History/ES 247 Reading Guide

Hallowell and Augusta:  The Maine Frontier in the Early Republic

FILM:  A Midwife’s Tale

  • Review:   “A Midwife’s Tale.” Written and produced by Laurie Kahn-Leavitt. Directed by Richard P. Rogers. (Watertown, Mass.: Blueberry Hill Productions, 1997), based on the book by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 (New York, 1990). by Sarah F. McMahon, William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser. 55 (July 1998).  JSTOR

Note:  The film is 88 minutes long (this includes 4 minutes of credits at the end of the film). I will begin showing the film promptly at 11:30, in order to let you out at 12:55.

The film combines three narratives—and three methodologies.

  • The first narrative belongs to Martha Ballard, a late eighteenth-century midwife from Maine. Over the course of 27 years, she wrote 9,965 entries in a diary that served as an account book and record for her medical practice as a midwife and lay healer, and in which she recorded occasional notations about her family life and the evolution of Hallowell, Maine, from a frontier village to a settlement on the Kennebec River .
  • The second narrative belongs to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, who rediscovered Ballard’s 200 year old diary in the Maine State Library in 1982. With a historian’s meticulous reading of the diary, combined with fragments from other primary sources, as well as secondary sources on Maine in that era, Ulrich recreated Ballard’s life and produced an insightful analysis of the issues and themes that shaped Ballard’s world.
  • In the third narrative, Laurie Kahn-Leavitt’s film script weaves together the stories of these two women, beginning as a documentary about the historian’s process and gradually shifting to a dramatic narrative of Ballard’s life and world.

Note:  We will discuss the film at the beginning of the next class.