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I absolutely adore reading - my love for books has had a huge impact on my life! I'm going to grad school to be a children's/YA librarian.

A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812

A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 - Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

This historiographical text examines the every day life of women in post-revolutionary America. It uses the diary of Martha Ballard as a lens from which to examine important but often unstudied aspects of life from this period. A must-read for any fan of women's history!

If you've read my "about me" page, then you know that although I plan to become a public librarian, I'm currently finishing up my undergraduate degree in history. As part of my degree requirements, I'm taking a class this semester on historiography. Historiography is basically the study of how people study history. Sounds pretty boring, right? Actually, I've found it to be really interesting. I've liked learning about how historians' outlooks and approaches have changed over time. 

 

As part of my class, I'm required to read a historiographical text (aka a non-fiction history book written by a professional historian) and then write a historiographical analysis based on this book - which explains which school of thought the historian fits into and what techniques they've used to make their arguments, among other things. The book that I chose was this one. 

 

What's really different about A MIdwife's Tale is that it's not focused on a historically significant event or person, but on a typical, every day woman who simply recorded her daily life as she saw it. Because Martha Ballard's diary tends to avoid commentary on politics or other "historically significant" topics, many historians have dismissed it as provincial and, therefore, unworthy of serious study. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a renowned feminist historian, disagrees. She argues that "it is in the very dailiness, the exhaustive, repetitious dailiness, that the real power of Martha Ballard's book lies." By examining what Martha valued, one can draw conclusions about the daily lives of women, and particularly midwives. The book tackles such topics as the duties and tasks of a typical midwife, marriage patterns in post-revolutionary society, and even follows the tale of a brutal axe-murder. As Ulrich argues, this diary, though at first glance inconsequential, is, in reality, anything but. What is most remarkable is that it was even written at all. Most women of Martha's social class lacked significant reading or writing skills, let alone the motivation to keep a diary regularly. The fact that Martha's diary has survived through the centuries makes it a real historical treasure. 

 

If you decide to read this, be warned: this is a well-respected historical text that was written by a professional historian. This means that in addition to being accurate, its purpose is not to entertain, but to educate and to draw conclusions based on Ulrich's research. This is not like a typical biography that you'd find at Barnes and Noble that's been promoted by scores of marketers and publishing companies and, therefore, has a side agenda of selling millions of copies and making the author boatloads of money. This is a scholarly text and as such, it is dry sometimes and can be difficult to get through. This also makes it one of the most accurate and reputable books on the life of the average post-revolutionary woman that you could possibly hope to find, and if you're a history buff who's genuinely interested in learning more about this fascinating time period and the often ignored place of women in it, I highly recommend that you give this a shot. If you're someone who's looking for an easy-to-read historical biography, then this is not the book for you.