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“Desperate for Some Kindness”: A History of Asking for Help in Hard Times

Seminar Center for Global Humanities Lecture/Seminar Series

Elizabeth A. De Wolfe

Professor and Chair of the Department of History; Co-Director of the Women’s Studies Program, University of New England

This seminar will explore how individuals in hard times asked for help in public venues. We will pay particular attention to how tales of desperation found a home in print culture and the inevitable scams and schemes that followed. From sensational 19th century stories of those captured by pirates, wounded in the war, or kidnapped by the Shakers to 21st century stories of homelessness printed on cardboard signs, this seminar will explore the intersection of desperation, print media, and the limits of public credulity.


Elizabeth A. De Wolfe is Professor and Chair of the Department of History, and, co-founder of the Women’s & Gender Studies Program at the University of New England where she teaches courses in women’s history and American culture. Professor De Wolfe earned her Ph.D. in American and New England Studies from Boston University, her M.A. in Anthropology from the University of New York/Albany and her B.A. from Colgate University. Dr. De Wolfe is the author of four books. The Murder of Mary Bean and Other Stories (2007) was honored with book awards from the New England Historical Association, the Northeast Popular Culture/American Culture Association, the Independent Publishers Association, and ForeWord magazine. Shaking the Faith: Women, Family and Mary Marshall Dyer’s Anti-Shaker Campaign, 1815-1867 (2002) received the 2003 Communal Studies Association Outstanding Book Award. With Thomas Edwards, De Wolfe edited Such News of the Land: U.S. Women Nature Writers (2000). Her most recent book is Domestic Broils: Shakers, Antebellum Marriage and the Narratives of Mary and Joseph Dyer (2010). Dr. De Wolfe was a recipient of the Kenneally Cup, UNE's highest service honor and in 2008-2009 Professor De Wolfe held the Ludcke Chair of Liberal Arts and Sciences at UNE, an endowed rotating chair awarded to senior faculty.

Assigned Reading

Horatio Alger, Ragged Dick; or Street Life in New York (1867); Mary Marshall Dyer, A Brief Statement of the Sufferings of Mary Dyer(1818)


A reception will be held at 5pm at the UNE Art Gallery


Center for Global Humanities


(207) 221-4335

6:00 PM
WCHP Lecture Hall

Portland Campus

Free and open to the public