Dead Queens Discuss Modern Women’s Issues

What is the role of women in society? This is a hotly debated topic that no one seems able to reach a consensus on. Recently, BYU’s History Department thoughtfully resuscitated four dead queens to teach us more about the topic: Empress Cixi of the Ching Dynasty; Hurrem Sultan; Joan of Arc; and Martha Ballard, queen of colonial midwifery. For an hour on March 1, these women debated various questions surrounding women’s involvement in politics, the work force, and life in general. Like the Dead Presidents’ Debate of last fall, it was an engaging and humorous look at history and its bearing on matters of importance today.

Women in the Workforce

The moderator asked in what capacity should women be involved in the workforce? The queens agreed that females were essential. Martha, who, as we mentioned here, was an 18th century midwife who is primarily known from Laura Thatcher Ulrich’s Pulitzer-prize winning book A Midwife’s Tale, said that women had always worke,d while Joan declared women to be an “absolutely important economic force.” Hurrem had worked as her husband, Suleiman the Magnificent’s advisor, and Cixi, who ruled China on behalf of her son during the Qing Dynasty, termed herself “a professional politician.”

Women in Politics

Her proclamation perfectly segued into the moderator’s next query, which was: “What role should women play in politics?” On this question, the queens were divided. Both Hurrem and Joan supported the idea of females participating in politics. The latter said that women could be inspiring leaders, and Hurrem stated that women needed to be more involved.

Martha and Cixi, however, favored a more restrained role for females in politics. The midwife declared policy-making to be a man’s role and maintained that that was the natural order of things. Similar to this natural order was the “Mandate of Heaven” advocated for by Cixi. Even though lots of women are smarter than men, she said, women in politics violated the divine order. 

The Women’s March and whether not women’s involvement in politics was good or bad were the topics of the third question. As with the last query, the queens differed in their responses. Hurrem declared that while it was ok to protest officials, it was not ok to protest rulers. Cixi took this a step further by adding that “no one should have the right to demonstrate…Nobody should march- wrong.” She advocated that God appointed rulers, therefore, people should obey them. “You don’t have to think about it,” she said. “Just obey.” According to Martha, however, marching is a “good way for people to show support, not to protest.” Joan believed the opposite, saying that people need to “make their voices heard.”

Modern Women

 Next, the queens were asked if they thought modern women were better off than those in previous generations. Joan and Cixi asserted that they were, the former praising the fact that women could wear pants. Martha acknowledged that while modern times were better in terms of medical care, people spent too much time on their phones. “The old ways are the good ways.” Hurrem, however, pointed out the “big inequality in the world today,” of medical care.


Lastly, the queens were asked if they had any advice to women as they began their lives as BYU students. Joan admonished that it is “important to listen to what God wants you to do.” Hurrem said to overcome obstacles and that “you have to believe in yourself.” Martha encouraged women to keep journals, and Cixi offered sage advice: “Addiction is bad. Pursue your education.”

Hurrem, Martha, Cixi, and Joan debated many pertinent issues facing contemporary women. While they often disagreed, their varying answers provided perspective on the issues that could inform current students and modern women. All in all, the debate served as a fun way to learn more about women’s issues.

Each of the “queens” was interviewed by the professor in separate videos leading up to the debate, in parodies of Zach Galifianakis interview of Hillary Clinton: Joan of Arc here, Empress Dowager Cixi here, Hurrem Sultan here, and Martha Ballard here. We look forward to more fun history debates!

Did you attend the debate? What did you think?

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich to Present on Early LDS Women and Polygamy

It was Laurel Thatcher Ulrich who originally said that “well-behaved women seldom make history,” a quote that has taken on a life of its own in American culture. The statement appeared in a 1976 article by her about Puritan funeral services, but she expounded on it in a 2008 book titled with that quote, in which she bemoaned the fact that people often misinterpreted it to mean that women should misbehave in order to be memorable. “She wrote those words,” says Kim Z. Dale on Chicago Now, “lamenting…the fact that so many women who made positive impacts on society are overlooked by history.” Ulrich, in various publications since then, has noted that some of those impacts took place because of the early polygamist practices of the LDS Church. In an upcoming BYU event, in fact, she will expound on how women in polygamist marriages benefited from and in fact brought benefit to the entire then-territory of Utah.

On March 14 in the Hinckley Center at 7pm, BYU Women’s Studies and the History Department will host Ulrich as she speaks on rethinking the position of women in early Mormonism. Of plural marriage, she said in her recently-published book A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870: “it could…have been described as an experiment in cooperative housekeeping and an incubator of female activism.” Indeed, Ulrich defended the practice by reminding people that Utah, a primarily female state, had given women voting rights, fifty years before it was federally mandated.



Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Ulrich won the Pulitzer Prize for writing A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard based on her diary, 1785–1812. She has also written books on polygamy and women’s rights in the Church as well as notable female historical figures.

Students Seek Advice From Dead Presidents and Dead Queens

You think the current political scene is bad? How about adding President’s Lincoln, Eisenhower, Roosevelt, and Jackson to the mix. That should make it better, right? If you were in attendance at the History Department’s Dead Presidents’ Debate on October 5th, then you already know the answer: It only makes things messier.

The Debate

The professors−Grant Madsen, Karen Auman, Matt Mason, and Rich Kimball−truly personified the presidents they were representing: Eisenhower, Lincoln, Jackson, and Roosevelt, respectively.  Jackson blustered and said racist remarks; Lincoln parried with him. Roosevelt, ever taciturn, offered smart insults to all. And Eisenhower beat the Nazi’s, which he made sure to tell us in nearly every comment he made.

Edward Stratford acted as moderator. When asked for the impetus behind the event, he answered, “We wanted to create this format to help students understand that the past is the primary dimension that informs our perception of the present.” Did it? Were the presidents able to help us better comprehend the present political debates?

The presidents were asked varying questions regarding Trump and Clinton: their strengths, immigration and economic policies, and whether or not Trump was validated in  having hurt feelings. There were varying responses to all, with little agreement- reminiscent of the current political debates (still ongoing even after Trump’s win). In the end though, were Roosevelt, Lincoln, Eisenhower, and Jackson able to accurately able to predict our modern political atmosphere? The answer is best seen through History Professor Christopher Jones’ tweet: “This ended up being a lot of fun. But it also helped emphasize just how foreign the past is.”

Dead Queens’ Debate dq2

Continuing in the tradition of the Dead Presidents’ Debate, the Dead Queens’ Debate will be held on March 1st at 7pm in the Varsity Theater. The event is being hosted by both the Women’s Studies and the History Department.  Dr. Ed Stratford, who will be playing Professor Stratalacactus, has overseen the resuscitation of four historical queens: Empress Dowager Cixi, (Ching Dynasty) Joan of Arc, Hurrem Sultan, (wife of Suleiman the Magnificent) and Martha Ballard, “‘queen’ of colonial midwifery.” They will be discussing modern problems facing women. Playing the queens will be Dr. Diana Duan, Dr. Christine Isom-Verhaaren, Dr. Sarah Loose, and Dr. Jenny Pulsipher respectively.

When asked what the purpose of the event was, Dr. Stratford replied: “What we are interested in doing is providing a forum where historical viewpoints on current issues can be presented in an engaging way… We hope anyone who attends (students, faculty, or anyone from the community) will enjoy a consideration of [women’s issues] by some figures from the past.”

From left to right: Joan of Arc, Hurrem Sultan, Martha Ballard, and Empress Dowager Cixi

 The Queens

Joan of Arc was a young girl from France who, during the Hundred Year’s War, led an army and defeated the English many times, most notably at Orleans. Furthermore, she succeeded in having Charles the Seventh crowned king of France. Joan believed God had instructed her to do these things. Several hundred years after her capture and execution at the hands of the English, Joan was Sainted.

Originally a member of Suleiman the Magnificent’s harem, Hurrem Sultan eventually became his wife. She oversaw the construction of universities and mosques and promoted female education

Empress Dowager Cixi ruled China on behalf of her son during the Qing Dynasty. Dubbed The Dragon Lady remained a force in government in the face of endless court strife.

Martha Ballard was an 18th Century midwife from Maine who is primarily known from Laura Thather Ulrich’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, A Midwife’s Tale. Ballard kept a journal from 1785-1812 that “illuminates the medical practices, household economies, religious rivalries, and sexual mores of the New England frontier.”

Which Queen do You Want to Meet?

Research Logs: Essential When Doing Your Family History


These days, family history, as we’ve mentioned here, is less about finding information about people and more about organizing the amazing amount of information available to anyone who looks. Access to records has greatly increased in recent years, but it might be a challenge for some to keep track of the research they do to find a particular person or straighten out a particularly convoluted limb of the family tree, even with the many online tools and apps available. One tool that has proven useful for many in past years is logbooks. At their most basic level, logbooks are a simple means whereby people looking for their ancestors can record what searches have been done, what results have been found, and which documents are relevant to the question at hand. Peg A. Ivanyo, in her 2016 Family History Conference class for genealogy beginners said that they can contain notes, citations, stories, and even links to blog posts. But how exactly can they be helpful?

Research logs serve to make things easier. Jill Crandell, a history professor at BYU, says that research logs help to decrease duplication of effort and make one’s searches more efficient. Her own research log website,, serves to help people plan their research, catalogue their findings, and record their interpretations. Of research logs, she says, “[they] logs need to be detailed and kept consistently. If they are, the logs will prevent researchers from searching the same sources multiple times, documents will be organized and accessible, and research analysis will be higher quality. Find a research log format that works for you, one that you are actually willing to use to record your work, then use it.”

Many years ago, she was working on tracing a nomadic family who had lived in New York, Canada, and Scotland, with a common name. The man she was researching never identified his parents in any of his documents. To solve the mystery of who his parents were, Dr. Crandell turned to her research log. Through it, she was able to learn that this man had been traveling with other people who had moved to all of the same places as him. By studying the documents saved in her log, Dr.Crandell was able to further this genealogy.

The benefits of doing genealogy, to both the doer and the ancestor, are plentiful, and logbooks are some of the many tools available to anyone who has a desire to connect with those ancestors. Paul Cardall, the noted pianist who spoke at BYU’s most recent Conference on Family History and Genealogy, spoke of the relationship between family history and missionary work. As Mormons, we believe that families can be together after this life. Therefore, it is essential to strengthen relationships with all family members, both those who are alive and those who have died…for Mormons, genealogical research or family history is the essential forerunner for temple work for the dead.”



What Tips to You Have for Doing Family History?

Faculty News: Dr. Sarah Loose: Historian and Humanitarian

loose-sarahAn examination of history—particularly medieval times, which were rife with war, famine, and plague—wouldn’t necessarily lead one to focus on practices of aiding the poor and other forms of charity, but to Sarah Loose, a new professor of History at BYU, they naturally go together. Poor relief and charity “[provide] a window onto a lot of different aspects of society,” she says. By studying them, she can research political relations, religion, social history, and how they all tie into each other.

Dr. Loose graduated from BYU with a bachelor’s in History in 2002, then a masters of Arts in European History in 2007,  and a Doctorate from the University of Toronto in the history of Late Middle Europe, 1050-1494 a.d., in 2013. Her dissertation described the network of charity that existed around a hospital in Siena, Italy during the sixteenth century. She has spoken, published, and written primarily about civic humanism and politics in Renaissance Italy. Because of these academic interests, Dr. Loose is fluent in Italian and can read in French and Latin. She is also a part of the Renaissance Society of America, the American Historical Association, the Canadian Society for Italian Studies, and the Sixteenth Century Society.

Before coming back to BYU, the historian taught a variety of Renaissance and medieval history courses from 2014-2016 St. Jerome’s University and the University of Toronto. Of her Alma Mater, Dr. Loose said, “BYU is in my family blood.” Truly, she is correct: her father is a competitive swimming coach at the university, three of the five children in her family are alumni, and both her grandparents and parents met at the Y.

Currently, Dr. Loose is teaching History 300, Early Middle Ages and History 201, World Civilization to 1500. Her “great experience as a student” at BYU contributed to her applying for the position of professor. She wanted to come back to her alma mater and be closer to her family that lives in Utah.  Her goals in the classroom are to “[help] students understand and see the past in a new way.” As they learn and gain these perspectives, she hopes to in turn learn from them.





De Lemar Jensen Lecture: The Ottoman Empire and How It Relates to Us

Despite what many assume, history is not just about the past. It’s about giving us the knowledge to understand the present and predict the future. This is exactly what Dr. Virginia Aksan illustrated through her presentation on October 27th.jensenlectureflyer_v4

BYU History Department Chair Eric Dursteler once said, “As historians, we look to the past to understand the present.” This served as the opening to the annual De Lamar Jensen Lecture, which is funded by and named after the esteemed former BYU professor.  This year’s distinguished lecturer was Dr. Virginia Aksan, who is a retired McMaster University History professor specializing in Ottoman History from the 1700’s to the early 1800’s. As such, her lecture was focused on that topic and how it relates to contemporary times.

History student Madelyn Lunnen attended the lecture. She says: “Dr. Aksan spoke passionately about the Turks and the Napoleonic War. Her eyes lit up as she expounded on their various rulers and changes made to the civilization.” Without a doubt, the Ottoman Empire is a very specific topic, one that will not appeal to everyone.

Modern Implications

However, that does not mean that it is not applicable to us today. The Ottoman Empire later dissolved into what is now known as Turkey and parts of several other nations. It may be argued that our relationship with the country is paramount, as they are a part of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the UN, and are being considered as a potential addition to the EU. The US State Department describes our relationship with the country thus: “The U.S.-Turkey partnership is based on mutual interests and mutual respect and is focused on areas such as regional security and stability, as well as economic cooperation.”

Map Courtesy of GeoPolitical Futures

Despite this positive depiction of our friendship with Turkey, their president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in an interview with 60 Minutes indicated the opposite: “Well, let me be very frank in my remarks. I wouldn’t speak the truth if I said I was not disillusioned, because I am disillusioned.” He spoke on the the US’s involvement in Syria. According to Erdoğan, the US’s actions in Syria have led to an increased number of refugees (almost 3 million) coming to Turkey, hindered his ability to guard his country, and created a threat on his Southern border.

Because of Turkey’s close proximity to Syria and the Middle East, the U.S. maintains military bases in Turkey. To the extent that the U.S. still actively seeks to counteract the international threat that ISIS poses as the perpetrator of 1,200 deaths, a mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey would enable the U.S to maintain its counter-terrorism efforts in that part of the world, and perhaps the alleviation of Erdoğan’s concerns regarding the number of refugees in his country.

Erdoğan, like Aksan, reveres the Ottomon Empire as one of the oldest and longest lasting in human history. He has, in fact, stated that he would like to take his country back to the time when they were the most powerful nation in the world, to the time of the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, it is crucial that we understand what that empire was and its significance. This will aid us in repairing our relationship with Turkey and continuing our fight against terrorism.

Did You Attend the De Lemar Jensen Lecture?

“Huānyíng” to our new faculty member, Dr. Jon Felt

felt-jonDr. Jon Felt is living the dream as a new professor in the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences. He says: “I get to spend my time reading, thinking, and writing about my favorite topics, and then I have a captive audience in the classroom with whom to discuss them.  And then they pay me for it!  This is what I would do for fun if I had to make a living by some other means.”

Dr. Felt teaches in the history department.  He specializes in ancient and medieval China. Dr. Felt is also an expert in Central Eurasia. After graduating high school, Dr. Felt read Keys of the Kingdom, by A.J. Cronin.  The novel tells of early Catholic missionaries in China who befriended local leaders through serving the Chinese people.  This book inspired him to study Chinese history and culture.

He could be your teacher of Traditional China or World Civilizations to the 1500’s.  In the winter semester, Dr. Felt will teach The Mongols in World History, as well as two sections of World Civilizations. He graduated from the Y with a degree in History, then went on to obtain his master’s degree in Chinese Literature at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His formal education concluded at Stanford University with a PhD in Chinese History.

Though he is fascinated with history, Dr. Felt would stay in our time period if he was given the chance to time travel: “There has never been a safer and more prosperous period in all of human history than today.  I am very happy with my global food, transportation networks, internet, free public education, health care systems, and safe streets.  Nothing in the past even comes close to being as appealing!”

Dr. Felt is a Utah native, who can be found hiking the Rockies in his spare time. He loves being with his family—his wife, Cambria, and their three children.

Welcome Dr. Felt!

Photo from New York Times

Dead Presidents’ Debate! October 5th

Saul Bellow once said, “Take our politicians: they’re a bunch of yo-yos. The presidency is now a cross between a popularity contest and a high school debate, with an encyclopedia of clichés the first prize.” Nobody understands this better then BYU’s History Department, which is why they are putting on a Dead Presidents’ Debate!

Yes, you heard right. On October 5th at 2pm in the WILK’s Varsity Theater, Presidents Lincoln, Jackson, Roosevelt, and Eisenhower will duke it out over who should win: Hillary or Trump. Rumour has it Jackson’s even bringing his sword.


The dead presidents are being portrayed by faculty from the history department: Grant Madsen as Eisenhower, Matt Mason as Jackson, Rich Kimball as Roosevelt, and Karen Auman as Lincoln. The event will also feature a mediator–possibly John Lehrer (played by Edward Stratford).  Dr. Stratford said this about the debate: “We wanted to create this format to help students understand that the past is the primary dimension that informs our perception of the present.” This will be made evident by the correlations drawn between history’s presidents and the current candidates.

All students, even members of the community, are invited, so that, as Dr. Stratford puts it, we can all have an opportunity to “gain some perspective on the current presidential race in a fun and informative atmosphere.”

Watch out, he adds, for the forthcoming Dead Emperor’s Debate as well.

Which presidential candidate do you think should win?

How Can Young People Change the World? Ask Expert Rebecca de Schweinitz in FHSS Twitter Party

It may be argued that, in some ways, the racial climate of American society has shifted enough that it’s easy, especially for millennials, to forget about the atrocities of the Civil Rights movement of only a few decades ago. BYU associate professor of history Rebecca de Schweinitz, in her 2009 book If We Could Change the World, explores the relationship between youth and the civil rights movement, answering questions about how young people contributed to the movement and how conceptions about them helped to shape the black freedom struggle. These answers are especially relevant to the youth of today, as they can inform their reaction as a group and individually to ongoing racial struggles in our society. Anyone interested in discussing these subjects is invited to participate in a real-time Twitter Q & A with Professor de Schweinitz, coming up in October.

deschweinitz_ifOf her book, the Arkansas Review said: “few studies of the civil rights movement present the movement in such a dynamic…manner.” Of the Q & A, Jamie Moesser, Outreach Coordinator for BYU’s College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences said: “this will be a great opportunity to interact with Professor de Schweinitz, ask her questions about youth and the Civil Rights movement, and understand more about the important role youth have played and can play in influencing societal change. Plus,” she adds, “it’s easy, and there’s a good chance that you could win a $50 Visa gift card.” Here are the details:

Book Club Details

What: Twitter chat about the book. Click here to learn how it works. No big deal.

When: Tuesday, October 4th from 12-1 p.m. MST (2 p.m. EST, 1 p.m. CT, 11 p.m. PT)

Where: On With the party hashtag #AskAnFHSSExpert.

Hashtag: #AskAnFHSSExpert

Topic: youth and social movements, particularly the civil rights movement

Moderators: @JamieMoesser, @byufhss

RSVP: Please RSVP in the comments section of this post at any time before the party to follow and be followed by like-minded individuals who’ll be participating in the party with you! The first three people who RSVP will be receive a free copy of Professor De Schweinitz’s book (if they don’t already have one).

In-Chat Giveaway

During the chat, a random participant will be chosen to win a $50 VISA gift card.