Open Letter to Gail K. Pavliga, Ohio Statehouse Representative for Portage County (sent today, June 7)

Dear Representative Pavliga,

You voted for House Bill 151, which allows only 3 ways for secondary school athletes to prove gender identity.

1) An exam of her internal and external reproductive anatomy.

2) Her normal “endogenously produced levels of testosterone.”

3) An analysis of her genetic makeup.

The bill is not clear whether “only” means one method is sufficient, or “all three” will be required. The threshold for requesting this test is anyone questioning the gender: a coach, a player, a parent of an opposing team. These tests, this proof, could be requested of any person participating in girl’s sports.

See Cincinnati Enquirer, “Fact check: Ohio bill banning transgender girls from female sports could require genital checks,” by Anna Staver (June 6, 20220).

You may claim that bill does not do this–or will not pass Ohio Senate–but as written and voted for by you that is what it says. And physicians and Citizens for Christian Virtue believe it supports that reading, according to that article. I realize that ostracizing and tormenting LGBTQ+ identifying teens is part of the brand for the GOP at the moment. And if girls who do not identify as LGBTQ+ can be harassed also, perhaps that’s a bonus. And I realize that a bill may come up fast, without allowing time to read it carefully before voting in favor. But I want a straight answer: why did you vote for it? GOP loyalty? Laziness? Weren’t paying attention? Pressed wrong button? Or that you agree with it, fully. Everyone else with “R” after their name seems to think it was a good idea. You are not listed as a co-sponsor, but you did vote for it.

I am one of your constituents. I don’t want a generic “thank you for your interest” pablum. I want a sensible explanation for why you, personally, voted for a bill that would harm students by forcing upon them an intrusive and demeaning test, which medical doctors oppose, at minimum demanding blood draws and if “all three” an internal pelvic exam, because a parent from an opposing team thinks harassing a student about her gender identity would be entertaining.

I am waiting for an answer. I would prefer that you let others know your answer, by explaining your support in a public forum, like, perhaps, an open letter to The Portager, at . If you don’t respond meaningfully, I’ll share that publicly as well. I can easily do so via my personal blog and via my Twitter account, and I will. I have saved text of this letter, and have posted it there while awaiting your answer.

Wesley Raabe


June 8, 2022: Apparently, State House Representative Gail Pavliga (R, Portage) ignores constituent letters. I guess we shall see.

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Teaching Pre-1865 U.S. Literature if “Divisive Concepts” / “Critical Race Theory” is Prohibited

This spring 2022 semester, I was teaching a class on Early US Literature, pre-1865 (See “Note on Course Title,” at end of this post.). Upon mentioning the Ohio state legislative committee discussions on Critical Race Theory, I noted to students that texts that I had assigned to them in the course had at least the potential to run afoul of such prohibitions. Because my class is required of Education majors, most student in the class in next two or three years hoped to be teaching junior high or high school students language and literature. Since they overall were unaware of what I was talking about, I rewrote the second paper assignment to encourage them to work through the concepts–and to think about complications such concepts might cause them as future educators.

That is, I suggested they review the proposed statutory language to see whether any literary work that they hoped to teach, from the class, would potentially be in violation of “divisive concepts” legislation. I would add that I do explain to students that I am not a “blank slate,” an acknowledgment which I hope will help them shape their argument, even if I intend to be fair-minded. I teach in Ohio, so references to legislative bills are Ohio-centric.

[Note: I omit assignment details, as due dates for proposal and workshop, and format requirements, like MLA or Chicago style, are not relevant and not likely to be interesting to the rest of you. Also, I omit my recommendations on writing an effective thesis, also not of interest here.]

“Divisive Concepts” Discussion, for 3rd-Year College Student Paper Assignment

My understanding of ‘divisive concepts’ legislation has been derived from reading academic commentary, often works recommended by scholars whom I follow on social media (Twitter), reading university trade press like Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Education, and by browsing the legislative documents and news coverage—last because a student wrote a paper on the topic, during Fall 2021 semester, during an African American Literature survey that I was then teaching. The language here is tricky, because it depends on ideological perspective which language is typically deployed:

  • In an ideologically right-wing sense, ‘divisive concepts’ is approximately equivalent to ‘teaching Critical Race Theory,’ the practice of forcing left-wing indoctrination onto school children and college students, plus also in mandated diversity or cultural sensitivity training, which encourages White people to internalize guilt about the racial past of the United States. We need to ban forcing left-wing indoctrination onto students or employees, for such ideologies are antipatriotic and subversive.
  • In an ideologically left-wing sense, ‘divisive concepts’ is a way to repackage ‘patriotic education’ (i.e.,White Nationalist propaganda-style history) to make it more palatable to an uninformed general public. In fact, the right-wing people who are now renaming diversity training and the like as ‘Critical Race Theory’ are using it in scare quotes to mean left-wing indoctrination, i.e., anti-white racism, with anodyne term ‘divisive concepts’ as a way to pretend to be even-handed—when in fact it’s just White Supremacy ideology in a new package. Also, yes, “Critical Race Theory” is a real thing, a specialized topic in legal theory, typically taught only to advanced students in post-graduate law school. No one is being taught that in elementary school, in junior high, in high school, in mandated diversity training, and seldom even in graduate school, except specialized courses in law school.

For assignment, I have thought systematically about how to keep this matter manageable, but this is my first deployment of these concepts—ideologically contested concepts—as an assignment prompt. Some options, that I suggest, will be more challenging, some less; some could coincide with your interests closely, some may not. My aim is to make the basic concepts manageable, so you can deploy them to frame a paper and to invite your own further thought and exploration. Please anticipate—because this is first time that I have used this assignment prompt—that when choosing among options you will need to narrow to a particular example for a strong thesis and paper. I value your questions and feedback in order to refine the assignment. The next few sections seek to introduce the legislative tendencies, as applies nationally in Ohio and at present, according to legislative committee.

The “divisive concepts” bills, typically conflated with and under the heading “Critical Race Theory” (as explained above) are active in and have passed in many Republican-dominated legislatures, which seek to ban “Critical Race Theory” and any related concepts according to judgment of state legislative committees. Versions have passed into law in Georgia, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Virginia, Alabama, North Dakota, Idaho, Texas, Arizona, Alabama, Tennessee, Utah etc. It’s hard to keep track of them all, but the report below, from a secondary education trade journal Education Week, attempts to do exactly that, to keep track:

Schwartz, Sarah. “Map: Where Critical Race Theory Is Under Attack.” Education Week, 11 Jun. 2021, rev. 16 March 2022.,

“Divisive Concepts” in Ohio Legislature

In Ohio, the topic is under Ohio House Bill 327, with Short Title “Prohibit teaching, advocating, or promoting divisive concepts.” See Home Page for Bill, currently (Mar. 22) in Committee: The full title of bill, which continues after the short title, is the following: “To amend sections 3314.03 and 3326.11 and to enact sections 3313.6027 and 4113.35 of the Revised Code to prohibit school districts, community schools, STEM schools, and state agencies from teaching, advocating, or promoting divisive concepts.”

The definition of “divisive concepts” on the bill is sweeping, applying in matters of “nationality, color, ethnicity, race, or sex.” It prohibits any teaching or training which implies that one group “is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” or that any “individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment,” or that any of those factors can be presumed determinant about an individual’s “moral character.” Furthermore, no person in the present “bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members,” nor has any particular qualities (“hard work ethic” or “race or sex stereotyping”) that may be associated with an identity designation. Most importantly and in aggregate (this is my gloss), the legislation proposes—as a matter of statute—that persons in the present must be presumed to be, and in any state-funded materials or instruction activities stated to be, fundamentally innocent with respect to past discrimination, have no moral responsibility or any other burden to even acknowledge (much less address) past discrimination, whether the historical discrimination protocol (which no longer exists today) concern “nationality, color, ethnicity, race, or sex.” Please note that “sex” in legislative parlance may or may not be construed to imply both gender discrimination (against women) and sexual identity discrimination (against LGBTQ+ people). In matter of later, the most vocal wing of the Republican Party (also known as the GOP) frequently argues that such identities do not in fact exist, or that any legal acknowledgment of such person’s existence—or funding which supports such acknowledgment in a psychological or medical sense—should be banned. On same site, note the following:

Current Status:, Scroll down the page, and note “First Hearing” and “Second Hearing,” where text of bill can be downloaded. Also, note that for “Witnesses” the “Proponent” (in favor, conservative activist groups) statements are in one group and the “Opponent” (opposed, typically education and progressive groups) are in another. As of my most recent viewing, the “Fourth Hearing” and “Fifth Hearing” do not yet have documents posted.

Full Text of Bill:, “Full Text,” or the PDF at

Consequences of Bill

Please note the definition of “divisive concepts” (page 2–4, lines 13–89) in the current version of the proposed statute in the House. No one may receive any training that invokes “divisive concepts”: public schools and public universities are treated as “state agencies.” (page 18, lines 488–501). Below is the relevant definition part, from March 2022 version.

(B)(1) No state agency shall offer teaching, instruction,
or training on divisive concepts to any employees, contractors,
staff members, or any other individual or group or require them
to adopt or believe in divisive concepts.
(2) No state employee shall face any penalty or
discrimination on account of the employee's refusal to support,
believe, endorse, embrace, confess, act upon, or otherwise
assent to divisive concepts. No state employee shall be required
to complete a curriculum including divisive concepts as a
condition or prerequisite of employment.
(3) No state agency shall accept private funding for the
purpose of developing curriculum, purchasing or selecting course
materials, or providing training or professional development for
a course that promotes divisive concepts.

Thus, if passed, students or employees will be empowered to argue in court (or to some sort of review board—the protocols proposed have shifted while in committee) that their right to a bias-free education has been violated—if the course or training is required as part of a degree plan or a condition of employment. In latest version of the statute—varies from earlier, where the threat of withholding state funding for any such courses was detailed and explicit—the process by which financial support will be withheld should any divisive topic be taught is less clear. The policy has an exception, that some materials (historical documents, etc.) can be taught in a course, but only when presented in a non-biased manner (page 3–4, lines 62–86):

(C) If the superintendent of public instruction determines
that any school district knowingly violates the prohibitions
prescribed in division (B) of this section, the department of
education shall withhold state funding from the district in the
amount determined by the department until such time as the
department determines the district no longer is in violation of
that division.
(D) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit
discussing or using supplemental instructional materials, as
part of a larger course of academic instruction, to teach
divisive concepts in an objective manner and without
endorsement. Such materials may include the following:
(1) The history of an ethnic group, as described in
textbooks and instructional materials adopted in accordance with
the Revised Code concerning textbooks and instructional
(2) The impartial discussion of controversial aspects of
(3) The impartial instruction on the historical oppression
of a particular group of people based on race, ethnicity, class,
nationality, religion, or geographic region;
(4) Historical documents permitted under statutory law,
such as the national motto, the national anthem, the Ohio
Constitution, the United States Constitution, the Revised Code,
federal law, and United States Supreme Court decisions.

In other words, any student or state employee who complains that they are being taught a “divisive concept” in a required course has an invitation to argue before someone (university appeals body? human resources committee?) that a degree program or course or training material is in violation of their right to an education or employment free of “divisive concepts” indoctrination. How exactly that will be enforced in public schools and universities is unclear, the task of developing adjudication process is handed over to the State Board of Education: “The state board of education may adopt rules regarding the implementation of and monitoring compliance with the provisions of this section.” (page 4, lines 87–89).

While preparing this assignment I saw a news report (from March 22) about an interview with one of the bill’s sponsors, Sarah Fowler Arthur (Republican, Ashtabula). She brought up (without being prompted) the teaching of the Holocaust in a world history course as an example:

“What we do not want is for someone to come in and say, ‘well, obviously the German government was right in saying that the Aryan race is superior to all other races, and therefore that they were acting rightly when they murdered hundreds of thousands of people for having a different color of skin,” the representative said.

“Maybe you’re listening to it from the perspective of a Jewish person that has gone through the tragedies that took place,” Fowler Arthur continued. “And maybe you listen to it from the perspective of a German soldier.”

Trau, Morgan. “Comments about the Holocaust from Representative Sponsoring ‘divisive Concepts’ Bill Raise Concerns.” WEWS News5 Cleveland, 22 Mar. 2022,

I would like to be perfectly clear, that to sponsor Representative Fowler Arthur, for an educator to say, in an educational context, that the Holocaust was “bad” without also noting that it had its “good” points, is potentially a “divisive topic”—which under earlier drafts of legislation could lead to defunding the education institution that employs that teacher or professor. Typically, views like Fowler Arthur’s are identified with anti-Semitism, and it seems very probable that Fowler’s choice of this example, in a public interview, could torpedo the work of this committee, during the 2021–2022 legislative cycle. I don’t think that means such efforts will be irrelevant to educators going forward, as other states are passing versions. However, since the 20th century Holocaust is not a directly relevant example for pre-1865 U.S. Literature, an analogy suggests itself. Following Fowler Arthur’s logic, to say enslavement of Black people in the United States was “bad” without also adding that it had its “good” side might very well be considered a ‘divisive concept’ in the eye of the bill’s sponsor. In my teaching, I’m likely to violate that rule. Furthermore, implying that America’s legal history of enslavement, racial terrorism, legal disenfranchisement has any present relevance would be prohibited strictly.

Another way to frame ‘divisive concepts’ legislation (which may make it relevant even after present moment) might be with the idea of “relatable.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word has three meanings: 1) “Able to be told or narrated; suitable for relating” (in use from 1690s to present); 2) “Able to be brought into relation with something else; capable of being related or connected (to something)” (1860s to present), and 3) “That can be related to; with which one can identify or empathize.” (1960s to present). You can likely detect, from those, how the third (newest concept) gradually separated from second.

The Ohio legislation specifically allows that historical concepts and documents can be “ told or narrated” (sense 1), a carve-out to permit use of primary source materials in history courses. However, a teacher or instructor is at risk of introducing ‘divisive concepts’ should any lesson applicable to the present be drawn from those examples. Should ever the teaching or training hint that past practices “can be related to” present practices or would encourage students to “identify or empathize” (both sense 3) with idea that past documents hold a continuing relevance and consequences for the present, in matter of present-day moral or financial responsibility to redress harms of historical practices, it is likely violating the proposed statute. Implying that anyone has moral responsibility to the past is strictly prohibited, that an effort to make the topic “relatable” (sense 3), which any student construes as being educated, trained, encouraged to feel moral guilt or ethical responsibility, seems likely to fall into category of promoting a ‘divisive concept.’

Turning it Into a Paper Assignment

In order to turn this into an “assignment,” I think it is incumbent upon me to suggest scholarly discussions of concepts that you might apply to works that we are reading: 1st) have at least the potential to be considered divisive, and 2nd) could be used to analyze works in early American literature.

On What is Considered Divisive, and Why at This Moment

Given preceding discussion, my general assumption is that the concepts mostly likely to be designated divisive are those that would seem so to a GOP-led legislature or a State Board of Education whose members are selected by and who report to a GOP governor and legislature. That is because states with Republican-dominated legislatures are passing these bills. My assumption, then, for what has potential to be deemed offensive, is that they are about one of the following: 1) matters as concern continuing reverberations of historical racial discrimination, or historical institutions like slavery, 2) matters as concern gender or sexuality, 3) or matters as concern religious expression: arguments that are secular in emphasis; that elaborate non-Christian tenets (Islam, Buddhism, Indigenous religious beliefs); or that draw from a denominational creed that is outside Evangelical Protestantism.

In other words—and this is an important caveat—I am assuming, for sake of convenience, that beliefs associated with modern Republican activists who advocate for the legislation are not likely to be considered “divisive” by a GOP legislative committee, by a GOP-appointed State Board of Education, etc. Examples of concepts that might be considered “divisive” from a social justice or reparative justice perspective (i.e., views associated with liberals and progressive wings of Democratic Party) might include, for example, that “the United States is a Christian Nation,” or that “Manifest Destiny expressed God’s plan”; or that the “Bible in Genesis names the Creator responsible for only two genders, assigned at birth”; or that “the Civil War was fought over State’s Rights,” or that “Reading methods associated with Queer Theory can illuminate classic literary texts.” If you wish to explore which concepts associated with American history and culture that continue to seem “divisive” in politics—and write a paper suggesting that a concept associated with GOP beliefs would fall into category of “divisive”—you are welcome to take that approach also. For identifying topics that potentially fall under the divisive rubric in historical topics, please review indexes and browse treatment in the following two books, which I will place on 3-day reserve:

Zinn, Howard, and Anthony Arnove. A People’s History of the United States. Thirty-Fifth anniversary edition, HarperPerennial, 2015. For teaching materials, see

Schweikart, Larry, and Michael Allen. A Patriot’s History of the United States: From Columbus’s Great Discovery to the War on Terror. Sentinel, 2007.

Another discussion and overview of “divisive” topics in American history, from the perspective of two university historians (Heather Cox Richardson at Boston College, and JoAnne Freeman at Yale University), can be found here, with a helpful list of additional readings, a syllabus of sorts on the topic:

Richardson, Heather Cox, and Joanne Freeman. “Battling Over Critical Race Theory.” Accessed 22 Mar. 2022.

As you will find in that hour-long podcast, the matter that appears to have ignited controversy is that historians have competing views on the New York Times “1619 Project,” by Prof. Nicole Hannah-Jones. The Trump Administration’s Patriotic Education initiative, from September 2020, took direct aim at such views, designating them un-American and arguing they should be prohibited from being taught in school.

1619 Project:

1776 Report and Protecting America Press Release: See my shared Google Drive, after original posting to United States Education Department (removed under Biden administration):

During last months in office, President Donald Trump issued the statement, and a committee that he appointed on Patriotic Education issued the 1776 Report. After the election of President Joe Biden, Republican activists took up the “Critical Race Theory” topic to animate local activists, often also when opposing mask mandates and diversity initiatives in public schools, which followed the George Floyd protests.

The scholar who led “1619 Project,” Prof. Hannah-Jones, I would note, received considerable professional backlash, from North Carolina university board members, who denied her promotion to full professor despite her being recommended for promotion by the department and college. She left North Carolina for Howard University, in Washington, D.C.

For a more local connection—also given renewed emphasis by George Floyd protests—Kent State has a Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). See Recently the University Faculty Senate proposed a syllabus statement, drafted by the Anti-Racism Task Force Transition Team Subcommittee (i.e., committee guided by DEI).

Kent State University is committed to the creation and maintenance of equitable and inclusive learning spaces. This course is a learning environment where all will be treated with respect and dignity, and where all individuals will have an equitable opportunity to succeed. The diversity that each student brings to this course is viewed as a strength and a benefit. Dimensions of diversity and their intersections include but are not limited to: race, ethnicity, national origin, primary language, age, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, mental and physical abilities, socio-economic status, family/caregiver status, and veteran status. (Source: Feb. 14, 2022 Email from Prof. Jen Cunningham, Faculty Senate Representative).

Note phrase “diversity and their intersections,” a version of which will come up below as related to concepts from Critical Race Theory, i.e., “intersectionality.” I also served on a department-level committee with a similar emphasis, a committee charged with revising department statements and policy documents. And I do plan to include that statement on future syllabi. You are not encouraged to presume that I am a “blank slate” but to aim your argument toward a professor or instructor who is concerned about how to teach works given the potential that a student could attempt to get you reprimanded or fired for teaching them, if you are deemed to be “promoting” or “teaching” divisive concepts.

Potentially Divisive Concepts in American Literature

In first list below, I pair a scholarly article with one or two readings from the relevant part of our current semester, American Literature from founding era (1776–1791) to end of Civil War. You are not required to use these, but my sense is that they have a high likelihood to work productively on this paper.

Douglass’s Narrative or Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Harris, Cheryl I. “Whiteness as Property.” Harvard Law Review, vol. 106, no. 8, June 1993, pp. 1707–91. EBSCOhost, Note:

The above might supply a way to read Stowe on white racial identity (“Whiteness”) as a valuable “property,” but I propose that suggesting racial identity has affiliations to value of preserving rights to “property” may strike some conservatives as a divisive concept. To require students to read a major essay from CRT scholarship—probably divisive. Also, a very long article, dense with footnotes.

Douglass’s Narrative as Having an Anti-Christ Theology

Hutchins, Zachary Mcleod. “Rejecting the Root: The Liberating, Anti-Christ Theology of Douglass’s Narrative.” Nineteenth-Century Literature, vol. 68, no. 3, Dec. 2013, pp. 292–322. EBSCOhost, Note:

Douglass is typically read as a Christian, Sentimental writer. Hutchins argues that his theology in Narrative has “atheism and anti-Christ sentiments.” Should self-identifying Christian students be assigned to read this essay to interpret Douglass, or are its insights divisive?

Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Romantic Racialism

Fredrickson, George M. “Chapter 4: Uncle Tom and the Anglo-Saxons: Romantic Racialism in the North.” The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817–1914. Harper & Row, 1971, pp. 97–130. S1

Note: The historian Fredrickson explains race-associated characteristics in 19th-century racial science and argues that Stowe’s UTC illustrates them. Might one be at risk when teaching students 19th-century racial science, if they find same to be present in their own or the family’s racial attitudes? That is, should a teacher inform students about an intellectually elaborated form of racism—modern theoretical understanding of how racial ideas in 19th-C coalesced into one form of racism—as a means to read UTC more thoughtfully. Should one even teach that historical forms of racism exist, when 1776 Report argues that nation has always been anti-racist in its ideals and that to teach otherwise is anti-American?

Emily Dickinson, Gender, and Sexuality, i.e., Queer Poetics and Desire

Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll. “The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations between Women in Nineteenth-Century America.” Signs, vol. 1, no. 1, 1975, pp. 1–29.

Juhasz, Suzanne. “Amplitude of Queer Desire in Dickinson’s Erotic Language.” The Emily Dickinson Journal, vol. 14, no. 2, 1995, pp. 24–33.

Note: You would read Juhasz to see how Dickinson’s erotic language has been read as “Queer,” and Smith-Rosenberg provides concepts to contextualize how present-day concepts may (or may not) map onto relationships between 19th-Century women. Also see “Reparative Reading” (Sedgwick) below.

Sojourner Truth and Intersectionality

Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum, vol. 1989, no. 1, 1989, pp. 139–67.

Note: This is not a critical reading of Truth per se. Rather, it is one of the classic statements on “intersectionality,” one of the major concepts in CRT, and a section of paper invokes Truth’s speech to illustrate the concept. Note that Hutchins (above, on Douglass’s Narrative), also discusses Truth’s famous interactions with Douglass, including challenging him for atheistic tendencies. But if Truth’s speech is historical example in an article on key concept “intersectionality,” can one inform students about it without being said to teach ‘divisive concepts’—when discussing Truth in a literature class?

Walt Whitman and Post-War Racial Reconciliation, or its Absence

Folsom, Ed. “Lucifer and Ethiopia: Whitman, Race, and Poetics before the Civil War and After.” A Historical Guide to Walt Whitman, edited by David S. Reynolds, Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 45–96. See Library eReserves.

Note: Instead of teaching that Whitman’s poetry transcends race, we explain that even if his poetry has been interpreted by the slant his prose certainly did not share that, according to Folsom. If convinced, might student then re-read poetry with that thought that, “No, his poetry didn’t overcome its author’s racism, either”? That is, Folsom argues that Whitman shows striking lack of ability, in Reconstruction-era prose, to imagine a multi-racial democracy.

Reading Concepts

Below are some essays on influential concepts about styles of critical reading: “symptomatic” reading (old style: bad) versus “surface” or “reparative” reading (new style: good). Whether reading protocols (styles) would introduce “divisive” topics or would be useful to avoid “divisive” topics would be something you might attempt to decide.

Surface Reading:

See Best, Stephen, and Sharon Marcus. “Surface Reading: An Introduction.” Representations, no. 1, 2009, p. 1. EBSCOhost,

The idea that preferred styles of interpretive reading in literary study is symptomatic and characterized by metaphors of hidden depths, with critical reading to expose something “latent and concealed” (3). By contrast, “surface reading” is interested in “intricate verbal structure” and is an “affective and ethical stance,” which concerns “description” and “location of patterns” and “literal meaning” (10–12). Might it be a “method” of in-class reading that could avoid politics and ideology?

Reparative Reading:

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You’re so Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is about You.” Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity, Duke University Press, 2003. See Library eReserves. Sedgwick’s term “paranoid” reading (bad) is affiliated with “symptomatic” reading (see Best and Marcus, above).

After-the-Fact Reflections

In my introduction to Critical Race Theory as a theoretical concept, and of the current right-wing political redefinition, I thought it might be useful for other people to see my overview, which served as background for the paper assigment. The usual caveats apply: I am not a specialist in Critical Race Theory. However, I teach graduate students, and one of the things I do know how to do is look up stuff in reference works and guides to scholarship, identify major texts, and read them. I am unqualified to teach Critical Race Theory at a graduate level, but that is not what’s required in this junior-level course, where it is not taught. It’s a concept that an education adult who is willing to put effort into doing so (reading 3 or 4 academic articles, plus an introductory textbook) should be capable of grasping.

The overall consensus, in eventual papers, is that students anticipated they would be censored from teaching topics and literary works that they thought valuable. At least half of the students had never been assigned pre-1865 works by African American or Native American authors, male or female. Also, no student had previously encountered works by nineteenth-century women authors. And I do not believe that I was successful at convincing most of them that such topics as history of enslavement were permissible, on the basis of the exception carved out for historical topics.

I will also add, after the fact, that given how complex the topic is, my overall impression is that the purpose of all of such legislation is censorship. And I think the legislators who are advancing it know this–and approve of the silencing that will be the likely result. Nonetheless, because my students have various political alignments (some conservative, some progressive), I strived to present the topic in the most fair-minded manner that I was capable. Perhaps my introduction will be helpful to other people, who are attempting to navigate the details and consequences of legislative pronouncements. I will add below two excerpts from comments that I mentioned general drift in more than one paper, to illustrate what I thought were difficulties in applying these concepts for multiple students.

On the Genealogy of “Divisive Concepts,” According to Google Search:

Students tended to assume that phrase “divisive concepts,” like “Critical Race Theory,” have been around a long time. They have not: “Upon searching Google for quoted ‘divisive concepts,’ it today returns 227,000 (May 2, 2022). By contrast, when limiting search to earlier decade, 2000 and 2010, Google currently lists 64 quoted instances, with “very similar” excluded. Going further back, from 1850 to 1950, in Advanced Book Search, the phrase only appears 4 times. That is, ‘divisive concepts’ is a term of very recent coinage.”

On Exception for Historical Topics, My Reading of House Bills:

Reconsider assertion that not teaching “Critical Race Theory” is directly equivalent to “hiding history,” for proposed law (in present house bill) says that “Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit…3) impartial instruction on the historical oppression.” That would allow teaching about slavery, wouldn’t it—insofar as one remained “impartial”? To me, it’s the word “impartial” that is problematic, especially given how one of the house sponsors used it to highlight options when teaching the Holocaust.

Note on Course Title

Colleagues in literary studies will recognize that “U.S. Literature” is problematic as a term, as by general consensus “American Literature” extends much earlier than Revolutionary era. It’s one of two available courses in the cycle, so it is generally interpreted to mean how anthologies treat it, works predominantly written about or in the Americas north of the equator, including the earliest Caribbean discovery literatures and selected indigenous creation and trickster tales that are included in the Norton Anthology of American Literature. That I explain the complication in class, but do not file to have the paperwork changed in a 7-step multi-year process, has an explanation–this is how bureaucracy makes change difficult. I’m not proud that I have not attempted to do that, but that is why I have not attempted it. I’m not the only one to teach the course.

Additional Recommended Readings

The readings below, especially Cho, Crenshaw and McCall (2013), Hancock (2016), and Nash (2008, 2011), are more properly informative about Critical Race Theory as a scholarly specialty in legal studies, with related writings.

Bell, Derrick, Richard Delgado, and Jean Stefancic. The Derrick Bell Reader. New York: New York University Press, 2005. Print. Critical America.

Cho, Sumi, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, and Leslie McCall. “Toward a Field of Intersectionality Studies: Theory, Applications, and Praxis.” Signs 38.4 (2013): 785–810. JSTOR. Web. 28 Apr. 2022. <>.

Hancock, Ange-Marie. Intersectionality: An Intellectual History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Print.

Hill, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought : Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Unwin Hyman, 1990. Print. Perspectives on Gender: V. 2.

Nash, Jennifer C. “‘Home Truths’ on Intersectionality.” Yale Journal of Law and Feminism 23 (2011): 445.

Nash, Jennifer C. “Re-Thinking Intersectionality.” Feminist Review 89 (2008): 1–15. Web.

Williams, Patricia J. The Alchemy of Race and Rights. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1991. Print.

Note: Please consult the recommended readings, and, more importantly, the works cited in recommended readings. I am not a scholar who specializes in this topic, and this post has not been vetted (that is, is not “peer reviewed”) by scholars who are active in the field. You can say it’s an example of a university instructor trying to deal with the impact of divisive concepts legislation, someone who tried to get up to speed, but it is not “scholarship” in the sense of researched and peer reviewed scholarship.

Recent Updates

The associated below are by AAUP, an advocacy organization for university professors which refers to “divisive concepts” legislation as “gag orders,” and an update to the Ohio legislative bill, which was released while students were working on the paper, after the original assignment.

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Ohio Redistricting Commission: GOP members again thumb nose at Ohio Constitution

The GOP members of the Ohio Congressional Redistricting Commission again yesterday thumbed their nose at the Ohio Constitutional Amendment, and at the Ohio Supreme Court ruling that their maps were unconstitutionally gerrymandered. The GOP members refused to consider maps apportioned to be representative, by mapmakers which the commission hired. Those mapmakers sought to observe the requirements of the constitution, but the Redistricting Commission instead again adopted gerrymandered maps that echo the previous decade of gerrymandered maps.

Governor DeWine let it be known his preference for an outcome like today’s—a farce—when at the beginning of the constitutionally mandated process he skipped the first public open meeting, and instead visited a pro football team training camp. At each meeting cycle mandated by the Supreme Court, Republican members stalled until deadline and then selected maps under secrecy (in violation of constitutional rules) or at last minute (without allowing comment), to defend GOP incumbents with uncompetitive districts. GOP members, including DeWine and DeRose are repeatedly relying on passive inaction to thwart the intent of the constitutional amendment, and ignoring the Supreme Court order, for the purpose of making a mockery of representative government in Ohio.

And if you support them, or cannot be bothered about state and local politics, and ignore the will of more than 71% of voters in 2015, who passed the amendment, you are enabling them. Ohio Edison also thanks you, and is looking forward to continuing to enjoy their billion dollar annual return on their 100 million investment, the bribing of the Ohio GOP (Householder, Randazzo, DeWine, etc.).

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Selected 19th-Century US Anthologies of Poetry (A List)

Below is a list of 19th-C U.S. anthologies of poetry that are often said to be influential. Most pre-1860 entries were drawn from this essay:

Belasco, Susan. “Leaves of Grass and the Poetry Marketplace of Antebellum America.” Leaves of Grass: The Sesquiscentennial Essays, edited by Susan Belasco, et al., University of Nebraska Press, 2007, pp. 179–98. See pages 187- especially. That essay is available on the Whitman Archive, in this list of criticism, under Belasco… (Download PDF).

The list begins with Kettell and Cheever, in 1830-1831, and continues with two selections in post-war, Griswold’s revised/enlarged (1874) and Longfellow’s Poems of Places (1879) The Hale entry is a gift book, as is the Griswold Gift Leaves, and both could as well be in my alternate list, which is of flower dictionaries. Anthologies as a collection genre were not firmly divided from collections of poetic flowers in the 19th century. Nor does this and other list exhaust the way poetry was read in the 19th-C. The list is sorted chronologically. For female-predominant lists of poets, see Hale (1839), Griswold (1842), May (1848), Read (1849), and Griswold (1849). The purpose of this list is for convenience, that you can go straight to a Hathi Trust record with an in-color facsimile reproduction. I try not to link to copies with only microfilm. And remember, you can go to Penn Online Books Page, for a better-cataloged lists with multiple editions by prolific author-editors. See, for example, the entries for Evert A. Duyckinck and Rufus W. Griswold. Also, when you’re at Hathi Trust, you can also browse “Similar Items.”

Kettell, Samuel. Specimens of American Poetry. S.G. Goodrich and Co., 1829. Hathi Trust,

Cheever, George Barrell. The American Common-Place Book of Poetry: With Occasional Notes. Carter, Hendee and Babcock ; C. Carter, 1831. Hathi Trust,

Bryant, William Cullen. Selections from the American Poets. Harper, 1840. Hathi Trust,

Hale, Sarah Josepha Buell and Cairns Collection of American Women Writers. The Ladies’ Wreath: A Selection from the Female Poetic Writers of England and America: With Original Notices and Notes: Prepared Especially for Young Ladies: A Gift Book for All Seasons. Marsh, Capen, Lyon, and Webb, 1839. HathiTrust,

Keese, John, et al. The Poets of America. S. Colman; [etc., etc.], 1840. Hathi Trust,

Morris, George Pope. American Melodies: Containing a Single Selection from the Productions of Two Hundred Writers. H.F. Anners, 1840. HathiTrust,

Gallagher, William D. Selections from the Poetical Literature of the West … U. P. James, 1841. HathiTrust,

Griswold, Rufus W. Gems from American Female Poets: With Brief Biographical Notices. H. Hooker, 1842. HathiTrust,

Griswold, Rufus W. The Poets and Poetry of America: With an Historical Introduction. Carey and Hart, 1842. HathiTrust, (Also see Griswold, 1874, below).

Cheever, George Barrell. The Poets of America, with Occasional Notes. S. Andrus and son, 1847. HathiTrust,

May, Caroline. The American Female Poets. Lindsay & Blakiston, 1848. HathiTrust,

Griswold, Rufus W. The Female Poets of America. Carey and Hart, 1849. HathiTrust,

Griswold, Rufus W. Gift-Leaves of American Poetry. J. C. Riker, 1849. HathiTrust,

Read, Thomas Buchanan. The Female Poets of America. With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of Their Writings. E. H. Butler & co., 1849. HathiTrust,

Duyckinck, Evert Augustus, et al. Cyclopaedia of American Literature: Embracing Personal and Critical Notices of Authors, and Selections from Their Writings. From the Earliest Period to the Present Day; with Portraits, Autographs, and Other Illustrations. Scribner, 1855.

Duyckinck, Evert A., et al. Cyclopædia of American Literature. C. Scribner, 1856. Hathi Trust,

Duyckinck, Evert A., and George L. Duyckinck. Cyclopædia of American Literature Supplement to the Cyclopædia of American Literature. C. Scribner, 1866. HathiTrust,

Griswold, Rufus W., and Richard Henry Stoddard. The Poets and Poetry of America…Carefully Revised, Much Enlarged, and Continued to the Present Time. J. Miller, 1874. HathiTrust, (Also see Griswold, 1842, above).

Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. Poems of Places. Houghton, Mifflin, 1879. Hathi Trust, See below for US-related entries.

Vol. 25: America: New England, Vol. I
Vol. 26: America: New England, Vol. II
Vol. 27: America: Middle States
Vol. 28: America: Southern States
Vol. 29: America: Western States
Vol. 30: British America

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Contacting Local Public Officials (Republican) about Whether United States has Fair Elections

I got so upset this morning (Jan 9th) that I decided to call the local sheriff, a recently elected Republican. He was not in, but I spoke to the dispatcher, whom I notified that Congress was attacked while in session, and I though it was an emergency and would like to speak to sheriff. I would like to urge everyone else, especially Democrats wherever they live, to personally contact one of their own local elected public officials, Republican, because the party is saying it doubts we had a fair election, and ask them the following questions, politely but sincerely, and insisting that you as a concerned citizen want a basic follow-up:

1) Do you (addressed to elected official) believe that you personally were legitimately elected, in a fair election?

2) Tell them that you believe that elections were fundamentally fair, that following the laws and procedures is necessary for representative governance to be legitimate, and you ask them to affirm the same, even when someone of the opposing party was elected in other districts, other states, nationally.

3) Also ask them to publicly, in some forum, affirm that they were elected in a legitimate election, a forum widely available to community which elected them (local paper, etc.). I guess social media on which they have a significant number of followers, etc., is okay. But say is important to you that they notify you that they have done the follow-up.

4) Finally, ask them, if possible, if they would include in their statement some recognition, an acknowledgment that the attack on the Capitol building, Jan. 6 is fundamentally antithetical to representative governance. They can struggle with what exactly they need to say, but you as a concerned citizen in their district, need their reassurance. And you again want to know what they say and where it is publicized.

5) I think this will work better if you don’t push them for more, that “if possible” be as firm as you can on the necessity of their doing it, for sake of increasing faith in representative democracy. Manage your anger as best you can, if you are as angry as I am, and speak to them as a reasonable human being, concerned about our society and representative governance, which you are and I am and they are.

6) No one is asking local officials to be an expert on the topic, nor to investigate irregularities, except if that is the task associated with their elected position, in their particular region or state. Given the partisan nature of this topic, I am urging you to ask them to publicly express faith in elected representative governance.

Recommendation: I urge contacting your local official via telephone or video call, instead of social media. But if social media, less impersonal forms are preferred. Don’t just write a screed on Twitter. I’ve tried that. It does not work.

Other things to Do:

Contact like I did local media, and also ask them to follow up on local matters concerned with the January 6 insurrection.

Contact your Republican Senator or Representative, like I did mine, Ohio Senator Rob Portman.

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My Letter to News 5 and Reporter Tracy Carloss

Ms. Carloss and NewsDesk,

You and your colleagues on Jan. 6, evening news, reported the story on Ohioans who headed to Washington, D.C. to protest. I watched a version of the story on the evening news. This is the link on the web site, but I do not see exactly the same segment.

Thousands of Ohioans headed to Washington D.C. to protest Biden’s election win

A name that I recall, from the segment, is Tom Zawistowski, Executive Director of the Portage County Tea Party and President of the We The People Convention. In the reported story on your web site, although I do not recall his being in the segment. In the print story is the name Kirsten Hill of Free Ohio Now, and a “Hach” with Free Ohio Now.

As the persons in the story were headed to join a mob that attempted to overthrow United States Senate, House of Representatives, during the process of Electoral Vote Certification, and likely (given persons with zip ties on floor of House or Senate) to decapitate government by assassinating Speaker Pelosi, Minority Leader Schumer, and Vice President Pence, will you be following up on the story about the local persons who are aligned with this act of open rebellion against the United States?

If you have not yet fully processed what is going on at this moment, it may seem that I address you like a crank. My emotional state has been fluctuating strongly. I described some of those struggles yesterday, in a blog post, which was addressed also to you, and which draws on my scholarship in 19th century American literature culture.

To My Neighbors in North-East Ohio, Supporters of Yesterday’s Coup Attempt, and Cleveland’s News 5, which Profiled Them, Some Thoughts about 19th-Century History Colliding with the Present Election

I am not alone. I am fairly certain that Sean Wilenz (by-lined as a reporter) at Rolling Stone, is very same as George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History at Princeton. He was uncompromising and clear in an editorial posted to Rolling Stone, Lock Him Up: What Donald Trump did on January 6th was sedition — and he must be prosecuted for it

You can compare the author blurb and topics at Rolling Stone with that at Harvard University Press. I have more letters to write, and you obviously have the proper training to follow up whether the Rolling Stone editorial author is same as Princeton professor. I did not follow up on whether the two names are the same.

But since I’m in a hurry, and I’m asking you to be in a hurry, I want to say that it’s time to stop mincing words and being both-sidesism. I know you are a local news channel and have a lot of viewers who will object to placing the matter as strongly as I do. But you have a civic duty to follow up with the story, just as I have a duty to call you to account, for re-running the video of the story on the evening after the coup attempt, while the view remained blurry.  I am following up with my local elected officials. I am throwing my weight into this action. If you want to get a read on me, you can follow up with my contact information. I am not in the “office” now, so phone number below is not good. But email will work.

Wesley Raabe | Email: | Office Ph.: 330-672-1723
Associate Professor, Textual Editing and American Literature
Department of English, Kent State University, Web:

LinkedIn: wesley-raabe-6b3537176 | Pronouns: he/him/his

Textual Editor, The Collected Works of Harriet Beecher Stowe


Update: The writer of the story has responded (Jan. 9, evening) and is forwarding my letter to “her bosses,” who decide on what News5 covers.

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My Letter to Rob Portman, Senator from Ohio, on Trump’s Insurrection against the United States

I sent letter below via Ohio Senator Portman’s web form, at Since he did not respond or acknowledge my previous memo to him, this morning I saved it on my hard drive before sending, to repost here as an open letter. If he responds, I will post his response.

Subject Head: Contacted You Earlier, about Recognizing Biden as President Elect, but You did Not Acknowledge or Respond

Senator Portman,

Some days after the initial vote counts in Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Arizona made it clear that Joe Biden was the President-Elect, I contacted your office, via this same form, and urged you to courage, to join with the two or three members in your party (Romney, as well then Sasse, Murkowski, to best of my recall) to acknowledge the election results. I warned you then that your inaction was dangerous. You never acknowledged or responded.

By calling for and then sending the mob on Jan. 6 against the Capitol building, some of them clearly intending to assassinate Vice President Pence, Minority Leader Schumer, and House Speaker Pelosi, the president has sacrificed any pretense he may have had about loyalty to the United States. You can discern the motives of these rioters by their social media posts, by their zip ties, nooses, molotov cocktails, pipe bombs, etc. They follow the words and the lead of the current President, who is engaged in open insurrection against the United States, its Legislature, the branch in which you serve.

I again urge you to gather up the courage to condemn the President who is identified with your party. If he continues as the titular leader of that party, in your lifetime, if you live another decade or two, you will likely have to confront the fact that yours is no longer a Party worth preserving in a nation that values democracy, the right to vote, the right of citizens to elect their own leader. Sean Wilenz, a historian from Princeton, makes the case in stark terms, in an editorial in Rolling Stone, posted yesterday (Jan 7), an editorial rich with the knowledge of a 19th-Century scholar.

The outgoing president, who is no longer worthy of the title, will come to his end as a living person, as we all must, but his name will live on in history, among rabid partisans and White Supremacists likely as a hero, among well-qualified historians as a blight on and threat to democracy, as anathema. There is another possible future. The rabid partisans and White Supremacists may eventually, within this decade or several from now, succeed at overtaking fully your party or some reassembled rump of it, building it again into a governing coalition. And if so, it could very well be that the opinions of well-qualified historians, within a few decade after that consolidation, won’t matter so much. They’ll be rounded up, marched out, as in Turkey in recent decades.

If Democratic governance survives in the United States, if academic historians continue to do their work–I think in long sweeps of time, a century or more–you have the opportunity to be footnoted as one who swelled the progress toward recognizing Trump as a threat to his country, a progress led in this moment by Pelosi, Romney, Murkowski, Sasse. That is, your task is to join them and recognize and speak out unequivocally that the outgoing president engaged in open rebellion against the United States. Not next week, NOW. I urge you to take that more direct path. I again hope that you can muster up the courage, despite the fact that immediately after the election you failed to do so.

Last time when you eventually spoke to acknowledge Biden’s election, a local wag in a Cleveland publication, said that your statement was like trying to fart through the eye of the needle. I will remember that phrase, for the rest of my days, as it applies to your previous statement. Do better this time. This is a historical crisis. Take the opportunity to be on the side of, and an uncompromising advocate for, democratic governance. My children, your children, our grandchildren, will be better for it.

Wesley Raabe
Department of English
Associate Professor, Kent State

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To My Neighbors in North-East Ohio, Supporters of Yesterday’s Coup Attempt, and Cleveland’s News 5, which Profiled Them, Some Thoughts about 19th-Century History Colliding with the Present Election

On the evening Jan. 6, on News 5 Cleveland, I watched an interview with Tom Zawistowski, Executive Director of the Portage County Tea Party and President of the We The People Convention, the gist of which is reported in this story, although the video I watched in evening is not posted there. Myself also a resident of Portage County, it struck me as remarkably tone-deaf that News 5 would air his words with no context, as Mr. Zawistoski voiced his concerns about “whether we are a nation that can conduct a fair election or not,” and as Tom Hach, of neighboring Cuyahoga County, voiced his concerns that a ” large population believes they are being misrepresented.” I did not see Hach speak on the broadcast, but I noted Zawistowski’s name.

Why have these North East Ohio Tea Party Republicans gotten so concerned about vote counting far away, in other states? And why do they believe, apparently, that the local results were valid? During the election, Donald Trump performed well in this region, Ohio’s Electoral College votes went to him, and Republicans were elected on virtually the entire slate on my local ballot (save one or two), including the sheriff who ran as a Republican, his slogan “Make Portage Great Again.” The Ohio State Senate candidate Betsy Radar, whom I supported, was pummeled by online ads portraying her as a wild-eyed radical. But the streaming in of local election results were a disconcerting moment for me in my university-adjoined neighborhood, for about a third of homes in the 7-10 neighboring blocks around me had signs for Biden-Harris, outnumbering Trump-Pence signs around 10 to 1. It felt to me that I was the one “being misrepresented” by the election results in Portage County.

But the results were the results. Facing facts, but with no good local polling on which to rely, I suggest a few possible explanations. On the local state race, Radar candidacy, the difference of perception is that in surrounding neighborhood blocks most people likely are Democrats and a few miles away people are often Republicans. Maybe it’s because I’m next to a university, where I work, and they live in other parts of county, more rural, where people with similar political beliefs cluster. Also, Radar was endorsed by the Sierra Club, which likely did not go down well with business interests associated with the FirstEnergy scandal, the scandal that got Larry Householder, Ohio Speaker, removed from his position, the one who in exchange for bailing out FirstEnergy is charged with accepting massive bribes. Despite charges that have already led to guilty pleas, Householder was re-elected. I did not scour the campaign finance reports, but it would not surprise me if FirstEnergy-associated bribes political contributions helped Radar’s opponent drown her on the air waves. Jerry Cirino’s ads were all over my web pages. And perhaps she was pummeled even more heavily on Facebook, which I don’t follow much. Even if I don’t have all the campaign details correct by probing deeply into finance reports–not the main point of this post–I think it’s fair to believe that part of Betsy Radar’s defeat was because she was a down-ballot Democratic candidate, in a region enthusiastic for Trump. Same may explain why Householder, though charged with serious crimes connected to his time in office, was re-elected, in another Trump district. I accept the facts of the vote counts, even if it did not look to me that it would turn out that way beforehand, when I walked in my neighborhood, even if I assumed (in my own head) that someone as tainted as Householder by a bribery scandal surely had no shot at re-election.

In any case, when Portage County and Ohio voted overwhelmingly for Trump–Ohio is now more Republican than Texas, the state in which I was born and raised–it was disorienting for me, perhaps similarly disorienting for my neighbors also with Biden signs, disoriented because they discover that overwhelming majorities (of people around them) voted for Trump, for whom Fox News, AM talk radio, Trump email, and like-minded Facebook friend were major sources of information, if not InfoWars, and QAnon. And perhaps the good early performances by Ohio governor DeWine, Republican, in the pandemic, boosted the brand in this state. At some level I need to accept, intellectually, based on vote counts, that large numbers of persons in the wider Portage county (tends rural as you move eastward), did in fact vote for Trump, including at least a few who joined that 7-bus caravan to the coup attempt.

I received my first visceral reminder about Trump supporters in my wider region somewhat earlier, when my two political signs, “Biden 2020” (got mine early, before Harris announced) and “Black Lives Matter,” were stolen from my yard about a week before Halloween. As I walked in my neighborhood again, shortly after the signs theft, it seems that something about the combination of “Biden 2020” and “Black Lives Matter” (adjacent to one another) rankled the thief, who was apparently unbothered by many “Biden-Harris 2020” signs. The loss of my signs was not a mass purge of signs in my neighborhood, apparently just one particularly provocative pairing, the one in my yard. But then again, nor was mine the only such pairing in the neighborhood. Many Black Lives Matter signs were visible in October. Maybe the loss of my signs was random. I still suspect nonetheless that my free speech, in my own damn yard, was apparently intolerable to passing Trump-supporting and Black Lives Matter-opposing vandals. Also, I cannot help, by the coincidence of the News 5 report, wondering whether my yard sign thief had similar political views as my neighbors who boarded the parade of buses with the intent to go try to overthrow an election. Their individualized consumption of public discourse likely informs them, one which does not cross over with mine, a diet heavy on The Atlantic, NPR, CNN, New York Times, Vox. I was misled about the political leanings of my neighbors because of what my local and digital media environments (yard signs, radio, web sites) told me, probably because I wanted to be; and my neighbors were guided by their media environment (yard signs, radio, airwaves, web sites), again probably because they wanted to be. Now in my eyes, after yesterday, at least some of my neighbors are supporters of sedition, an insurrectionary coup attempt, even if in their own minds they will never accept that definition for their actions. Already today Fox News is gradually backing away, ever more emphasizing what-the-media-is-reporting stories, which is a key tell on Fox News that true believers know that the truth is opposite of what Fox is reporting other media is saying. They did same in 19th-century party papers. If my neighbors would like to try to explain themselves to me–whether they see this careful dance as manipulative also, they can. I set out above why I believe what I believe.

Sometimes we fall into lazy habits, not being vigilant about attending to our surroundings, not thinking that a yard sign could get stolen, for example, or not thinking that a mob, called by and egged on by the president, might assault the Capital Building to threaten its members in session, while others of their associates plant bombs. My excuse for my degree of inattention to the everyday in general life is because I’m a professor at Kent State, one who is easily distracted by nineteenth century books, mostly Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which I am in the process of editing. Also, I vividly recall my reading of American Slavery As It Is, the source for several of her novel’s episodes and among the most chilling books that I have ever read. I’d add that I’m reasonably familiar with the 19th century, my Zoom bookshelf populated by at least 40 scholarly books on history and literary or cultural criticism. Though Stowe wrote her famous book in Maine, she partly developed her activism out West in Cincinnati, partly in the aftermath of the city’s anti-Black riots. Because of my interests, I am reminded that North East Ohio was once known for anti-slavery activism, the John Brown House nearby. You can read several anti-slavery papers from this region in pre-Civil War Ohio, on Chronicling America. In Civil War mythology, Ohio is a free state, aligned with the North, but free is relative. For example, Black people could not vote or testify in juries before 1850. So then as now, Ohio’s minds were of their own times, various and divided, like the present minds with whose range I try to grapple in this post.

And now to history in the present day. Because I spend most of my scholarly effort on pre-Civil War period and despite having read Eric Foner’s Reconstruction two summers ago, I did not remember the details of the Compromise of 1877, nor did I remember that Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican candidate, was from Ohio. The details were recalled to my attention by the certification proceedings last night, when Congress returned to its two session. The first Hayes paragraph on Wikipedia notes that he was an antislavery activist before the war. The second paragraph explains how he to gain presidency benefitted from an Electoral College bargain, permitting electors, votes, rights, and lives of Black citizens in the south to be sacrificed for White Supremacy.

The Republican Party nominated Hayes for president in 1876, and he won through the Compromise of 1877 that officially ended Reconstruction by allowing the restoration of Jim Crow laws in the South. In office he withdrew military troops from the South, ending Army support for Democrat state governments and Freedmen’s rights as citizens in the South. (Jan 7, 2020)

The reminder about Hayes’s election in social media today is because it was the example cited in a plan to object to certifying 2020 electors, by Senators Cruz and Hawley, who argued that we need as they did a generation earlier to be vigilant to determine whether citizens in majority-black areas (as then: South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana; like now: urban districts in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania) had their votes counted accurately and legally. By contrast we simply assume without even mentioning the matter that the votes of my neighbors in Northeastern Ohio, an area predominantly white, were counted properly. Alexander Pope named this habitual mode of thinking well, the “eternal sunshine of the spotless mind.” If you are free of guilt, have little historical knowledge, and do not try to reconcile present to past, you can easily imagine both that votes in majority-Black districts are immediately suspect and that votes in majority-white districts can be trusted without question. And you can acquire the spotless mind regardless of what you know intellectually, if you don’t feel the conflict, which announces both things are unlikely to be true at once, in your gut or heart, the seat of your conscience.

On the floor of the Senate, Lindsey Graham, who can walk through a slinky untouched, noted during the late-night certification session that two slates of electors were sent to the Electoral College in 1877, and he suggested that if Cruz and Hawley “are looking for historical guidance…this is not the one to pick,” implying that a bargain in which the votes of black people were invalidated is a bad historical example on which to base a precedent.

I’ll put it another way:

If you in certification process want to throw out the votes of Black people in Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania today, turning the state votes over to president who did not win those electoral college votes, you should not pick the example of the 1877–if you think the votes of Black people should be counted as readily as votes of white people.

To leave the last part unstated–and it’s important to leave it unstated when you are Cruz and Hawley–is to ensure that your message can be taken whichever way best soothes the conscience. The precedent is very exact, it’s the one that Cruz and Hawley chose on purpose, because it was the one that they meant: they chose the historical precedent to make their present meaning unmistakably clear, without having to spell it out. To assume that Cruz and Hawley (or whoever was doing their symbolic and historical thinking for them) picked it inadvertently is being naive, for it’s Stephen Miller-level thinking. Cruz and Hawley may not want the present and future to be exactly like the late 19th century, but they endorse a part of it: to not recognize a slate of electors chosen with the support of Black citizen and thereby to disenfranchise those citizens, and to elect a White Supremacist president. Or, another way of thinking about it: Cruz and Hawley still imagined that by stringing the process along a little more, their more subtle and drawn-out coup, they could stay on the right side of the tiger. But Trump and and his less subtle White Supremacist supporters, presumably among them my Portage county neighbors–though I know nothing about any one of them’s particular role at the protest–interrupted the smoothly worded effort just as Cruz was speaking. A person of courage and moral conviction who holds public office, not “my colleague from Texas,” as so many delicately put it, when so exposed before the world, by a slinky like Graham, should have the resignation letter drafted within a day. Resigning in disgrace is the act of moral courage by a person who has lost all claim to virtue, to public respect, but by the act reclaims one hint of decency, and a generous pension.

But when it comes to admitting anti-Black racism, no one in public office ever gets to that point. And in fact I think I know why, because Harriet Beecher Stowe taught me. If you want to try to understand how white people convince themselves that the lives of Black people can be discarded or destroyed with no greater consequence than a furrowed brow, the novel that I have studied, Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, explains how the process of self-deception about dehumanizing other people is managed psychologically, in detail and repeatedly. I don’t think my Portage county neighbors will take the time to read a long novel, nor do I think they will get the same message out of it that I do, for the United States in the 19th and 20th century remade the novel into popular culture theater, which evacuated from it its moral complexity, its evangelical fervor, and Stowe’s fear of God’s vengeance on a nation of persons so easily self-deceived into doing evil. And be it noted, I add, that she lacked the ability to imagine Black people on equal footing with white people in a single nation, even were they not enslaved. But for those who do identify as Christians, there’s a song by Johnny Cash, one which perhaps many of you, including my neighbors, who are of my age or older, probably know well. It has essentially the same message as Stowe’s novel, and I embed the video below.

PS: My local neighbors who took the bus, what I’m telling you that you endorsed, participated in or–how to put this most nicely–got caught up in an insurrection. That is far too nice. This post is addressed to you. Get off the fucking bus. The reason you can reconcile your “patriotism” with your Trump support is because you are racist, because you can scarcely imagine the police rising up to enforce the law against you. And you are right about that, because the police are typically the front-line defenders of White Supremacy, who enforce society’s contract that Black lives do not matter.

I call on News 5, broadcasting from the city that Tamir Rice once lived in, to pay some god-damned attention to what you are doing. You were still trying to portray the local coup supporters sympathetically, on the evening after they and their cohort assaulted the Capitol Building. What the hell is wrong with you?

I apologize to Black people for my effort to explain white people to themselves, as if the world does not have enough of that. And for anyone who just has to ask, Why do you capitalize Black but not white–It’s because whether you are Black in America is a decision often that society makes first, and it thereby makes the life of the person so designated worse than uneasy, raises the risk of death. To be white, without claiming it but merely to notice the choice that society has made for you, is almost unavoidable, but is seldom anything except the easiest choice to live with. To capitalize White is to join White Supremacists, which I have capitalized accordingly when I think it is most apt. Perhaps I have not made every part of my meaning clear. My thinking is crabbed now, clotted with anger, burdened by history colliding with the present, and this a first draft, which I post now because as a scholar I feel compelled to speak to this historical moment, as it concerns a topic that about which I know a bit about its history, at least more than is usually taught in school.

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Methods in Study of Literature: Doing Assignments for PhD Intro Course

I have several times (4?) taught Kent State’s introductory PhD-level “Methods in the Study of Literature” course, which we in the university catalog describe as follows:

Analytical reading and interpretation of published research and criticism, its assumptions, trends, controversies; course will identify and contextualize present opportunities for research in field.

Students blog on assigned readings (critical theory from Norton anthology, their choices, Gregory M. Semenza’s Graduate Study for the 21st Century book, some type of history of discipline book), and early in the semester I pressure students to immerse themselves in the to-them unfamiliar library databases with another assignment, encouraging them to consult the guidance of Harner’s Literary Research Guide (a now-defunct volume: somebody please resuscitate that), but those are participation work, both preparatory to and alongside the project work, which is the major work of the class. The class in truth has five major assignments, all part of the “project,” framing a paper recognizable in the literary studies discipline and writing a draft of it:

  • Two Draft Reading Lists, i.e., area lists for qualifying or comprehensive exams
  • Bibliography and Analysis of Critical Trends
  • Enough Theory
  • Databases and Archives
  • Conference Presentation
  • Seminar Paper/Article Draft

You will notice that my count of “five” major assignments is in fact “six,” and one of the reasons is that students routinely balk at having to both do “enough theory” and “databases and archives,” two dizzyingly difficult assignments that are due 2 or 3 weeks apart. Then, being the nice person that I try to be, I explain that yes, “theory-only papers” can get published and that yes, “archive discovery papers” can merit publication too, but lacking either is not a good recipe for publishable work. In interest of being nice, as I said, I will encourage them choose to the one in which they feel least confident (databases or theory), and 80 percent of students promptly choose the theory option, where they are in fact more confident: I suppose because many of my colleagues are theory-emphasizing professors. In my view, where most ought to be genuinely insecure is in their ability to successfully navigate research databases. But students need to live their own best lives, so I approve a syllabus revision, letting them choose one option rather than requiring both. Now that I’ve said it in public, I suppose I can’t spring the generosity on them this semester.

On the other hand, I fully sympathize. The last time I taught the class I decided that if I would assign the work I must think it is valuable. Therefore, I decided to also “do” the assignments alongside the students and hold myself to the same deadlines. And, for it to be valuable to me, I decided that I needed to push into a different area of study somewhat out of my wheel-house. Frankly, I was thrilled with the option to drop one of the two assignments (theory or database)–and thanked them profusely when they explained they were overwhelmed. After hemming and hawing, I endorsed enthusiastically the option to drop one of them. Maybe they saw the sweat beading off my forehead as they started their back-and-forth on the value of doing both assignments–and took pity on me.

Rather than drag out the preface any longer, the purpose of this post is to share the assignment series and my own efforts to do my own assignments. That way, in future, I can have a model product toward which the students can aim. Sometimes I struggled against my own rules, and I hope students feel empowered to adjust the result–within reason. If there’s genuine rigor and effort, I don’t oppose adjustments. If there’s avoiding the assignment or trying to re-package previous work without significant efforts at enriching, then I do push back and insist on more rigor. Below is the assignment and my efforts to do the assignments alongside my students from Fall 2018 semester, at least most of them.

Unfortunately, now in Summer 2020 I can’t reconstruct the final two parts, conference presentation and seminar paper. The final seminar draft was split into two parts in December after the semester ended, and the next “version” that I can restore from my files is now in two independent streams. One December draft now looks like a discontinued book chapter draft. I always think of myself as having everything preserved, but apparently not. Rather than claim as class draft something that I spent another month on–and not wanting to share later drafts, which have ballooned–I’ll not attach links to last two. But that’s typical of class work. Not everything can be expected to move smoothly into other later work, such as a dissertation, which like a book project is conceived over a longer period.

These tasks were overwhelming, but I don’t quite apologize as I think still they introduce an aspect of our profession, what we expect scholars to do. Nonetheless, I do sympathize more with my students. Having previously done similar work, I knew what the assignment should look like, even though I could not say that I particularly enjoyed forcing myself to do it in the way that I had assigned. The mere fact of its being assigned–even though I was the assigner–made it more psychologically difficult to do it that way. On the other hand, the deadlines did what deadlines do best, make you do stuff, which is psychologically beneficial. My three semi-complete drafts from June 2019 and February 2020 remain on a backburner while I turned to two other projects.

In the project assignment I credit Prof. Tammy Clewell (Kent State) and Prof. Natalia Cecire (Edinburgh University), Prof. Clewell for the overall conception of the semester-long assignment series and Prof. Cecire for her “Enough Theory” crash course. I thank them again now. And if anybody teaching a Methods-style course has recommendations or finds the materials useful, I’d appreciate your letting me know. And no, next time I teach the course, I won’t be forcing myself to do all the assignments. I in grad school was forced into three Methods-style courses–and I’ve now almost taken again the course of my own design—so I think that’s enough for me. If someday I claim to undertake an intellectual “turn” in my career–I won’t call it that: the phrase has always sounded kind of pompous to me–this is what I design Methods for, to illustrate how to do it.

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Epidemics in Uncle Tom’s Cabin: cholera, yellow fever, tuberculosis

I have been drafting annotation for Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for an edition, and last November and December I was working on the St. Clare chapters, in which two epidemic diseases are mentioned by name, cholera and yellow fever, and one disease is referred to but never named, tuberculosis. As I’ve already drafted the annotations—and as pandemic is much on the minds of everyone today–I’m going to share my annotation notes, with some suggestions for additional research and connections to the present COVID-19 moment, and with some hints about how they may inform about the United State’s long history–and present–of systemic racism. If you are teaching or reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin this academic year (I won’t be, at least not until spring), perhaps could be of interest to you as well.

When St. Clare refers to the death of Scipio during the “first cholera season,” that dates his death, to the year 1832, the first year in which the United States suffered a cholera epidemic, which would have been in the living memory of much of the audience for Stowe’s novel. And the memory might have been quite fresh, because in 1849 the U.S. suffered its second major cholera epidemic. In any case, here’s the note:

An often lethal infection, cholera targets the gastrointestinal system and causes copious and watery diarrhea, which leads to dehydration and can cause death within hours of its initial onset. A new scourge for the Occident in the 19th C., global trade networks permitted epidemics that had formerly been limited mostly to regions—cholera in Asia, for example—to spread into worldwide pandemics. At midcentury, its germ origins were not understood, and public health consensus blamed seasonal outbreaks of cholera on intemperance and on impoverished immigrants.

The global reach of the British and other less expansive European empires contributed to the spread of epidemics, but they also, as I will show below, led to the formulary of treatments. The 1849 cholera epidemic was a harrowing summer in HB Stowe’s family. Her son Samuel Charles “Charley” died, then aged about 18 months, the disease also striking her daughters Eliza and Georgina, aged 13 and 6, and her household servant Anna Smith–the other three recovering. Charley was one among the tenth of the Cincinnati’s population who perished, which was comparable to other major cities like Sandusky and St. Louis. See Joan D. Hedrick’s biography (buy it), which has a deathbed daguerreotype of Charley and describes that summer in her household. The letter that Stowe wrote to her sister-in-law, after Charley’s death, is at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, and they have published it here: When she was writing her novel in 1851, that event was not long in her past.

But back from author biography to the novel: in chapter 34, the death of St. Clare’s father is dated as among the “first cholera cases” in New Orleans. That statement dates his death to around November 18, 1832, a date you could arrive at by using the chart on page 62 of G. F. Pyle’s “The Diffusion of Cholera in the United States in the Nineteenth Century.” Geographical Analysis (1969) 1: 59–75. I had never considered that an identifiable date–and discovered it by checking on a whim–but it occurs to me that 25 years from now for someone to say “one of the first coronavirus deaths in New Orleans” would be something that many of us will be able to identify to within weeks. To learn more about cholera in U.S. history, with additional resources, see Howard Markel, “Cholera.” In The Oxford Companion to United States History. (2004) Oxford University Press. [Oxford Reference DOI]. From that encyclopedia entry, a standard scholarly study appears to be Charles E. Rosenberg (1987), The Cholera Years: The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866. University of Chicago Press. [Kent Library Link]. Also, if you want to know how cholera was discussed and treated in 19th-century medical literature, in Stowe’s day, see Charles Delucena Meigs, 1849. Remarks on Spasmodic Cholera. Printed, Not Published. T. K.&P. G. Collins, printers [Google Books]. Also of interest, but older, is Daniel H. Whitney (1835), The Family Physician, Or Every Man His Own Doctor: In Three Parts. N & J White. Part 3 is on the “History, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment of Asiatic Cholera,” the last a historical (and as I shall show below, present) disease naming convention whose ideological significance should not be lost to ourselves in the U.S. during the COVID-19 era. Using the chart in Pyle, the article above, I think it would be interesting—dissertation chapter or scholarly article interesting–to trace the spread of cholera geographically, which then could be compared to newspapers in the regions as it took hold, in Chronicling America and subscription newspaper databases.

And to the second, yellow fever. When Ophelia is urging St. Clare to complete the legal transfer of Topsy to her, he asks her whether he “exhibits symptoms of yellow fever or cholera,” and that brings us to the second fatal illness that haunts the novel, which is related to its setting in the city of New Orleans. I’ll begin with my brief explanatory note on yellow fever, and then dilate on it:

An infectious disease, transmitted by a mosquito-born virus, with symptoms that range from headache, chills, and nausea to internal hemorrhage and death. New Orleans’s close trade connections to the Caribbean, ecological transformation including deforestation wrought by sugar plantations, poor sanitation, and frequent immigration of Europeans not previously exposed to the virus led to recurring pandemic outbreaks in the city.

Again according to The Oxford Companion to United States History, the article by Margaret Humphreys, America’s first outbreak occurred in 1790s Philadelphia. (By the way, if you are thinking of a pandemic-themed class, see discussion and text of Charles Brockden Brown’s A Man at Home, which responds to that first Philadelphia yellow fever pandemic, newly released at at Just Teach One). As with cholera, origins were disputed: some blamed poor hygiene and others blamed an imported foreign virus, so public health responses included sanitation and quarantine. Some public health officials noticed that newly arrived persons, not previously exposed, were more susceptible to death. The last major outbreak in the south occurred in the 1890s, at a cost of some 10,000 lives. A recent work, which I have not yet read, associates yellow fever with ecological transformations wrought by the sugar industry and discussions of its causes with slavery, race, and ecology, Urmi Engineer Willoughby’s Yellow Fever, Race, and Ecology in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans. (2017). In the words of the press release: “She then traces the origin and spread of medical and popular beliefs about yellow fever immunity, from the early nineteenth-century contention that natives of New Orleans were protected, to the gradual emphasis on race as a determinant of immunity, reflecting social tensions over the abolition of slavery around the world.” I’ve requested my library’s copy of Willoughby’s book, (as of today, because my university library books were in quarantine until last week), so I can update my note, and you should check with your library to request or order a copy.

Finally, we turn to the most frightening disease of the nineteenth century, tuberculosis, which though technically not an epidemic was nonetheless so frightening that Stowe refers only to it as a series of symptoms, that Eva is “tired and languid,” and that her father overhears the New England nurse Miss Ophelia discussing “a cough, that all her medicaments could not cure; and even now that fervent cheek and little hand were burning with hectic fever.” That is, upon witnessing the cluster of symptoms, death is nearly assured. As today, when in fear of contagion, Ophelia watches and notes the “slight, dry cough” and the “airy buoyancy born of fever.” In choosing to annotate what cannot be named, I decided to link it (as another editor had) to the phrase “could not cure.” And this is the draft:

The unnamed disease associated with an uncurable cough is pulmonary tuberculosis, the wasting illness known as consumption, which led to a quarter of American deaths in the 19th century. An infectious but not epidemic disease, its high prevalence and fatality rates meant that great anxiety accompanied detection of its diverse symptoms: fatigue and poor appetite and weight loss; fever, chills, and night sweats; and coughing for several weeks, painful breathing, and coughing up blood. Its bacterial origin unknown, its infection rate comparatively low and onset delayed, blame was placed on various causes: overstimulation of nerves, overcrowded housing, factory working conditions, alcoholism, poor diet, race, poverty, etc.

Consumption or phthisis is the emblematic death ailment for heroes and heroines of Gothic novels or Romantic poetry, in the religious sensitivity of the sinless child, and in an admired companion in domestic fiction, who guides a young girl’s transition into womanhood (see Warner’s Wide, Wide World). But again also consult medical guides like Mayo Clinic for symptoms and The Oxford Companion to United States History, which has the article by Georgina Feldberg on “Tuberculosis.” If we understand the disease model of that day, then we can understand why Eva’s father insists on a “receipt or strengthening mixtures.” Based on medical dictionaries, this is the pharmacological brew that St. Clare is bringing home to his daughter:

receipt: a medicinal preparation or prescription, one following a formula or recipe;   strengthening mixture: a tonic, typically for tuberculosis symptoms a sweet syrup flavored with citrus peel, cinnamon, or peppermint oil, buchu leaves, cinchona or willow bark, and dilute sulphuric acid, or quinine sulfate, the preparation varying to match symptoms and taken orally in tablespoonfuls two or more times per day.

So that does not sound pleasant, albeit in ingredients and dosage it seems like a recognizable fore-runner to our own sugar syrup cough medicine with bitter aftertastes. For the source of that recipe, see A Cyclopædia of Practical Receipts and Collateral Information in the Arts, Manufacturers, and Trades, Including Medicine, Pharmacy, and Domestic Economy, By Arnold James Cooley. Second Edition. 1845. John Churchill. But it’s interesting to note how essential the fruits of empire are for deriving treatments, which also spur medicinal chemistry, to mimic otherwise rare, expensive, and difficult-to-locate ingredients. I lack the time to sort out everything at the moment, I’ll just share my raw notes, so that you if like I are first stepping into this topic, you can learn from them to read a medical dictionary of the mid-19th-century. I learned to read them (to extent I can) mostly with the assistance of the Oxford English Dictionary.

[cinchona?] bark, for fever: ``growing in the tropical valleys of the Andes"; ``The medicinal bark of species of Cinchona, Peruvian bark; also the drug prepared from it" {OED}, (1740-1880).
buchu (or bucku), source for diosmin, [also in citrus], treatment for blood diseases
``Tonic, stimulant, and diuretic": Any of several aromatic plants native to the Cape of Good Hope, used in the past for cosmetic purposes by the Khoekhoe, and now medicinally. Formerly termed Diosma crenata {OED}, (1730-1880).

calumba root, dyspepsia [indigestion], restraining vomiting and diarrhea
The root of Jateorhiza palmata (or Coccolus palmatus) family Menospermaceæ, a plant indigenous to the forests of Mozambique, used in medicine as a mild tonic and stomachic. {OED} (1789-1883).

cascarilla, ``in debility of digestive organs, to check severe vomiting [i.e., anti-emetic]"
``The bitter aromatic bark of the plant Croton eleuteria, used as a tonic. Also called cascarilla bark. {OED} (1686--1875) Also ``Croton eluteria," native to the Caribbean.

rhatany, for blennorrhea, mucus discharge from urethra or vagina, seen in gonorrhea
``inferior quality, imported from Brazil &c," for port wine. More fully, rhatany root. The astringent root of any of several South American shrubs of the genus Krameria (family Krameriaceae), used medicinally or as an additive in making port. {OED}, from Peru and New Granada (mostly 1808-1895 for medicinal).

ammonia carbonate, ``stimulant, antacid, diaphoretic [inducing perspiration], and antispasmodic" {OED}, (1789-1855), e.g., chemical process for hartshorn.
dilute sulphuric acid, [also: spirit of vitriol], to check perspiration, to relieve itching, for dyspepsia, and to achieve relaxation No OED usage, but in medical dictionaries, early one is Abraham Rees, The Cyclopædia, Or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences (1819).
quinine sulfate, from yellow cinchona bark, as a febrifuge [reduce fever] and a stomachic [appetite or digestion]

Like John Locke and his crazy infatuation with the pineapple–the all-but indescribable pleasures of the senses help make it possible for Locke to suspect that one can know empirically, on the basis of sense experience–it is access to the fruits, literal and figurative, of European empire—Peruvian-sourced bark, South African cosmetic plants, roots from indigenous forests of Mozambique, Caribbean Croton eleuteria bark, South American rhatany (or dilute sulphuric as chemical imitations of hartshorn, quinine sulfate to imitate cinchona bark extract)—that helped to create a full 19th-century tuberculosis formulary.

Please consider: The germ origin of the tuberculosis was not understood, but that does not mean that 19th-century physicians lacked a disease model. For one, match symptom to ingredient that treats the symptom. But more importantly, the key term, which I had missed until I did the research, is “nervous affection.” When Eva has night sweats (among tuberculosis symptom), her mother Marie pooh-poohs it: “Law! I’ve had that, years and years; it’s only a nervous affection.” We the reader, I suppose, are to wonder and laugh to ourselves if we think that Marie is confusing Eva’s illness with the climacteric, but there is an entire disease model behind her term “nervous affection”:

A catch-all medical diagnosis for any affliction or disease that targets mucous membranes and internal organs, those involved in breathing, circulation, digestion, and reproduction: nerve pain in the face and head (neuralgia), indigestion (dyspepsia), vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping and spasms, urinary tract infections, chills and fever or night sweats, weight loss, pains during menstruation, impotence or sterility, and lung and heart ailments. The explanatory model was that bodies have a limited store of vital energy (i.e., nervous affection), which differs by gender, class, and individual constitution. All types of activity–study, entertainment or excitements, physically taxing work, drunkenness or gluttony, sexuality, etc.–expend nervous energy, which might be restored with rest and curtailment of activities. Before the germ model identified certain disease origins, both acute diseases like tuberculosis and various chronic conditions were suspected to originate in depletion of nervous energy, which rendered the body unable to heal or restore itself.

You can learn more about this battery-like model of nervous energy–and it is related to the galvanic battery, the late-18th century discovery of the voltaic cell–by consulting the British and Foreign Medico-Chirurgical Review (1850), by Samuel Highley at,, or Charles Delucena Meigs (1849) Remarks on Spasmodic Cholera, Printed, Not Published. T. K. & P. G. Collins, printers. [Google Books].

I am not a medical historian but rather a scholar of literature and culture, who is trying to annotate disease references in a mid-19th-century novel. And I of course welcome corrections to my amateur effort in another discipline. But upon thinking about how we in the present look back upon pandemic disease, it is interesting to me that Library of Congress topic Epidemics has a sub-heading for both the Black Death and for the Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919, and my general sense is that these are the historical models invoked most frequently for discussions of Covid-19. By contrast, 19th-century epidemics like cholera or yellow fever are not similarly invoked. Cholera (alternate name, Asiatic cholera: and hey, LOC subject heading librarians, you might think about that label some more) is a subject heading, but it not a subheading under pandemic. And nor is yellow fever beneath pandemic. Cholera seems like it definitely ought to qualify, although it was eventually held at bay by improved sanitation–and perhaps has not received the attention from historians and scholars that it deserves. The cholera article by Pyle, above, is as old as I am. Yellow fever is epidemic but regional–and in a warming world with ecological devastations may spread more broadly. Tuberculosis is not identified as epidemic, though infectious, because people could be symptomless carriers, or an infection could remain latent for years. Still, tuberculosis is estimated to have “accounted for almost a quarter of all North American deaths” and a leading cause of death “for as long as records have been kept” (Feldberg). I am not really trying to make a larger point about how we discuss COVID-19, except to note how the language of blame (“Asiatick cholera,” like Trump’s obscene term “China flu”) invokes the foreign threat. Blame for pandemic spread seems not often to fall where it also should, on global trade, on the elite who travel almost effortlessly its well-established routes ship-board or in airplanes–and upon environmental degradation. Instead, racists imply that the deserving are dying at higher rates, as a biological accident rather than as the result of systemic oppression.

More directly pertinent, though, I had never really thought of Stowe’s novel as possessing an epidemic or pandemic sensibility, and had sensed (but only dimly) the presence of acute fear of contracting a horrific, nameless illness. Doubtless Covid-19 is to be blamed for that aspect rising into my awareness. I had not previously been arrested by the mentions of yellow fever or cholera in the Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but the systematic work at annotating (and our COVID-19 moment) has changed me as a reader. And also, now knowing the historical disease model better, it makes sense to me–as it had not previously–why tuberculosis haunts haunts everyone who feels too intensely. Stowe’s novel ends with the following line:

Not by combining together, to protect injustice and cruelty, and making a common capital of sin, is this Union to be saved,—but by repentance, justice and mercy; for, not surer is the eternal law by which the millstone sinks in the ocean, than that stronger law, by which injustice and cruelty shall bring on nations the wrath of Almighty God!

I think the accident of history and our present historical understanding will cause most readers of my generation to associate the invocation of “wrath” with the Civil War, but I am now capable of imagining a newer generation of readers sensitized to the horror of pandemic, for whom Covid-19 and the Spanish Influenza Epidemic reverberate with links to the prior generations’ cholera and yellow fever epidemics, which I now sense alongside pulmonary tuberculosis as palpable strands of fear and dread coursing through the middle chapters of the novel.

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