By Kent Larsen
New York Times Raves about LDS Historian's Latest Book
NEW YORK, NEW YORK -- A review by Yale historian John Demos in this week's
New York Times Book Review raves about the most recent book by LDS historian
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, calling the book, "The Age of Homespun,"
"remarkable" and an invitation to "reflect deeply and reconsider fully" in a
time of cultural reckoning. Demos calls Ulrich a "supremely gifted scholar
and writer" who in this book has "truly outdone herself."
According to Demos "The Age of Homespun" ventures off in "a new and highly
original direction" by putting physical objects produced in the home, such
as textiles and furniture, at the center of her study. These objects are
enshrined in myth as an entire way of life, that still today, according to
Demos, has an emotional hold that remains undiminished. This view of the
early U.S. lifestyle is called on in debates on "family values" and
homeschooling. It surfaces in the production of quilts to memorialize those
that have died from AIDS and even appears in Hillary Clinton's claim that
"it takes a village to raise a child."
But Ulrich doesn't just describe the 'homespun' objects. She uses "a deeply
creative process of analysis and contextualizing" to give 14 different
objects meaning by joining them to "the experience of the people who
produced, owned, used and preserved them. It is, finally, the connections
that make her investigation so unusual and rewarding," says Demos.
Ulrich's work is also "grounded, as it must be, on a total mastery of
innumerable physical details, up to and including the procedures used in
making each object." These details appear, for example, in her description
of spinning wool into thread, which Ulrich writes, "Some writers refer to
... as unskilled work. They have obviously never tried it."
She adds this knowledge of each object to detailed research into local and
family history, genealogy and folklore in order to bring each object and its
connections to life. Demos says what might have been dull description
becomes easy reading because of Ulrich's talented writing. "Ulrich is a
hugely accomplished prose stylist; she fills ''The Age of Homespun'' with
wit and playfulness, lightening what might otherwise become dense and
While Ulrich, who is a professor of history at Harvard University, doesn't
directly discuss Mormon objects in the book (most of the objects are from
New England, covering the period from 1676 to 1837), those she does discuss
are also present in Mormon history (including both Mormon quilts and
furniture, which are the subjects of their own books). Furthermore, her use
of family, local history and genealogy resonate with most LDS Church members.
The praise for Ulrich's book isn't unfamiliar territory for her, either. In
1991 she won both the Bancroft Prize, the most prestigious award for the
study of history, and the 1991 Pulitzer Prize in history for her book "The
Midwife's Tale." That book was subsequently made into a PBS special.
'The Age of Homespun': Learning About the Past From Objects
New York Times 11Nov01 A2
By John Demos
More about "The Age of Homespun : Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth" by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich at Amazon.com
More about "A Midwife's Tale : The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812" by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich at Amazon.com