Reverb Effect is a history podcast exploring how past voices resonate in the present moment. How do we make sense of those voices? What were they trying to say, and whose job is it to find out? We'll dive deep into the archives, share amazing stories about the past, and talk with people who are making history now. Presented by the University of Michigan Department of History.
The Two Monsieurs
In 1836, two tailors transformed the fashion industry forever when they opened the first chemiserie, a shirt store, in Paris. Their radical feat? They tailored a shirt.
In this episode, John Finkelberg tells the story of how Monsieurs Pierret and Lami-Housset essentially invented the precursor to the modern button-down shirt. Within a few years, these garments were one of the most sought-after luxury goods. Created by expert men, these revolutionary new products embodied new notions of masculinity developing in nineteenth century Paris.
Except one of the tailors, Monsieur Pierret, was actually a woman.
The Real Housewives of Medieval London
In medieval London, survivors of the Black Death found themselves living in a world that was both very familiar and also very different. The loss of so many people created a severe labor shortage, forcing employers to raise wages. With higher wages, more people could purchase more items, live in spacious homes, and employ domestic workers to help care for these spaces and possessions. In the century before the Plague, such domestic labor was primarily a male enterprise. However, the labor shortage created by the Plague made gender roles expensive, and households experimented with household gender roles. It would take yet another economic crisis a century later for domestic work to become exclusively women’s work.
How both the care of household goods, and indeed, the goods themselves, came to be gendered was neither natural nor inevitable—it was a historical process. While demography and economics shaped London’s changing labor force, religious and moral literature guided the path of change and then justified the outcome. Taken together, these changes appear as backlash against the new opportunities and choices available to women in the first century after the Plague.
Navigating Pregnancy: A Century of Prenatal Care
Why do we have the prenatal visit schedule that we have today? Where did it come from? What was the evidence for the recommended schedule of prenatal visits, and why hasn’t the schedule changed in nearly 100 years, despite medical advances? How can doctors amend that schedule to both increase equitable access to healthcare and keep parents and babies safe?
During the Progressive Era, high infant mortality rates captured public attention. Reformers concluded that medicalized prenatal care could positively impact infant and maternal outcomes: it could save lives. In 1930, the Children’s Bureau detailed a new schedule of prenatal visits—12-14 visits during pregnancy. The Children’s Bureau provided neither evidence for the schedule nor alternative plans for parents with social, environmental, or medical risk factors, but hoped a uniform schedule could prevent harm to parents and babies. And there the schedule sat while the world changed for nearly 100 years. Despite medical advances and attempts to alter the schedule to take risk factors—or a lack of risk factors— into account, nothing changed. Until everything did.
Music Time in Africa
The adventure began in 1961, when Leo Sarkisian and his wife Mary were living in West Africa. They traveled across the region documenting traditional and pop music for Tempo Records. But one day, Edward Murrow came to Guinea and asked if Leo would be willing to join the Voice of America.
Leo Sarkisian signed up and in 1965 created Music Time in Africa, which has continued for more than 50 years. Christopher DeCou follows Leo’s story to examine how entertainment can be caught up in political conflicts and asks the question, what makes propaganda?
Surviving Patriarchal Violence at Home: Incest Victims in the Progressive Era
Beatrice was fifteen years old when her mother died. By day, she assumed her mother’s role as the caregiver and housekeeper for her family in Chicago. By night, her father used her as a sexual substitute for his deceased wife. The rape and incest continued in secret for two years, until Beatrice appealed to the Chicago Municipal Court for protection in 1915.
The court convicted Beatrice’s father of incest and sent him to prison. But what would they do with Beatrice? Grace Argo follows Beatrice’s story to show how incest victims’ trauma, survival strategies, and the ways they sought power or pleasure in the aftermath of abuse conflicted with reformers’ ideals and spelled their fate.
Content warning: This episode discusses child sexual abuse, rape, and incest.
A Prison by Any Other Name: Imagining Childhood Criminality in 1920s Chicago
Michael sat in the intake room, waiting for his friend to arrive. He didn’t expect family to visit. By then, his mother had passed and he was estranged from his father. Without other visitors, he was eager to help his new friend, sociologist and criminologist Clifford Shaw. Shaw had taken an interest in the boys at the St. Charles School for Boys, and asked Michael to write down his life history sometime around 1930.
Testimonials like Michael’s illuminate a complicated dynamic between children and authority figures, which plays out literally throughout the life history and in more subtle ways in the actual construction of the text. Allie Goodman follows Michael’s story to explore these dynamics. What were these children trying to say? How can we best listen?
Content warning: This episode contains depictions of police violence.