When the writer Anne Brewster (1818–1892) and the sculptor Harriet Hosmer (1830–1908) met in Italy in 1876, their conversation circled mainly around the recently deceased actress Charlotte Cushman. That itself was hardly unusual—Cushman was the talk of the town. During most of her adult life, Charlotte Cushman (1816–1876) was among the most-well known public figures in the Anglophone world. As an American actress who could boast a phenomenal success in Britain with roles as varied as Meg Merrilies and Romeo, Cushman dominated the theatrical scene on both sides of the Atlantic for several decades. While she might be forgotten today,1 she was everywhere during the height of her success. You can’t miss her in databases like ProQuest’s American Periodicals Series and Historical Newspapers or the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Yet if you relied only on these public sources, you’d miss a lot.
Panel Series at the 41st Annual Conference of the German Studies Association in Atlanta, GA, October 5–8, 2017
In October 2017, Simone Lässig and Swen Steinberg convened a panel series at the German Studies Association’s annual conference that focused on the roles of family and kinship, including children, in knowledge and migration processes. In her opening remarks, Lässig emphasized that knowledge travels with migrants and is transformed by their experiences in the new homeland. Further, family is a forum for teaching and learning, for sharing, evaluating, and preserving knowledge. Kinship itself entails knowledge-of who is who and how they are connected to other family members. Kinship networks can serve as networks for communicating and processing other kinds of knowledge. They often take on particular importance when individuals and families migrate. Migrants carry knowledge with them; they produce and acquire new knowledge with the experience of migration; and they usually need new knowledge to establish themselves in their new cities, towns, and countries. Family, both immediate and extended, often constitutes a crucial knowledge resource for migrants. The aim of the panel series, Lässig concluded, was to explore the interplay of kinship, knowledge, and migration more closely by examining the experiences of German speakers who left German-speaking Europe and non-German speakers who migrated there.
Rumors have interested me for a long time—not merely the occasional bits of chatter from my work life but rumors as historical phenomena. In my second semester of undergraduate studies, one of my professors mentioned in passing that the rumor about Christopher Columbus’s return from his first voyage travelled from the Iberian Peninsula to Paris faster than the actual messenger dispatched with the news. Although I have never found any confirmation of that story, it continues to resonate. With that professor’s comment, I began saving any article about rumors I ran across to my computer for future use.
In August 1939, the newly formed Jamaica Birth Control League opened the island’s first birth control clinic in Kingston to distribute diaphragms at cost or free to working-class women. To advertise their services, the League published a small, discreet notice in the “Wanted” section of the Daily Gleaner, the island’s main newspaper. Within a year, some 500 women had written passionate letters to the League from across the island; thousands more would show up at the clinic’s doorstep, eager to seize on new methods for controlling reproduction.
I never thought Plato and I shared a common scholarly interest. My research on the millions of eastern Europeans who emigrated to the United States (ancestors of the subjects of Bruce Springsteen songs) at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries seemed far removed from what I had once thought were the lofty realms of the the history of knowledge. Even so, armed with two thinkers, Max Weber and Michel Foucault, as well as reams of bureaucratic sources, I started to think about my research in terms of state knowledge in the surveillance and control of migration.1 But what about the everyday experiences of people in transit, experiences as banal as changing trains, which didn’t exactly gel with ideas from the great minds of civilization? Inspectors at Ellis Island didn’t scribble down treatises on free will, yet knowledge must have played a role in everyday experiences . . .