Belle & Thinking About What Matters To Us All

Belle, 2013, Photo from IMDb

Have you seen the movie Belle (2013)?

Set in Georgian England and based on a true story, the movie follows the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay, the daughter of a British naval officer and an African woman. Historically, very little is known about her mother or the circumstances of Belle’s birth, but her father gave her his family name and she inherited a small fortune through his will after his death.

Belle was taken to England and placed in her great-uncle’s household where she was treated as an adopted niece. Since her great-uncle was the Lord Chief Justice of England, she received a good education. However, British society could see little except her darker skin, and she faced racism and social restrictions on a daily basis at gatherings.

Lord Mansfield, her great-uncle, presided as ruling judge in the Zong Case—which decided in court of law if enslaved men, women, and children were insurable property or cargo for slave trading ships. (Historical Spoiler: his decision on this case was one of the first steps and precedents toward the abolition of the British Slave Trade several decades later.)

For years, Dido Elizabeth Belle was “lost” in history, but her uncle had paid for the creation of an art masterpiece which survived and preserved her story for future researchers.

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Guess Who’s Missing?

Remember “The Generals” books from last week? Those volumes were instrumental in grounding my love of fact-finding and thinking about history. As much as I loved those books, I got annoyed with them and I think that annoyance had helped shape my interest in “civilian studies” AKA “women’s studies.”

It didn’t take long before I realized that the snippet biographies rarely mentioned a general’s personal life or family. That bothered me. I wanted to know if he was married. If he had children. What happened to his family during the Civil War.

Looking back, I know that Ezra J. Warner’s volumes are strictly military history and they are reference books, not comprehensive biographies. And within that category, details about family life and personal relationships is rare included. That’s tradition, but is it the way it has to stay? A few thoughts on this subject:

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Boxes and Boxes of Books

I’m convinced that historians hate moving. At least a certain part of moving. It happened that within the same period of a couple months that I moved, a few of my colleagues were also moving. While we rejoiced with each other about new jobs, the fun of settling in new places (and finding new libraries), and setting up new homes, we commiserated about the boxes of books.

While I can’t speak for my friends, I can tell you that I had over thirty boxes of books. Mostly Civil War, but a few others that I could not bear to leave behind. Thankfully, some teens from my church’s youth group were able to help me haul the boxes into my new place!

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