showcase another young athlete who has been making waves this year.

Chloe Kim recently made history as one of the youngest medalists ever at the X Games.  She placed silver competing against many women twice her age.  In a couple years when she is eligible she could easily be Olympic bound.

Kim’s competitor, Kelly Clark, managed to secure her fourth gold at the X games, but it wasn’t easy maintaining that position.  Kim gave Clark a run for her money with an array of big, masterful tricks.  However, Kim seems to have such a fun-loving and humble attitude about her amazing skill:

The other women snowboarders are very inspirational, so I love competing with them, and to be on the podium with them is just so exciting and awesome.

Kim started on a snowboard when she was four years old and started competing at six. She was on Team Mountain High out of California when she was six and seven. Then she trained in Valais, Switzerland from eight to ten years old.

Looking at her stats, she seems to place 1st and 2nd in most of the events that she competes in.  You should watch her in action yourself:

I’m looking forward to see how this young athlete progresses.

For more information:


Elizabeth Gaskell

How deep might be the romance in the lives of some of those who elbowed me daily in the busy streets of the town in which I resided.  I had always felt a deep sympathy with the careworn men, who looked as if doomed to struggle through their lives in strange alternations between work and want.


For a long time it seemed like Jane Austen got all the glory when it came to crafting Victorian romance novels.  However, it seems that literary circles have picked up on Elizabeth Gaskell’s contributions to the genre within the past twenty years or so.

Gaskell’s works are the perfect marriage of literary masterpiece and social history, and she focused on a broad range of social classes–predominately the poor–in a way that had not really been previously done at the time.  Her other big claim to fame was being the first to write a biography about her good friend Charlotte Bronte.

She was born Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson in London on September 29, 1810.  Her father was a Unitarian minister. Gaskell was one of eight children, two of whom survived. (Her surviving brother John later went missing on a trip to India.) After her mother’s early death, she was raised in Cheshire, England, where she lived with an aunt in Knutsford.

In 1832, she married William Gaskell, also a Unitarian minister, and they settled in the industrial city of Manchester, her home for the rest of her life. Motherhood and the obligations of being a minister’s wife kept her busy. However, the death of her only son intensified both her sense of identity with the poor and her desire to express their hardship, and inspired Gaskell to write.

Her first novel, Mary Barton, was published anonymously, and due to much turmoil in 1848 brought the grim novel about bitter class hatred and retaliatory murder sanctioned by trade unions immediate success.  It also caught the attention of Charles Dickens and Thomas Carlyle.  Dickens went on to invite her to contribute to Household Words, one of his magazines.  Cranford, Gaskell’s next major work was chronicled in the magazine beginning in 1851.

Gaskell’s work brought her many fans, including Charlotte Brontë. When Brontë died in 1855, her father, Patrick Brontë, asked Gaskell to write her biography. The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857) was written with admiration and covered a huge quantity of firsthand material with great narrative skill.

Among her later works, Sylvia’s Lovers (1863), dealing with the impact of the Napoleonic Wars upon simple people, is notable. Her last and longest work, Wives and Daughters (1864-66), concerned the interlocking fortunes of two or three country families and is considered by many her finest work. Gaskell, unfortunately died before it was finished.

I stumbled onto Gaskell’s work after spending several weekends watching both North and South and Wives and Daughters on Netflix.  I have the rest of her works on my list of “Things I must read.”  I find her style to be invigorating and passionate in a way that feels very modern compared to some of her contemporaries works from the time.  (Wooo literature major for the win!)  I also deeply appreciate her drive to chronicle the working class and the poor in a way that feels very natural and realistic as opposed to some of the more romanticized renderings at the time.  (I’m looking at you Dickens).

I think the other thing I appreciate the most about her work is that she continued to write on top of being a wife and mother.  So many female novelists of the time, generally lived solitary lives and focused their energies on their writing (also completely admirable), but I wonder if Gaskell’s more human touch stems from the love and care she gave to her family.  Gaskell has been one of my literary idols for a long time, so thank you for indulging my gushing about her.

For more information:

Dido Elizabeth Belle


In light of my recent post about why representation matters I am very excited to be writing about this lady today.  Mostly because they are making a movie about her:

I am so excited to see such a lush film portraying such an interesting topic.  I have thought a lot about this over the past couple of months whenever I see posts about how white-washed history has become, and it’s true.  I bet if you had asked me in high school if there were people of color in Europe in the 1800’s I would have said no.  I understand that History with a capital “H” is huge and hard to encapsulate so that our minds can absorb enough of it to roll out of school “educated.”  However, the older I get the more I can’t help but wonder how educated we really are about where we come from and how we have come to be where we are today.

Just the sheer amount of research that I do for these posts showcases how often I am so incredibly shocked by the accomplishments of so many of these women, and I lament that I didn’t learn about them sooner or in a more formal setting.  So since we are talking about representation I am pleased to see this film coming out.

Now, back to learn about this wonderful woman who lived a fascinating life.

Dido Elizabeth Belle was born in either 1761 or 1763 (her birthday kind of fluctuates) to Sir John Lindsay, a British Navy captain on HMS Trent and an African woman called Maria Belle.  John Lindsay was the nephew of William Murray, the first Earl of Mansfield and Lord Chief Justice, England’s most powerful judge.  When Lindsay went back to the navy, he entrusted five-year-old Belle to his uncle, Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, who lived at Kenwood. Lord and Lady Mansfield had no children of their own but raised Belle with Lady Elizabeth Murray, the daughter of Mansfield’s other nephew, David Murray.


Dido and her cousin Elizabeth Murray

There is evidence that Dido was not treated as a full and equal family member, dining separately from the family when they had guests, and allowed to join the women for coffee only after meals. Although Dido’s £30 allowance was a considerable amount at the time, it was much less than her cousin Elizabeth’s. However despite the lack of full acceptance of Dido as a mixed race family member, a guest to Kenwood House remarked that Lord Mansfield “called upon [her]…every minute for this and that, and showed the greatest attention to everything she said.”

While there is no direct evidence, it is possible that Dido’s presence strongly influenced Mansfield and his rulings regarding slavery in England at the time.  In 1772, when Belle was around 11, Mansfield made a ruling that would change history and eventually lead to abolition in 1833. In the Somerset slavery case, he declared that slavery was unsupported by existing law in England and a master could not export British slaves. Then in 1781 he presided over the Zong Massacre case — when 142 African slaves were hurled from a ship and drowned so that their owners could claim insurance for “damaged cargo”. In a major blow to slave traders, Mansfield ruled that the slave owners could not claim money.  Mansfield prior to these rulings had been known as somewhat of a moderate, so without some influence the decisions seem to come out of nowhere.  It is widely speculated that his care and love of his niece is what prompted these decisions for his rulings.

Dido lived at Kenwood for 30 years, and only left shortly after Mansfield’s passing.  Along with her inheritance, he strictly reiterated that she was a free woman, which was a pretty big deal for the time, making sure that after he was gone he could still protect her.  In 1793 Dido married John Danvinier (though the date again might be wrong), they had three sons: twins Charles and John (baptised at St George’s on 8 May 1795) and William Thomas (baptised at St. George’s on 26 January 1802).  They lived in  what is now Ebury Street, Pimlico.  Dido died in 1804 at the age of 43.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw, the London actress who will be portraying Dido in the upcoming film, was particularly excited to address the media’s short comings when it comes to addressing representation in historical fiction:

“The idea that there was this girl who was part of our cultural legacy in England — a mixed race woman in the 1780s — hooked me.  Speaking as a mixed-race woman in 2013, there aren’t many historical stories about people like me. When people think of ‘dual heritage,’ they think it’s a modern concept but it’s not. I wanted to do justice to Dido.”

I can’t tell you how excited I am for this film.  I love period films so much, and I am particularly excited to see this period from a completely new and different, angle.  In the meantime if you want some more information you should check out the links below, and this presentation from the Kenwood House exhibit in England.

For more information:–the-biracial-londoner-who-helped-end-slavery-in-britain-9046065.html

Dido Elizabeth Belle_ a black girl at Kenwood

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”


I stumbled upon this amazing Ted Talk, about representation in media (in this case fiction writing) which I actually posted earlier this week, but I thought I would post it again in case you missed it.  I can’t recommend highly enough the presentation that she gives.  It is both powerful and also has some pretty funny moments too.

You may also recognize her, since Beyoncé sampled one of her speeches in her track Flawless.

Born in the city of Enugu, she grew up the fifth of six children in an Igbo family in the university town of Nsukka in Nigeria, home to the University of Nigeria. While she was growing up, her father James Nwoye Adichie was a professor of statistics at the university, and her mother Grace Ifeoma was the university’s first female registrar. 

Adichie studied medicine and pharmacy at the University of Nigeria for a year and a half. During this period, she edited The Compass, a magazine run by the university’s Catholic medical students. At the age of 19, Adichie left Nigeria and moved to the United States for college. After graduating she decided to pursue a master’s degree in creative writing at John Hopkins University, and later in 2008 she also received a master’s degree in African studies from Yale.

Adichie published her first work (a collection of poems) in 1997, but it was in 2003 when she published Purple Hibiscus that she received wide critical acclaim. She has been writing and publishing steadily for the past ten years, and continues to give lectures such as the Ted Talk presentation linked above.  Her works showcase Nigeria, and her experiences growing up there.  Purple Hibiscus begins like many novels set in regions considered exotic by the western reader: the politics, climate, social customs, and even the food, unfold like the purple hibiscus of the title, rare and fascinating. But within a few pages, these details, however vividly rendered, melt into the background of a larger, more compelling story of a joyless family.  I think this is the most important aspect about her work, she is able to take a place that is for many people far away and strange and makes it accessibly and familiar to readers all over the world.  I am looking forward to following more about this lovely lady and her works.

If you are interested her awards and nominations for her writing can be found here.

Representation Matters

Guess who figured out how to put GIFs on WordPress?  This girl.

I spend a lot of time thinking about representation and the above sentiment a lot lately.

I think this is a good example of how powerful the narratives we grow up absorbing, and continue to absorb and believe are, and how that affects the way we see the world, how we place people (and ourselves) in the world, and who we expect to see (and thus write into our own stories) in certain roles.

This issue with representation extends beyond writing into everything that we choose to create…comic books, paintings, video shorts, video games, and even what we decide to put into our history books.  I can not say it enough:  representation in the media matters.  But what do we do when it we are conditioned to understand how people behave and interact, but only within a certain context and script?

To put it in the context of what’s discussed on this blog, if you grow up with women being portrayed in a certain way, you’re not going to think twice when you write your own story about portraying them that way because that’s just “how women are.”  I could spend all day posting articles about how female characters in stories/comic books/video games/insert desired media format here, start out as something that seems different and awesome, and quickly devolve into sexualized, bikini-armor-wearing, sex objeccts because we don’t know what to do with females in narratives unless they are half-naked or submissive or insert generalized idea of how women in media should be here.  The really sad part is that most of the time we allow it because we are so used to having this done to our narratives that we don’t know where to begin to unravel them and start over properly.

I guess I have just been musing on this a lot, and I wanted to leave this here as a reminder why I started working on this blog in the first place.  I hope that I have been doing a decent job of balancing the narratives I put up here.  I strive to include a diverse set of historical ladies who did/do awesome things.  By the way, if you want to see the rest of this Ted Talk, you totally should.  I will be posting more about the author soon.

Lotte Reiniger

Even with primitive materials, one can work small wonders.”

Lotte Reiniger

Lotte Reiniger

I’m sure most people my age (early 90’s kids) would tell you that Walt Disney created the first animated film.  Some might go a step further and insist that the first animated film was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.  Well, now if you are ever having a conversation about this at a party you can rub it in everyone’s faces how wrong they are.

Lotte Reiniger made feature length animated films employing stop-motion techniques for the first time in animated film history and anticipating Walt Disney by more than 10 years.

Reiniger was born in Berlin-Charlottenburg in 1899, and as a child was fascinated by shadow puppetry.  She would build her own puppets and theaters to perform for her family.  When cinema films rolled around she fell in love with them, particularly Georges Méliès for his special effects.  Eventually, her paper silhouettes gained her entrance to the  Institut für Kulturforschung (Institute for Cultural Research), an experimental animation and shortfilm studio. It was here that she met her future creative partner and husband (from 1921), Carl Koch.

The first film Reiniger directed was Das Ornament des verliebten Herzens (The Ornament of the Enamoured Heart, 1919), a short piece that was very well received.  In the following years she animated six short films which eventually caught the attention of Louis Hagen, who had bought a large quantity of raw film stock as an investment to fight the spiraling inflation of the period, who asked her to do a feature length animated film, resulting in her most famous work Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed).

Prince Achmed was completed in 1926 and was created using intricate paper cutouts in the style of Wayang shadow puppets that she then shot frame by frame in order to make them move.  The paper cutouts were jointed using wires and delicately arranged on top of a lightbox.

Paribanu in her wedding attire

Paribanu in her wedding attire

The use of the light box also allowed her to change the colors of scenes, thus altering the mood and tempo of the plot, which worked in conjunction with the musical score emphasizing certain emotions.

Achmed Green

She helped develop the first multi-plane camera for certain effects.  This technique utilized layers of glass under the camera allowing the animator to add depth and complexity to two-dimensional animation.

Aladdin discovers the magical lamp

Aladdin discovers the magical lamp

Prominent among Reiniger’s talents was her ability to diminish the flatness and awkwardness of silhouette animation through her dramatic mise en scène and her balletic movements. Her female characters are especially lively and original, displaying wit, sensuousness, and self-awareness rarely found in animated cartoons.

Aladdin greets Dinarsade

Aladdin greets Dinarsade

Reiniger continued to animate her distinctive silhouette films up into the mid-1970s. She passed away in 1981.  To me what is most impressive about her work is that she accomplished so much with such a small team.  At most there were only three people working on Achmed.  The level of work that went it to the film makes it an amazing work of art, and I am glad I have discovered such a wonderful addition to my film history knowledge.  I highly recommend you watch the clip.  I believe the entire film is on YouTube as well.

For more information: (for a list of her full filmography)


So um…tiny confession time.  I started this blog with a friend back when I was unemployed.  I have since found work (yay!), but in the process the motivation and energy for this project kind of got lost in the process (for me at least).  I accidentally signed back in tonight and while we may not have seen Internet Celebrity status when it comes to views, I was shocked by how many people were reading/had stumbled upon our little niche of the internet.  I spend a lot of time on Tumblr, and keep seeing posts about marginalized history, and I keep getting riled up about it, reminding me why I started contributing here in the first place.

So basically, welcome, stay tuned, we’ll be back in full swing shortly.  I promise.


Hatshepsut: Appropriating Male Symbols of Power, a.k.a. Rocking a Beard Where Needed


Hi everyone. Jessa here, after a loooooong hiatus.  Apologies!  To make it up to you, I wrote an entry about a kick-ass Egyptian lady–one of my childhood heroes.  Enjoy!

Hatshepsut isn’t technically a woman that’s been lost to the historical record.  In fact, she is actually pretty famous (and a bit infamous) in the field of Egyptology (and in the minds of Egypt-obsessed preteens, as I can well attest).  Hatshepsut was not only the daughter and wife and widow of Pharaohs, but ruled Egypt as Pharaoh in her own right for two decades.  She one of the most successful pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty, even if she was the last.  In her consolidation of power, Hatshepsut used both masculine- and feminine-coded symbols of power in an attempt to secure her throne and legacy.

To try to keep this post to a manageable length I won’t go too much in depth simply recounting the life of Hatshepsut. (See the links at the bottom–most of them are worth the read.)  She assumed the throne upon the death of her husband (and brother, as was occasionally the Egyptian way) Thutmose II.  At first, she was simply the regent of Thutmose III (son of of her husband from a different wife), but she didn’t stay that way for long.  Soon Hatshepsut was ruling as pharaoh in her own right.   The 21 years of Hatshepsut’s reign were marked by military victory, economic prosperity, and a very prolific period of construction.  She was one of the most successful pharaohs of her dynasty, and years after her death her successor tried to erase her from public memory by destroying many of the statue and carvings she had built.

The sensational part of Hatshepsut’s reign (for me) was her rampant appropriation of male symbols of power.  In some statues, she is pictured wearing not only the pharaoh’s crown but also the fake beard, something that, to us at least, comes off as pretty masculine.  (It goes a bit beyond my expertise to interpret fake beards from an Egyptian perspective, but I’d be willing to bet ancient Egyptians though of beards–even fake ones–as a mostly-dude thing, too.)

This fact is what many people writing about Hatshepsut, especially outside of academia, have seized upon.  And it’s true–Hatshepsut used these male-gendered symbols as the traditional symbols of power that they were, and yet, at the same time, she did not always feel the need to hide or suppress her femininity as a ruler.   All of Hatshepsut’s regal names reflect feminine endings, and some statues, such as the one pictured at the top of the post, are obviously feminine representations.  In addition, one of Hatshepsut’s regnal names seems to identify her with the goddess Maat, daughter of Ra, and provides an example of the way that she used her femininity to associate her that much more directly with the symbolic source of divine power.

Despite her successful reign, years after her death her successor, Thutmose III, had her likenesses and cartouches struck from many of the temples and monuments she had constructed.  Given Hatshepsut’s provocative use of gender, when she was rediscovered by Egyptologists in the 19th century, many assumed it was an attempt to erase her destabilizing influence from the Egyptian social scene (read: gender relations) and reinforce male pharaonic power.

It’s certainly a dynamic, persuasive story, whether you’re looking for examples of women overstepping the “natural” bounds of propriety (Victorian Egyptologists) or looking for an ancient heroine to be outraged for (preteen Jessa).  However, there is evidence that Thutmose III’s actions were motivated by other factors that complicate the simple “woman-wears-beard-and-gets-erased” narrative.  In addition to being a woman, Hatshepsut was the last pharaoh of her dynasty with no direct descendants, and the line of succession after her was cloudy at best.  The theory that genealogical tensions and legitimacy claims were the root or, at the very least, a factor of her erasure is pretty persuasive, in my opinion.

Caveats and all, I love Hatshepsut’s story.  I love her moxie and her intelligence and her drive. Hatshepsut ruled (pun mostly not intended).  She didn’t always rule like a woman, and she didn’t always rule like a man.  She saw gendered symbols of power for what they were–useful symbols of power, and she exploited them like a pro.


Gay Robins
The Names of Hatshepsut as King
The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology , Vol. 85, (1999), pp. 103-112
Hatshepsut’s Use of Tuthmosis III in Her Program of Legitimation

Vanessa Davies
Hatshepsut’s Use of Tuthmosis III in Her Program of Legitimation
Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt , Vol. 41, (2004), pp. 55-66

Anatomical Venus

Anatomical Venus models are both fascinating and just a little bit creepy.  An Anatomical Venus was a model (usually wax) that took the form of an “idealized” (and weirdly sexualized) woman that had removable parts that could be “dissected” and explored.  They first cropped up around the late 1700’s and during the 18th and 19th century became the centerpieces of traveling shows and natural history museums.

The pictures alone are uncanny so I can’t imagine how awesome/weird it would be to see one of these models in person.  The most famous are those that come from the “La Specola” Natural History Museum in Florence, Italy, under the leadership of Clemente Susini.  They frequently are adorned with pearls, real hair, and golden tiaras.  They are displayed in a supine and inviting pose, and are frequently referred to as “Sleeping” or “Slashed Beauties.”  A breastplate would be lifted to reveal the inner workings of a female body in minute detail, usually including a fetus in the womb.

Anatomical Venus models were the highlight of traveling shows, and while their primary purpose was to  provide cheap entertainment (you could gather and watch a “surgeon” dissect her), they also were often used as a way to showcase venereal diseases and to warn against the dangers of STDs.  Further enhancing their educational value, many patrons would commission models for museums.  During the Age of Enlightenment there was a vested interest in providing educational opportunities to the public.  Finally, with anatomy being permitted by society, corpses to study could be hard to come by.  A model was guaranteed (and eliminated any squeamish drawbacks of prolonged study of a corpse).

These models were also groundbreaking for women.  For the first time women could view museums unaccompanied, and several museums employed female lecturers because as women they would have a better understanding of the body.  Women had to view the exhibits during separate hours but it was still a door opened for them that hadn’t been before.  There was still a lot of argument as to whether anatomy was to graphic for women’s “delicate” nature though.

I have such respect for these models, and yet I find them highly disturbing, even more so is the overt sexuality and idealization of a female body showcased in the most famous models. (There are some that are very corpse like).  Why have them in a position that is clearly sexual?  On top of that, why are all of the models women to be cut up, picked apart and dissected?  The mere fact that they are frequently referred to as “slashed beauties” is pretty problematic for me.  And yet they are part of one of the greatest advances of scientific discovery for the time.

I suppose given the increased interest in these models lately, Susini fashioned them after classical art, and now they are often displayed as art in museums.  Perhaps the pose was meant to be inviting, to make the viewer feel a little bit more comfortable with all the gory details of how a body actually works.  I guess I should be more comforted by that, but I still find it in that weird uncanny zone of awesome and creepy at the same time.

For more information:


Hedy Lamarr

hedy lamarr

“Any girl can be glamorous, all she has to do is stand still and look stupid.”–Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr is pretty much it for me when it comes to awesome females.  Not only was she stunning, but she became an actress in order to fund her real passion–science and math.  Thus proving a) you can have beauty and brains and b) that women are just as good at math and science despite everyone constantly telling us otherwise and c) sometimes we are even pretty awesome at it.

Reason #1 Why I Love Her:  She was a famous “beauty” and was contracted to MGM during their Golden Age.  However, despite the highly conservative film executives and the implementation of the Hays Code (basically the manual on how to make a movie “appropriately”) she starred in Ecstasy which featured close-ups of her character having an orgasm as well as full frontal nude scenes later in the film.  Today that seems pretty tame but for the time it was a BIG DEAL.  (In fact as someone who has studied film history I am curious to know how they got it past the Hays Code enforcers….)

Reason #2 Why I Love Her: She had a much older, super controlling husband that catered to Hitler and Mussolini.  When the relationship became too constricting for her she removed herself from it.  Some say she persuaded her husband to let her wear all of her jewelry to a dinner party one night and then promptly disappeared.  There is also speculation that she disguised herself as a maid and fled to Paris.  (There is even more controversial speculation that while attempting to elude her husband’s pursuit she slipped into a brothel and then had sex with a patron to avoid returning home so that she could go on to Paris.)

Reason #3 Why I Love Her: This reason is definitely way more impressive too.  She co-invented–with composer George Antheil–an early technique for spread spectrum communications and frequency hopping which is necessary for wireless communication.  She invented the precursor to cell phones and wireless communication essentially.

So what is spread spectrum communication?  In broadcasting it is a technique where a signal generated at a specific bandwidth is spread out over a frequency to broaden the bandwidth.  This technique helps insure a secure communication, to prevent detection, and to help reduce interference.  Frequency hopping is a method of rapidly switching a carrier among many frequency channels using a sequence that is known to the transmitter and the receiver.  This method helps prevent interference and again insures a secure channel for communication.  In 1941 Lamarr and composer George Antheil submitted the idea for a secret communication system and on August 11, 1942 US Patent 2,292,387 was granted to them.

Although Lamarr and Antheil presented to the Navy how such techniques could help prevent radio targeted torpedos from being jammed or detected, the US did not implement such techniques until 1962 after the patent had lapsed.  The delay in implementation may have had to do with the fact that Antheil and Lamarr based their work on piano rolls and it wasn’t until it could be practically applied with advanced electronic signals that the Navy finally saw it’s worth (but I am partially speculating here).  Although Lamarr frequently attempted to join the National Inventors Council, she was consistently told her looks would be more useful than her brain.  What jerks.  It took until 1997 for Lamarr to even be recognized for her contribution.  Today you can find a modernized implementation of Lamarr and Antheil’s work in things such as Bluetooth.

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