Michelle Harper


About Author: 
Michelle has nearly 15 years of high-level experience with the digitization and creation of archival collections, particularly historical newspapers. She has held product management positions at ProQuest, OCLC, Gale, and Alexander Street Press. Interests include social media, online communities, world music, dance and animal rescue.
Posts by this Author

Remembering the “Mammy Memorial Movement”: Race and Controversy in the Press

LC-Mary-Allen-Watson-15-June-1866-193x300Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling book and film, The Help, brought to life a familiar caricature of African American women, the American “mammy.” Depicted as good humored, overweight, middle-aged, unquestionably loyal and opinionated, the mammy was an important figure in the lives of those white Southern children for whom she was the primary caregiver. In the early part of the 20th century, nostalgia for the lifestyle of the antebellum South, and particularly for the “mammy,” led to the “Mammy memorial movement,” a call for monuments commemorating the archetype throughout the South. Although largely forgotten now, proposals for “Mammy” monuments were covered and debated extensively in newspapers across the nation. Supporters saw the “Mammy” as a figure uniting both African American and white by bonds of affection and unconditional love. In their eyes, the statue was a figure that could help heal the wounds of the Civil War. The statue was often described as “a racial peace monument.”1 Opponents saw the “Mammy memorial movement” as a sentimental recollection that allowed the history of the South to be falsely romanticized and the proposed statue itself as perpetuating a racial stereotype aimed to keep African Americans in low-status occupations. Romantic sentiment for the figure of the “mammy” can be seen in this early poem, published in the Washington (D.C.) Bee in 1910. 

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Remembering the “Mammy Memorial Movement”: Race and Controversy in the Press

Hoochie Coochie: The Lure of the Forbidden Belly Dance in Victorian America

“It was downright indecent.  I saw women go out after the creatures had begun what they call their dance.  I did not stay it through. I just couldn’t.”1

(A woman’s indignant account of her visit to the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893)

From America's Historical Newspapers

Danse du ventre, oriental dance, the hoochie coochie, coochie coochie, muscle dance, or better known to us as belly dance, was almost unknown in the United States until 1893 when brightly colored dancers dressed in exotic garb from the Middle East appeared at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  Their dancing both fascinated and scandalized Victorians.  The Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair, commemorated the 400-year anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the New World.  It was the first world’s fair with an area of amusements set aside from exhibitions.  This area was known as the Midway Plaisance.  One of the most popular attractions on the Midway was “A Street in Cairo,” where the dancers performed.  Over 27 million people attended the Exposition during its six-month run.2 "The Streets of Cairo” was one of its more memorable attractions for many visitors, as well as one of its most controversial. Victorian visitors often viewed the dancers, now identified from the published descriptions of their costumes as gypsy ghawazi from Egypt3, with a mixture of fascination, amusement and moralistic revulsion:

Hoochie Coochie: The Lure of the Forbidden Belly Dance in Victorian America

The Titanic and Her Passengers: Using America’s Historical Newspapers to Uncover Tales of Tragedy and Love

Thousands of ships over centuries have lined the ocean floor, but even 100 years after it sank, the Titanic still fascinates. James Cameron’s 1997 critically acclaimed "Titanic"—the second bestselling film in U.S. history—was re-released this month in 3-D. The Titanic has also been the subject of several TV documentaries retelling and exploring the disaster. In its own time, no news event was more covered in exacting detail through the pages of the press. News of the Titanic’s shocking demise made front pages across the nation.

The Boston Journal (Source: America's Historical Newspapers)

The Titanic and Her Passengers: Using America’s Historical Newspapers to Uncover Tales of Tragedy and Love

Birth of a Star—Washington, D.C.’s Evening Star

The Evening Star Newspaper Buildings. Source: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Birth of a Star—Washington, D.C.’s Evening Star

The Lady’s Maid: A Life in Service in America

Downton Abbey, a drama that recently ended its second season on PBS about the English aristocracy and their servants during the Edwardian era, has become a cult hit in the United States. A great deal of its appeal is nostalgia for an elegant way of life unfamiliar to most of us. And there is likely not a woman alive who has not wished for a lady’s maid (of a nicer sort) than the dour and scheming O’Brien, lady’s maid to Lady Grantham (Cora Crawley). Ladies’ maids were part seamstress, masseuse, hairdresser, beautician and secretary. Unlike the rest of the servants, they reported directly to the lady of the house rather than to the housekeeper or butler, which set them apart from the others. As Downton Abbey makes abundantly clear, a strict hierarchy ruled "below stairs" too. The butler, housekeeper and ladies' maids were at the top. Because of the close nature of the relationship between the lady of the house and her maid, maids were carefully selected. According to The Lady’s Maid: Her Duties and How to Perform Them, a manual published in 1870,
The Lady’s Maid: A Life in Service in America

How to Get Ahead: Century-Old Advice for the “Woman of Business”

From The Idaho Statesman (April 30, 1911). Source: American Newspaper Archives

How to Get Ahead: Century-Old Advice for the “Woman of Business”

The Real War Horses of America

Michael Morpurgo’s fictional story “War Horse” has gone from a beloved children's book to successful stage production to bestselling Hollywood movie directed by Steven Spielberg. But who were the real war horses of America?

The Real War Horses of America

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