Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “history”

Historically speaking, dancing, writing…

When I received my manuscript comments  I was a bit taken by one particular sentence from the agent. She seemed to hesitate at reading about a family who had traditional roles: women in the kitchen, menfolk working outside. She didn’t think it would be readily accepted. Maybe I hadn’t emphasized in my pitch that the setting is 1860s gold rush era or maybe she missed that point. Back then, women and men did function in traditional roles. Yes, we like those Annie Oakley stories, where someone steps out and does some gender bending, yet history is chock full of regular people in regularly expected roles.

I shelf my manuscript comments, but then another historical noticeable comes up on my radar.

Instead of deleting the email, I decide to take up the offer of teaching a trial rhetorical analysis lesson with Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams”–yes, it was indeed a hit with my students. What proved interesting was the backlash Swift received for marketing a perceived colonialism video since the cast and crew were about 99% white on location in Africa. And here I thought she was channeling Elizabeth Taylor ala 1950s.

Once again historically the setting details were correct in that whites dominated the fifties Hollywood scene and the video would not look quite right having a multi-ethnic set.

Another recent creative endeavor got me thinking that we are becoming either enlightened to the point of oversensitivity or we’re becoming very confused. I refer to Hamilton the musical. The cast is anything goes in terms of ethnicity. And I have no problem with casting for ability rather than color, yet I see this reluctance towards accepting history as it really was. Are we uncomfortable with defined roles as they were set down in the history books?


This loose interpretation of roles has even drifted into ballroom dancing, very traditionally gender coded: men lead, women follow. A recent TedTalk revealed this is changing into what is called “liquid lead,” which I can relate to since I never know what I’m doing when dancing and end up inadvertently leading. The most fascinating implications at stake as women now have the option of taking the lead when on the floor. Except–I don’t think scenes like this would be the same…



As a writer I am aware of trends and it’s worrisome that to write a story set in a time period where men were men and the women women, makes the publishing powers uncomfortable. Do I have to ignore history to radically shape it to fit modern audiences? Does a character have to chose an alternate path to deserve notice?

What are your thoughts, readers? Are we dissatisfied with history enough to change it to reflect our contemporary concerns in all artistic endeavors–from stories to musicals to even dancing?

NPM: #13–how history does not sit still

I think I missed an opportunity. Had I known I would be teaching English, especially British literature, I would have minored in history. One cannot properly elucidate on the fineries of poems, prose, and short storis without dipping into the times of the work. There is a definite “why” as to “why” something is written. A mathematical equation of History times People to the greater value of Events–something like that. Which is why I didn’t get on so while in Mathematics.

Howard Altmann explains history’s restless nature. I almost imagine it as a cat that tiptoes around the room, exploring its way about. Or as that sunbeam or shaft of light that panders its way from the chair to the floor to the wall. Here’s the poem and here’s what he said about it:

About This Poem

“This short poem was conceived in Lisbon, where the light never rests on its laurels. It was put to bed a few years later in New York City, where the light crowds out the stars.”
—Howard Altmann (


image: paulabflat/morguefile

Continuing the Love for LOC

Cover of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Pi...

Cover via Amazon

Visiting the Library of Congress is high on my BIG list, yet that one wish won’t be actualized until time and funding match up. For now I continue visiting it on-line for research and serendipity surprises. For instance, as I browsed for Idaho pioneer entries my screen popped up their Books that Shaped America entry. I’m thinking somewhere there is a book about pioneers in Idaho? It didn’t matter because I became lost through the eras as I browsed, read, and absorbed.  Fascinating, illuminating, and enlightening how the books reflected the times and influenced future reading. For the entire link go to Books That Shaped America.

Here are some titles to ponder:

Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard Improved (1732) and The Way to Wealth (1785)

Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820)

L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)

Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (1906)

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936)

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat (1957)

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)

Ralph Nader, Unsafe at Any Speed (1965)

César Chávez, The Words of César Chávez (2002)

I know, I know–I’m hearing the “what about _______!” I was surprised at what made the list and what didn’t. I hope you check it out and let me know what you think should have made it.

Interior Library of Congress, by G. D. Wakely

Interior Library of Congress, by G. D. Wakely (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What We Say: #7

English: Bakers Oven Early 19th century shop a...

English: Bakers Oven Early 19th century shop and dwelling on the corner of Bailgate and Westgate (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we swing into the season of baking I thought this bit of idiom history would be of interest. Mmmm, coconut macaroon, anyone?
Once upon a time in long ago England bakers cheated. At least some of them did. Weighing out their goods some of these dishonest bakers would employ short weights which meant paying out more money when buying buns, breads, and cakes. The powers of weights and measures thought this quite wrong and decreed heavy penalties for bakers who practiced weighing short on their goods. Not wanting to incur the wrath of the law bakers decided to increase their popularity by giving away an extra when purchasing twelve. A baker’s dozen became a custom and carried over into modern times.
Who doesn’t like getting an extra tasty bakery treat?
I’ve heard of bakers dozen used in many different ways–anywhere from describing that odd extra to receiving a freebie. I’m wondering how bakery goods were sold way back then if weighing were involved.  I like the per piece myself. “Wait, I’ll that one (the BIG cookie), yeah, that one right there.”

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