Joyce Chaplin vs. Ted Cruz

Perhaps you have seen the Twitter battle taking place between Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Joyce Chaplin.   Cruz ran for POTUS In 20016.  Chaplin is an early American historian and chair of Harvard’s American Studies program

Chaplin’s claim that the United States was formed by an international community through the Treaty of Paris (1783) is true.  Having said that, to connect the Treaty of Paris with Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement seems to be a bit of a reach. I hope Chaplin will write a longer piece on this.  I am less interested in the connections between Paris 1783 and Paris 2017 and more interested in Chaplin’s understanding of the relationship between the past and the present on matters like this.

Cruz, of course, can’t stay away.  His tweets reveal his simplistic understanding of the American Revolution.  As Cruz proved during his presidential campaign, he is incapable of nuance, especially when history does not conform to his view of American exceptionalism.

I wonder what Cruz would say about me if he ever found out that I tell my students that the Americans would not have won the Revolutionary War without the help of France, Spain, and other European powers.

Here are the tweets:

The Author’s Corner with Lisa Lindsay

atlantic-bondsLisa Lindsay is Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This interview is based on her new book, Atlantic Bonds: A Nineteenth-Century Odyssey from America to Africa (The University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Atlantic Bonds?

LL: In a biography of a women’s rights advocate in mid-20th century Nigeria, I read that her grandfather had come to Africa from South Carolina in the 1850s and stayed there for the rest of his life.  I was intrigued, because it seemed that this man, James Churchwill Vaughan, embodied connections between the American South and West Africa that we don’t often think about: the “return” migration of African Americans, the effect of the diaspora on Africa, and the similar but also contrasting histories of slavery and white supremacy in the antebellum south and colonial Africa.  So I began to try to find out about this fellow Vaughan.  Once I learned that he had emigrated to Liberia and then Nigeria, been captured in wars feeding the slave trade, led a revolt against white missionaries, and founded a prosperous family of activists who stayed in touch with their relatives in the United States, I was hooked.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument Atlantic Bonds?

LL: James Churchwill (Church) Vaughan’s life story forms one thread in a larger fabric of interconnections during a transformative period in Atlantic history: when slavery was abolished in the United States and colonialism began in West Africa, and when black people in both places confronted challenges to their security and autonomy.  Following Vaughan’s journeys from South Carolina to Liberia to several parts of Yorubaland (Nigeria) enables a view of linkages across the nineteenth century Atlantic world as well as a comparison of related and similar phenomena in various settings.

JF: Why do we need to read Atlantic Bonds?

LL: The book brings together the histories of the United States, Africa, and the African diaspora–whose practitioners do not often engage substantially with each other’s scholarship–and of slavery and colonialism, which are generally studied separately.  This wide, comparative view yields two sets of revelations often missed by specialists who focus exclusively on one place.  First, it reminds us that American slavery was part of a connected, Atlantic world of bonded labor, one where slavery and freedom were not stark opposites but rather framed a continuum of dependency relations.  Second, the book probes the relationship between diasporic Africans and the politics of African colonialism, showing how consciousness of the diaspora informed opportunities and strategies in Africa.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

LL: Actually, I’m an Africanist historian.  My first monograph was on colonial Nigeria.  But I have always been interested in the interplay between the local and the global in African history, and in comparative history.  As a graduate student at the University of Michigan I had the good fortune to work with Rebecca Scott, Tom Holt, and my adviser Fred Cooper, who were collaborating on a project about postemancipation societies.  So from early on I was intrigued by cross-regional comparisons, particularly as they relate to slavery and its aftermath.  At UNC-Chapel Hill, I’m in a department with a distinguished faculty in US, and particularly Southern, history.  And so when I became interested in the story of Church Vaughan, it gave me the chance to bring together the expertise I had already developed on Nigeria with new challenges and rewards in studying American history.

JF: What is your next project?

LL: I keep moving back in time and to larger geographic frames.  The next project will center on the history of women in the Atlantic slave trade, tracing such topics as the enslavement of women, women in the middle passage, and women in the antislavery movement over roughly the 16th to the 19th centuries.

JF: Thanks, Lisa!

The Author’s Corner with Zara Anishanslin

portraitofawomaninsilkZara Anishanslin is Assistant Professor of History and Art History at the University of Delaware. This interview is based on her new book, Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World (Yale University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Portrait of a Woman in Silk?

ZA: The moral to my author’s story? We historians should visit museums.

Initial inspiration came because—like many of the people, ideas, and things discussed in the book—I crossed the Atlantic. One day in London, flipping through eighteenth-century silk samples at the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Textile Study Room, I had the nagging feeling I’d seen these fabrics before. In particular, I thought I’d seen some of the large floral patterns in a portrait at the Winterthur Museum. A quick bit of digging in the V & A’s research library confirmed my hunch. There was indeed a portrait of a woman wearing London made silk at Winterthur. Digging deeper, I soon found that not only was this woman wearing London—or more specifically, Spitalfields—silk, but that we knew who designed the silk, who wove it, who painted the portrait, and who the woman in the portrait was. As I continued to dig into what was known about each of these four people—two women and two men—an intriguing pattern emerged. Each was not only identifiable, but notable in their own time, financially solvent, literate, and almost certainly educated. And yet, each left the smallest of paper trails. Using traditional archival sources only, they all but disappear from history. How, then, to tell their stories? I decided to use the evidence they did leave behind—material and visual things—to resuscitate their lives as part of an unwitting (but no less real) network around the making, buying, and using of this single object. Tracing the full biographies not just of this network of four, but of the object itself across space and time, I ultimately uncovered a whole world of hidden histories of thousands of other people, things, ideas, and events connected to this portrait of a woman in a silk dress. My nagging feeling in a London museum became this book.   

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Portrait of a Woman in Silk?

ZA: Portrait of a Woman in Silk argues that the production, consumption, and use of commodities in the eighteenth-century British Empire created object-based communities that tied its inhabitants together, while allowing for different views of the Empire. The many histories hidden in this single object lay bare a mental and material world created as much by women’s labor as by men’s, and a transatlantic economy driven by colonial Americans as much as metropolitan producers—Americans who were not just avid consumers but also sophisticated producers, motivated to make and buy things by political, cultural, and personal concerns far more complex than emulative refinement alone.

JF: Why do we need to read Portrait of a Woman in Silk?

ZA: Because it’s filled with really intriguing stories about the long eighteenth-century you haven’t read before! Although its primary focus is the 1720s-1770s, its chronology is the collective lifespan of the network of four who created the portrait of a woman in silk. Conveniently, this ranges roughly from the Glorious Revolution to George Washington’s first presidency (c. 1686/8 to 1791). This timespan allows for discussion of a lot of fascinating people and events, from South Carolinian Eliza Lucas Pinckney to Queen Caroline of England, and from England’s Calico Crisis of 1719 to the American Revolution. In part because I wanted to show how many histories are hidden within things—even things whose function we think we understand, like a portrait—my book deliberately encompasses a wide range of historical fields and topics. In addition to cultural history, it touches upon fields including economic, labor, political, scientific, social, fashion, intellectual, religious, and women’s history. And it discusses subjects as varied as how much silkworms defecate to the politics behind 1760s labor protest.

But history aside, I’ve got a methodological reason to hope you read it. My favorite part of how Yale Press summed up my book was that it contributes to “our ongoing conversation about how to write history.” I hope that’s true. I care deeply about how we historians craft the stories we tell. In part this is because I appreciate good writing. And I think we’ll reach a wider audience outside academia if we write things people want to read. So I hope Yale is right, and that my book adds to our conversation about the historian’s craft. More specifically, I hope it makes other scholars think about how they might use objects to craft history. It’s heartening—and I’m delighted—that so many historians increasingly now embrace material culture as a valid type of evidence. But material culture is not just a type of evidence. It’s also a field of study, with its own theoretical and historiographical foundations. Sometimes it seems as though these underpinnings get lost. So my hope of how I might contribute to our collective conversation of how to write history has two parts to it. First, of course, I wanted to show the many fascinating and otherwise untold histories hidden in things. In addition, I wanted to show the theoretical benefits of material culture as a field of study. What types of histories come to light when—instead of using material culture to answer questions, we make the object itself the question?    

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

ZA: When I was a little girl in Pennsylvania, my grandmother (one of the people to whom this book’s dedicated) told me tales of our eighteenth-century ancestors, of Moravian missionaries (women and men) and soldiers in the American Revolution. I would visit their graves with her and wonder about their long ago lives. As a teenager, I often went to World War II reunions with her and my granddad, who was a pilot stationed in the Pacific. Hearing the men reminisce fascinated me. But at some point, there always came a time when “women and children” were asked to leave the room. The veterans were about to discuss POWs, and death marches, and bombs, and other things too terrible, in their view, for our ears. I found this frustrating. I wanted to hear all the stories. In college at UNC-Chapel Hill, I indulged my love of the past by majoring in History. I realized that if I studied history, I could dig up the stories buried in those eighteenth-century graveyards, and listen to those veterans’ conversations behind closed doors. American history first sparked my childhood interest in the past. But my college Honors thesis was on the French Revolution, and I’ve always felt it’s important to look beyond our own borders when thinking about American history. Honestly, I’m not sure I would be an Americanist if Atlantic World history weren’t such a vibrant field when I went to grad school. But it was. And lucky me! Since I work on colonial and revolutionary era America, it’s easy to be an Atlanticist and an Americanist both.

JF: What is your next project?

ZA: I’m at work on a few projects on the American revolutionary era, mostly focused on material and visual culture. I’m pretty much done with two articles that I hope find a home soon. These are part of a long-ranging synthetic material history of the period (1763-83) I’m planning. If I do it properly, this is a huge project that will take a fair amount of time even by scholarly standards. So in the meantime, I’m also at work on a new, smaller, overlapping book project I’m very excited about.

It’s the history of an enslaved man who painted portraits in Massachusetts and the London artist (possibly also of partial African descent) he studied with in Britain. It follows their intertwined lives back and forth across the Atlantic. During the Revolution, the enslaved man—enslaved to loyalists who fled to London—enlisted to fight for the patriots, while the London artist moved to Philadelphia to paint the luminaries of the early republic. It’s a history of what it meant to be African and an artist in the eighteenth-century British Atlantic, and a history of slavery and freedom in the revolutionary era told through art and war. I admit I’m writing it from a political as well as a historical imperative. I feel it’s especially critical right now that we pay careful attention to the origin stories we tell about America, and that we’re vocal about including black American contributions in the narratives we tell about the past.

JF: Thanks, Zara!

The Author’s Corner with Emily Clark

aluminousbrotherhoodEmily Clark is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Gonzaga University. This interview is based on her new book, A Luminous Brotherhood: Afro-Creole Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans (The University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write A Luminous Brotherhood?

EC: A Luminous Brotherhood is a much-revised adaptation of my doctoral dissertation. Initially my dissertation was a huge (way too huge) telling of religion and race in New Orleans with a focus on Afro-Creole communities. New Orleans Afro-Creoles were primary Catholic, often bilingual (or even trilingual), often educated, and many of them were free during the antebellum period. The Cercle Harmonique, the name the Afro-Creole Spiritualist community gave themselves, was only going to be a chapter of the project. They practiced Spiritualism from 1858 as the country was on the verge of a civil war through the end of Reconstruction in 1877. The dissertation I envisioned myself writing went beyond a group of men holding séances for 19 years, but as I began to read their séance records I realized that they told a much bigger story.

The spirits communicating with the Cercle Harmonique included Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon Bonaparte, John Brown, Voltaire, Toussaint Louverture, Robespierre, Robert E. Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Jesus, and Confucius to name just a few. Their messages covered issues of politics, gender, racism, equality, poverty, power, and social injustice. Messages responded to local massacres of black politicians, the death of beloved martyrs for black rights, and issues of religious corruption. The Spiritualism of the Cercle Harmonique situated their practice in their immediate world of New Orleans, the region of the American South, the nation-state of the U.S., the politics of the Atlantic world, and issues of cosmic proportion. Their séance table opened up a vast and complex world.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of A Luminous Brotherhood?

EC: This book contends that the Cercle Harmonique envisioned the proper social, political, and religious ordering of the material world through communication with a wise spirit world. Through their séances the Cercle Harmonique connected with an idealized society whose members provided the Afro-Creoles with a republican ideology to combat politically destructive forces on earth and create a more egalitarian world.

JF: Why do we need to read A Luminous Brotherhood?

EC: A Luminous Brotherhood weaves together a number of threads about the long nineteenth century in America: race, liberal religion, politics, anti-Catholicism, the Atlantic world’s age of revolutions, reform, utopian impulses, republican thought, slavery, and more. Though it focuses on a small group of Afro-Creoles, the story it tells is much bigger. The practice of the Cercle Harmonique allows us to sharpen our conclusions about those topics.

The Cercle Harmonique articulated a strong critique of racism and white supremacy that still has resonance today. They and the spirits they communicated with argued that racial identity had no real meaning. Bodies were only material envelopes that temporarily encased our spirits. Bodies only had meaning in the material world, whereas our spirits existed long after. One spirit even wondered if people would have followed Jesus had he been black. White supremacy was a real problem for the Cercle Harmonique and remains one today. The Afro-Creole Spiritualists I studied offer a rich example of the intersections between religion and race in America, and A Luminous Brotherhood provides a close look at how religion can provide strong critiques to societal norms and injustices. The book also reveals how religion simultaneously supports such societal norms and injustices. As I tell my students, American religion is complicated, and my book reflects that too.

Additionally, A Luminous Brotherhood is the first full-length study of the New Orleans Cercle Harmonique and one of the first academic texts on American Spiritualism to provide a close look at the practice and records of a nineteenth-century Spiritualist group. Previous works on American Spiritualism typically focus on major figures and ideas but fail to offer a deep look at the everyday practice of Spiritualism. Since much of the Cercle Harmonique’s séance records are intact, A Luminous Brotherhood looks at the spirits who communicated with the Cercle Harmonique, explores the significance of their presence, and situates them in the context surrounding their communication. The book examines what the spirits said and asks why.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

EC: I’m not so sure that I decided to become an American historian but rather just became one. During my time as an undergraduate student at Austin College and then an M.A. student at the University of Missouri, I was drawn to the interplay between religion and culture but not from a historical perspective. It wasn’t until I started my doctoral work at Florida State University that I began to study American religious history proper. I describe myself as being haunted by the stories that archives hold and feel the need to tell them. I encourage my students to consider the historical context of every source we examine. Just about all my academic work and class materials examine people, trends, communities, practices, ideas, and conflicts from America’s past. Even now there are times that I think of myself as a historian—I am trained in historical methods, after all—but I also think of myself squarely in the field of religious studies. I’m not surprised that I’ve become an American historian, but I think of that as one element of my academic identity.

JF: What is your next project?

EC: I have a couple projects in the works. I’m working on two edited volumes, one on digital humanities and material religion and the other on race and new religious movements. I’m also in the early research stages of my next full-length monograph, Jesuits, Native Americans, and Colonialism in the Pacific Northwest. While the historiography on Jesuit missions typically focuses on the seventeenth-century evangelists in New France, this work will interrogate the interactions between Native Americans and Jesuits in the Pacific Northwest. Unlike those earlier Jesuits, the Italian Jesuits out west operated more systematically and as part of the federal push to “civilize” and evangelize Native tribes in this region.

JF: Thanks, Emily!

The Author’s Corner with Rashauna Johnson

slaverys-metropolisRashauna Johnson is Associate Professor of History at Dartmouth University. This interview is based on her new book, Slavery’s Metropolis: Unfree Labor in New Orleans during the Age of Revolutions (Cambridge University Press, 2016).  

JF: What led you to write Slavery’s Metropolis?

RJ: I grew up in New Orleans, but I had no idea how central slavery was to that city’s history. I wanted to know more about the daily lives of the actual enslaved people who lived there as well as the ways that slavery as an institution shaped the city’s physical, economic, political, social, and cultural landscapes. 

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Slavery’s Metropolis?

RJ: This book argues that, in New Orleans, black Atlantic journeys and intimate interracial assemblies were neither exceptional to nor subversive of chattel slavery, but were instead essential to that system of domination. By decoupling cosmopolitan journeys and assemblies from their liberatory associations, we deepen our understanding of the malleability of modern power in New Orleans, early America, and the Atlantic world. 

JF: Why do we need to read Slavery’s Metropolis?

RJ: From monographs to movie theaters, we as a society are grappling with chattel slavery and its legacies, especially the ways that the institution shaped everything from capitalism to the nation’s colleges. This book adds to that effort by shifting focus from the paradigmatic rural plantation to show how a seemingly permissive, heterogeneous port city could at the same time be a capital of slaves and slavery. Ultimately, it shows how heterogeneity and interconnectedness can deepen inequality just as easily as they disrupt it.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

RJ: My mother kept her prized copy of John Hope Franklin’s From Slavery to Freedom under her nightstand’s telephone; as children, every time we wanted to make a call we had to confront history. But it wasn’t until I was an undergraduate that I realized I could use the historian’s tools to produce such knowledge. Several generous mentors and great internships later, I became a historian.

JF: What is your next project?

RJ: My current project uses my grandmother’s family history to examine the global history of immigration and labor in Louisiana’s Florida Parishes from the colonial period to the early twentieth century.

JF: Thanks, Rashauna!

The Author’s Corner with Willem Klooster

thedutchmomentWillem Klooster is Professor and Chair of the Department of History at Clark University. This interview is based on his new book, The Dutch Moment: War, Trade, and Settlement in the Seventeenth-Century Atlantic World (Cornell University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write The Dutch Moment?

WK: As a Dutchman working on the Atlantic world, it has always been obvious to me that a book focused on the Dutch Atlantic in the seventeenth century – the period in which the Dutch were so active worldwide both militarily and commercially – was missing. Dutch historians dealing with the wider world have traditionally privileged Asia, the domain of the Dutch East India Company, while North Americans have been mostly interested in New Netherland, which was actually fairly marginal to the main developments in the Dutch Atlantic. I felt that it was my task to right this wrong by writing a work that encompassed all aspects of the Dutch Atlantic in that century without making it a textbook.

JF:  In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Dutch Moment?

WK: In 3 sentences, if you don’t mind: The mid-seventeenth century formed a specific stage in Atlantic history that was marked by activities that connected the Dutch to other colonial realms, especially the infant English and French colonies that remained afloat in no small part due to Dutch commercial assistance. On the other hand the Dutch Atlantic had a distinctly violent side, as expressed in the endless battles with their Iberian enemies and Dutch relations with indigenous Americans and enslaved Africans. What helped undo the short-lived Dutch empire was not only Iberian fighting power or nonwhite revolts, but eventually the refusal of unpaid and poorly fed white soldiers and sailors in Dutch service to defend the imperial outposts.

JF: Why do we need to read The Dutch Moment?

WK: By following the Dutch around in the Atlantic basin, we get a new perspective on the Atlantic world at large, and not a peripheral one, since the Dutch were so entangled with other empires, either as warriors or merchants. More particularly, the book reveals the pivotal role of Brazil, where the Dutch elites were willing to wage a seemingly endless war in order to control the production of the world’s foremost sugar colony. This war was the largest conflict between European powers in the seventeenth-century Atlantic, which historians have underappreciated.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

WK: Although my Leiden dissertation dealt with Dutch trade in the Caribbean, it was not a traditional treatment of the flow of goods between colonies and metropole. Both the Dutch and Spanish archives suggested the existence of close, albeit usually illegal, commercial ties between inhabitants of the Dutch colonies and residents of other empires. I had therefore come to see my subject matter through an Atlantic lens by the time I finished my doctorate in 1995. That same year, I came to the United States as a Fulbright student, and soon found myself in the orbit of Bernard Bailyn, precisely when he started to organize his Atlantic History Seminars. I still think of myself primarily as an Atlanticist rather than an American historian.

JF: What is your next project?

WK: The next project is already finished: I just submitted the manuscript of The Second Dutch Atlantic, 1680-1815, a book that I coauthored with Dutch historian Gert Oostindie. It picks up where The Dutch Moment leaves off, taking the story of the Dutch Atlantic through the early nineteenth century. During my sabbatical next semester, I will embark on the following project, a biography of a well-traveled French marquis whose life intersects with the Age of Revolutions in surprising ways.

JF: Thanks, Willem!

The Author’s Corner with Jonathan Yeager

Edwards and PrintJonathan Yeager is UC Foundation Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. This interview is based on his recent book Jonathan Edwards and Transatlantic Print Culture (Oxford University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Jonathan Edwards and Transatlantic Print Culture?

JY: I enjoyed researching and writing the last two chapters of my first book on the Scottish Presbyterian minister John Erskine (1721-1803). In these chapters, I discussed how Erskine helped disseminate and publish the works of several evangelical authors, including many of Jonathan Edwards’s posthumous books. While conducting research for these chapters, I benefited greatly from reading Richard Sher’s seminal monograph,
The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and Their Publishers in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Chicago, 2007). Because Sher’s book was devoted exclusively to secular and theologically liberal Scottish Enlightenment authors, I thought that I might be able to make a scholarly contribution on eighteenth-century evangelicals and publishing. I discovered that no one has ever written on the history of Jonathan Edwards’s publications, and so I started to write an article on how his major works were published in the eighteenth century. I amassed so much material on Edwards’s publications–especially on the various people behind the scenes who helped publish his works–that I decided to write a full-length monograph on this topic.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Jonathan Edwards and Transatlantic Print Culture?

JY: I make two major arguments that can be summarized as the following: First, even though Jonathan Edwards can rightly be described as a theological genius and the foremost American revivalist of the eighteenth century, much of his success was dependent on a host of booksellers, printers, and editors who helped publish his works before and after his death. Second, evangelicals like Edwards cared how their books appeared in print, even thought they worked harder at disseminating their works for evangelistic purposes than making profits from their publications.

JF: Why do we need to read Jonathan Edwards and Transatlantic Print Culture?

JY: There has been
a lot written about Jonathan Edwards. But nearly all the scholarship has focused on his life and thought. In order to have the fullest understanding of Edwards and other eighteenth-century authors, we need to examine the publishing history of their books. I want readers to see that Edwards’s ideas were packaged in a particular format, with various options in sizes, bindings, paper and font quality, and pricing that made a difference in the reception of his works. More importantly, a number of people, acting as booksellers, printers, and editors, made most of the decisions on how Edwards’s books should appear in print and how they should be marketed to the public. Edwards had a definite idea on how he wanted his books to look, but he did not know the best way to have them published so that they would be appealing to the public (without giving too much away, I show this in a few case studies within my book). Knowing all this to be true, I argue that we need to take a closer look at how individuals such as these contributed to his success as an internationally-recognized author.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JY: In 1998, I graduated with an undergraduate degree in business administration and then went on to work as a financial consultant for five years with two different brokerage firms in Florida. About halfway through my time as a broker, I became disillusioned with the business and began reading a lot of books on church history and theology. With my wife’s blessing, I resigned from my job in 2004, sold our house, and moved my family to Vancouver, Canada to study theology at Regent College. At the time that we moved, I simply wanted to gain more knowledge about Christianity. I was having so much fun in Vancouver learning about my faith, snow skiing, and hanging out with friends from multiple denominations all over the world, that after finishing a MA in Christian Studies, I stayed for an additional ThM degree in theology. In my last year in Vancouver, I began corresponding with David Bebbington, who helped me with a thesis that I was working on at Regent College under J. I. Packer. Later that same year, I was able to meet Bebbington in person, and he and I talked about studying history with him in Scotland. After much thought and prayer, my family and I decided to move to Scotland in late 2006 to begin my PhD. My time in Vancouver and Scotland highlight my twin interests of theology and history. I feel very fortunate to have a job that allows me to do research and teach in both fields. 

JF: What is your next project?

JY: My immediate plan is to write an article on the publication of Samuel Hopkins’s System of Doctrines (1793). This mammoth two-volume book by Edwards’s disciple became the first systematic theology of the so-called New Divinity movement, and helped shape the next generation of Edwardseans. After this project, who knows.

JF: Thanks, Jonathan!

The Author’s Corner with Randy J. Sparks

AfricansintheOldSouthRandy J. Sparks is Professor of History at Tulane University. This interview is based on his new book, Africans in the Old South: Mapping Exceptional Lives across the Atlantic World (Harvard University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Africans in the Old South?

RS: In this project I embrace what has been called the “biographical turn” in the scholarship of the Black Atlantic, and it speaks to a growing effort to record the life histories of individual African slaves and their descendants.

It is important to see Africans as individuals with complex lives, as men and women who enslaved and who suffered enslavement, who moved from freedom to slavery and back again, who defy any easy categorization. 

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Africans in the Old South?

RS: I see the reconstruction of individual lives as an important corrective to quantitative studies of the slave trade that have largely ignored the lives of individuals. Studying the life experiences of individuals allows us to better understand the diversity of the African experience in the Atlantic World and in the Old South.

JF: Why do we need to read Africans in the Old South?

RS: The full story of the African slave trade could only be known with biographies of each of its 12,500,000 victims, but that sort of complete record is lost to us forever. This great loss, one of the world’s chief disgraces, serves to highlight the importance that should be attached to every individual story that can be retrieved. And in order to be fully understood, the tragic history of the slave trade must embody its perpetrators as well as its victims, for they, too, have a history. These life geographies of individual Africans, both enslavers and enslaved, remind us of the human and individual dimensions of the Atlantic slave trade and its impacts on individuals and families as well as on the American South.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

RS: I always loved history, but I did not envision pursuing it as a career. It was an undergraduate Southern History class with E. Stanly Godbold that first attracted me to the history of the South, and he and other members of the faculty at Mississippi State encouraged me to pursue an M.A. and then a Ph.D. with John Boles at Rice. I owe my mentors a great debt for guiding me toward this rewarding career. 

JF: What is your next project?

RS: I am currently at work on a couple of projects related to the illegal slave trade of the nineteenth century. One involves cases of slaves in the U.S. and Spanish Caribbean who appealed for their freedom claiming to be British subjects. My larger project explores the U.S. involvement in the illegal slave trade from 1808 to 1865.

JF: Thanks, Randy!

The Author’s Corner with John Dixon

cadwalladercoldenJohn Dixon is Assistant Professor of History at the College of Staten Island of the City University of New York. This interview is based on his new book, The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden: Empire, Science, and Intellectual Culture in British New York (Cornell University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden?

JD: As a graduate student at UCLA, I became interested in the Enlightenment and, more specifically, in the circulation of scientific knowledge around the eighteenth-century Atlantic world.  I identified and started to analyze a cohort of Scottish-trained physicians in British North America and the Caribbean. Cadwallader Colden was one member of that group, and I quickly discovered that he was by far the most interesting of the bunch. His life, which conveniently spanned the Glorious Revolution and the American Revolution, was a fascinating mix of ambition, success, controversy, and failure. It also interwove politics and science to an unusual and intriguing degree. As a learned Scottish immigrant who adeptly used his intellectual interests and activities to advance his social standing, gain influence, and win patrons, Colden shaped colonial and imperial politics. At the same time, he pioneered the use of Linnaean botany and Newtonian natural philosophy in British America, and was instrumental in establishing scientific and print networks that enabled intercolonial and transatlantic cultural exchange in the mid-eighteenth century. What was it like to be an intellectual in British New York? How did Colden’s political and intellectual lives overlap? Was Colden a reformist or a reactionary? These sorts of questions drove my research and ultimately led me to write The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden.  

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden?

JD: Standard narratives of early New York and early American history have grossly understated Colden’s significance and complexity as a historical figure. By putting him at the center of the story, we more readily see that elitism, conservatism, and imperialism were essential facets of eighteenth-century New York society and culture, and of the Enlightenment.

JF: Why do we need to read The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden?

JD: For a sense of enjoyment, I hope. I tried to write The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden so that it would appeal to a wide array of specialist and non-specialist readers. That said, my book raises significant historiographical issues. It suggests that scholars have construed colonial New York too narrowly as a proto-modern colony defined by its remarkable degree of social diversity and political factionalism. I don’t deny those features, but I do argue that historians need to pay more attention to British New York’s importance as an imperial hub and as a center of transatlantic scientific and philosophical activity. Likewise, my book complicates current notions of the American Enlightenment by highlighting paradoxical intersections of tradition and reform.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?​

JD: I became an American historian through a process of gradual evolution. While growing up on a small island in the English Channel, I somehow got hooked on American literature and jazz music. In this sense, F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Coltrane must shoulder some of the blame. BA and MA degrees in American Studies followed. I contracted the itch to be a historian along the way, though I cannot now recall exactly when. After a brief spell working in the publishing industry in London, I moved to the U.S. and entered the Ph.D. program in American History at UCLA. The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden is a heavily-reworked version of my doctoral dissertation.

JF: What is your next project?

JD: I currently hold a research scholarship at the Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History, New York University. I am using this award to write a sweeping history of Jews in the early modern Atlantic World. 

JF: Sounds great. Thanks, John!

 

Ben Franklin: Revolutionary or London Intellectual?

a647a-benjamin-franklinThe answer is both.

Over at the website of Smithsonian Magazine, George Goodwin, the author of the brand new book Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life of an American Founder, argues that Franklin was an intellectual in the British Atlantic world before he became an American revolutionary.

Here is a taste:

…It was only then, at the age of nearly 70, that he discarded his loyalty to the British state and became a fierce advocate of American independence.

Yet even as an American patriot, Franklin once again returned to Philadelphia with British enlightenment values that influenced his fellow Founding Fathers. Having arrived in London with two slaves, Franklin now supported calls for abolition. Though he did not convince Thomas Jefferson on that matter, he did on others. Jefferson’s choice of portraits for his entrance hall at Monticello is instructive. In the most prominent position are three of Franklin’s own British influences: Bacon, Newton and Locke. There is also a fourth. It is of Benjamin Franklin.

As for Franklin himself, he never quite gave up his Atlanticist dream, even after independence was secured. But now it was to be on a different basis. In 1784, he half-jokingly, if in strictest confidence, wrote to his long-time British friend William Strahan with this suggestion: “You still have one resource left and not a bad one since it may re-unite the Empire … if you have not Sense and Virtue enough left to govern yourselves, even dissolve your present old crazy Constitution, and send Members to Congress.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Emma Hart

Emma Hart is Professor of History at University of St. Andrews. This interview is based on the paperback release of her new book, Building Charleston: Town and Society in the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic World (University of Virginia Press, 2015).


JF:
What led you to write Building Charleston?

EH:
I often get asked this question as many Americans wonder how a British person ended up writing a book about Charleston.  Like many first books, this started off as my PhD dissertation.  I went to graduate school with the intention of researching the artisan economy in early American cities.  My supervisor alerted me to the fact that both Charleston and Newport had received the least attention from historians.  I decided to visit Charleston first, and never made it Newport. Coming from the UK, the combination of palmetto trees and Palladian architecture was really striking and, as I soon realized, symbolic of so many of the dissonances in Charleston’s long and eventful history.  Even as I finished the PhD thesis, however, I realized that the people I was looking at were part of a larger group of white townspeople, who all used their labor, and that of their enslaved Africans, to accummulate wealth and property in the city.  Building Charleston became a story about these men and women who were neither planters, enslaved field workers, nor plain folk, yet still made a major contribution to the character of colonial South Carolina.  I also came to feel like a cheerleader for Charleston, which was often overlooked by historians as an important colonial city in favor of Boston, Philadelphia, and New York, even though it grew almost as fast as these northern towns.

JF:
In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Building Charleston?

EH:
In the eighteenth century Charleston was not merely a vehicle of South Carolina’s plantation economy, but rather was a fully functioning participant in the creation of a British Atlantic urban world.  Among other things the growing city fostered the emergence of a middling class of people, who strongly shaped urban culture, politics, and economics, in ways that made the place look very similar to contemporary cities in provincial Britain.

JF:
Why do we need to read Building Charleston?

EH:
I hope that readers will come away with a new outlook on how important towns were to British America’s plantation societies during the colonial era.  Like Kingston, Jamaica, and Bridgetown, Barbados, Charleston was a dynamic city, whose economy brought wealth to a distinct sector of society.  What is more, enslaved African people were often foundational to these urban wealth-creation activities.  For example, enslaved carpenters and bricklayers were instrumental in the speculative building craze that gathered pace after Charleston’s major fire of 1740. Owned by white builders, such people saw none of the profits, however, which lined the pockets of their masters who used this wealth and property as the basis of a middling social status.  Thus, the story of America’s entrepreneurial middle class starts in the eighteenth century, and is as much a southern story as it is a northern one.  What is more, slavery was right there at the inception.  The important role of urban society in shaping South Carolina society at this time also reminds us that we shouldn’t read the state’s archetypal antebellum southern character back to the eighteenth century as it wasn’t always so.  There was a time in the eighteenth century that Charleston’s importance gave the region a much more urban quality, and townspeople even challenged the authority of the plantation elite.

JF:
When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

EH:
I decided to become a historian when I was only 13 years old – I had a very dynamic history teacher at school who persuaded me pretty early on that my future lay in the past! When I got to university I started to do more eighteenth century history, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  I liked the rambunctious nature of eighteenth century society, which is embodied in so many of William Hogarth’s pictures.  When I got the opportunity to do a special topic on Revolutionary America, I knew I’d found my historical home – early America was not only more rowdy than Europe, it was also a society that grew incredibly quickly, and incorporated so many contradictions of slavery and freedom, success and failure, and violence and refinement.  Once I’d decided to commit myself to an academic career by starting a PhD, there was no question about which field I’d study.

JF:
What is your next project?

EH:
I’m working on a history of marketing in early America, tentatively titled Trading Spaces: The Early Modern Marketplace and the Creation of the American Economy.  The research continues my fascination with how humans interact with space and landscape in past societies.  I’m trying to unearth the places, customs, and institutions that characterized ordinary peoples’ daily trading practices.  American historians have usually portrayed “the market” as an ideological abstraction.  However, the majority of early modern people encountered the market as a physical space entangled in local social and economic relationships.  I think that it is only by investigating the early American market place on these terms can we grasp the foundational role of the colonial era in the long-term formation of an American market economy.

JF:
Thanks, Emma! 

The Author’s Corner with Douglas Sweeney

Douglas Sweeney is Chair of the Church History & History of Christian Thought Department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. This interview is based on his new book, Edwards the Exegete: Biblical Interpretation and Anglo-Protestant Culture on the Edge of the Enlightenment (Oxford University Press, 2015).

JF: What led you to write Edwards the Exegete?


DS: I’ve been writing about Edwards and his legacies since my grad school days at Vanderbilt in the early 1990s and my stint at Yale in the mid 1990s. The more I grew familiar with the shape of Edwards’ corpus, especially the manuscript material in the Beinecke, the more I became convinced that we need serious scholarship on its thousands of leaves of biblical material. So I applied for a Jonathan Edwards Research Fellowship at Yale (2003-2004) and began exploring these manuscripts in earnest.


JF:  In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Edwards the Exegete?

DS: Edwards was a clergyman and Protestant theologian who, like many of his peers, spent the bulk of his life studying the Bible. We will not understand Edwards’ life or Edwards’ world until we come to terms with the role that this study played within them.


JF: Why do we need to read Edwards the Exegete?


DS: Modern scholars have yet to come close to understanding the ways in which Edwards’ life was animated by Scripture. Three hundred years after his birth, half a century into what some have called the Edwards renaissance, few have bothered to study Edwards’ massive exegetical corpus. While preoccupied with his place in America’s public life and letters—and failing to see the public significance of his biblical exegesis—we have ignored the scholarly work he took most seriously. Though we know a great deal now about his ethics, metaphysics, Calvinism, and aesthetics—not to mention his pastoral labors and his role in the Great Awakening—few know much at all about his exegetical work. Although we know quite a lot about his engagement with the leading philosophical men of his day, we know little of his work with Matthew Poole, Philip Doddridge, Matthew Henry, Arthur Bedford, John Owen, or Humphrey Prideaux—biblical scholars all. Yet they were steady, staple sources of his study day to day—more than Locke, Berkeley, and Newton. They rarely played as great a role in shaping his scholarly agenda, but they played a greater role in its execution. He spent decades, quite literally, poring over their biblical writings, doing his most important work with them at hand. We should not pretend to understand the real Edwards of history until we recover and interpret the significance of his long-lost exegetical world.


JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?


DS: I entered Wheaton College in the fall of 1983 as an economics major headed to law school. But I soon grew disgusted with my professional ambitions and, as I did, I took a class with Mark Noll on the history of the Protestant Reformation. The course changed my life in a number of respects. I became a history major not knowing where I was headed (and yet sure that historical study was something I needed to do). Eventually, I completed a PhD in religion (1995), and have spent my life since then helping others to grow in the ways that I have grown through the study of both history and religion.


JF: What is your next project?


DS: I am co-editing two books for Oxford right now, an Oxford Handbook of Jonathan Edwards (with my friend Oliver Crisp), and Jonathan Edwards and Scripture (with former student David Barshinger), which is an effort to invite a wide variety of others to help us understand the subject of Edwards the Exegete.


JF:
Thank you, Doug!  You sound like a very busy man.

The Author’s Corner with Matthew J. Clavin

Matthew J. Clavin is Associate Professor of History at University of Houston. This interview is based on his new book, Aiming for Pensacola (Harvard University Press, 2015).


JF: What led you to write Aiming for Pensacola?

MC: After receiving my Ph.D. in 2005, my first time full-time teaching job was in Pensacola, Florida, where shortly after arriving I began researching the city’s history. One day, while viewing a handful of antebellum-era newspapers, I was amazed by the number of runaway slave advertisements published in the local press. At times, these papers contained a dozen or more advertisements in a single issue and frequently on the front page, proving just how extensive the problem of runaway slaves was in this unique frontier town.  It wasn’t long before I decided that I had to tell the story of the generations of enslaved people who made the desperate bid for freedom in a part of the United States where the attainment of freedom was for most African Americans nearly impossible.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Aiming for Pensacola?

MC: This study proves that despite the legend of the Underground Railroad, fugitive slaves routinely ran south towards freedom, often with the assistance of their free African American, European American, and Native American allies. Because of its reputation as an enclave of diverse people and cultures, Pensacola was in the colonial, antebellum, and Civil War eras, a popular destination for many of these runaways who sought refuge on the city’s waterfront, which verged on a boundless world of ocean and sea, and the surrounding villages that opened into a vast expanse of forests, swamps, and streams.

JF: Why do we need to read Aiming for Pensacola?

MC: The book demonstrates that resistance to slavery was much more widespread than previously understood. Even in the Deep South, where slavery was deeply embedded in the culture and the cars and conductors of the Underground Railroad stopped only infrequently, African Americans and their allies resisted the white supremacist culture that slaveowners and other white elites imposed on the region. There has long been a tendency to read American history as the story of two oppositional regions: a non-racist North and a racist South. Having lived in southern cities most of my life, and now being a resident of Houston, TX, what many consider the most diverse city in the entire United States, I have always been motivated by my own personal experiences to challenge this interpretation by finding examples of interracial cooperation and collaboration in early Southern history. This book is a case in point.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

MC: Though I’m sure they wouldn’t even remember me today, two truly extraordinary Jr. high school history teachers convinced me at an early age to become a teacher; however, it was while writing my senior thesis in college that I became enamored with the idea of research and writing history professionally, and I decided that I wanted toor rather needed tobecome a college professor. There is no other job on earth that I would enjoy more, though, truth be told, if any NBA team was interested in a 44-yr. old shooting guard I would definitely consider the opportunity.

JF: What is your next project?

MC: I am currently working on two major projects, though the one much closer to completion is a narrative history of the Battle of Negro Fort, a bloody conflict between hundreds of fugitive slaves, Indians, and American soldiers under the leadership of Andrew Jackson at an abandoned British fort in Spanish Florida in the aftermath of the War of 1812.

JF: Thanks, Matthew!

And thanks to Abby Blakeney for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner


The Author’s Corner with Louise Stevenson

Louise Stevenson is Professor of History and American Studies at Franklin & Marshall College.  This interview is based on her new book, Lincoln in the Atlantic World (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

JF: What led you to write Lincoln in the Atlantic World?

LS: After reading Ellen Fitzpatrick’s collection of responses to President John Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Letters to Jackie (2010), I began to wonder how people had reacted to Lincoln’s death in 1865. I knew that Merrill D. Peterson had investigated responses from the U.S. to his assassination; so I turned to responses from abroad. Checking first with the Library of Congress, its librarians reported that they had nothing besides a letter from Queen Victoria to Mary Todd Lincoln. Next I called the curator of the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. He responded enthusiastically and said that he had been waiting for years to be asked that question. The wonderful documents in Springfield provided a springboard for research. The more I looked the more I discovered. Lincoln had responded to prompts from around the globe to shape his political positions and policies and more astoundingly his personal appearance.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Lincoln in the Atlantic World?

LS: The book argues that our understanding of Lincoln as a man, a politician, and president remains incomplete until we understand how he situated himself within the Atlantic world of republicanism.  Understanding him as a transnational thinker, politician, and national leader sheds new light on his support for gradual and compensated emancipation as well as his administration’s immigration policies.

JF: Why do we need to read Lincoln in the Atlantic World?

LS: Currently we appreciate Lincoln as a brilliant politician, careful thinker, and national leader. The book adds another dimension to our understanding. As it constructs a more globally minded and cosmopolitan Lincoln, we encounter revisionist interpretations of his policies. Who knew that he enjoyed “Our American Cousin,” the play during which he was shot, because of its criticism of the British aristocracy and praise of the American “common man.”

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American Historian?

LS: Before I was an American historian in college, I was a European historian. History seemed like an ideal field for creative thinkers because it allowed one to consider all sorts of fascinating evidence: texts, statistics, visuals, and material culture. This Lincoln book consults many of these sources. For me, history is intellectually challenging and that challenge is fun.

JF: What is your next project?

LS: Currently, I am preparing to give some Lincoln lectures this year, including one at the Lincoln Presidential Library on his birthday.  Additionally, I am starting to extend my understanding of Lincoln’s influence to other portions of the globe.

JF: Thanks, Louise! 

And thanks to Abby Blakeney for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

Call for Papers: "Empires of Liberty and the American Revolution"

Sons of the American Revolution: Annual Conference on the American Revolution
June 10-12, 2016, Pasadena, CA
Empires of Liberty and the American Revolution

In a 1780 letter to George Rogers Clark, Thomas Jefferson spoke of an “empire of liberty,” claiming that if Clark succeeded in his maneuvers in the Northwest, he would “add to the Empire of liberty an extensive and fertile Country.”  Jefferson is not the only American to use the phrase.  In 1786, John Adams wrote that “It has ever been my hobby-horse to see rising in America an empire of liberty, and a prospect of two or three hundred millions of freemen, without one noble or one king among them.”  Others expressed similar sentiments.  In his last “Circular to the States,” General Washington noted that “the foundation of our empire was not laid in the gloomy age of Ignorance and Superstition, but at an Epocha when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period.”  Given the republican leanings of America’s founding generation, this imperial language is jarring, and perhaps paradoxical.   Even so, it reminds us that the American Revolution grew out of a crisis in the British Empire, and that the imperial problems the colonists faced in the 1760s and 1770s did not go away 1776.  In some ways, the difficulties they faced were those of reconciling empire with liberty in an independent America and in a world of competing empires.

This problem, even paradox, of “the empire of liberty” is the theme of the 2016 Sons of the American Revolution Annual Conference on the American Revolution.  The conference will focus on the crisis in the British Empire that led to the American Revolution, and the efforts after 1776 to resolve, or at least manage, the imperial problem or problems. 

In support of their Congressional mandate to encourage historical research, the Sons of the American Revolution invites paper proposals from graduate students and advanced scholars in history and political science on any aspect of the themes of empire or empires of liberty in the American Revolution.

The 2016 conference will honor Jack P. Greene for his years of distinguished service as a scholar of American history and mentor to so many students.  The subject matter of the conference pays tribute to Professor Greene’s deep study of the British empire in North America, and of the constitutional history of the American Revolution.

Publication of accepted papers in a published volume is anticipated.  The SAR will cover presenters’ travel and lodging expenses, and shall offer a $500 stipend.

Papers will be delivered in Pasadena, California, June 10-12, 2016.  Paper proposals should include a short, 250 word abstract of the proposed paper and a short CV, and be submitted to Richard Samuelson, (rsamuels@csusb.edu), Associate Professor of History, California State University, San Bernardino, by November 31, 2015.

The Author’s Corner with Sarah Crabtree

Sarah Crabtree is Assistant Professor of History at San Francisco State University. This interview is based on her new book, Holy Nation: The Transatlantic Quaker Ministry in an Age of Revolution (University of Chicago Press, 2015)

JF: What led you to write Holy Nation?
SC: Initially, I had planned to write my dissertation on the influence of gender ideology on the Quaker ministry, but I changed my focus for two reasons.  First, as I combed through Public Friends’ private and public writing, the language of “holy nation” kept appearing and re-appearing as they attempted to sort through the radical changes in their spiritual and political lives.  It was clearly an important scriptural touchstone for these eighteenth-century ministers and I wanted to understand the concept and its political implications more fully.  At the same time, contemporary debates also shaped my analysis as conversations about religion and national identity and patriotism and dissent dominated the political landscape in the mid-aughts.  The deeper I got into my primary sources, the more I became convinced that the Friends’ holy nation – a transnational community of committed pacifists – provided a way of re-casting the foundations of the geopolitical nation-state, the people that governed them, and the obligations of citizenship.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Holy Nation?
SC: I argue that during the Age of Revolution and Reaction, the Religious Society of Friends forged a “holy nation”: a transnational community of like-minded believers committed first and foremost to divine law and each other. Quakers declared themselves citizens of this cosmopolitan nation to underscore the decidedly unholy nature of the nation-state, worldly governments, and profane laws and, as a result, campaigns of persecution against them escalated over this time period as those in power moved to declare them aliens in and traitors to their respective countries.
JF: Why do we need to read Holy Nation?
SC: I attempted to speak to several different audiences with Holy Nation.  First and foremost, I wanted to enter into dialogue with those political and religious historians who have examined how the ideologies of (as well as the adherents to) religion and nationalism co-existed with and even complemented one another during this time period. As I argued, however, there has been relatively little focus on the ways that religious people attempted to challenge both the exclusive nature of emerging definitions of citizenship and the increasingly narrow boundaries of community.  I therefore hope that Holy Nation will contribute to a growing conversation about alternative, more cosmopolitan visions of identity available to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century peoples as well as to the acknowledgement of a broader spectrum of political engagement in revolutionary politics than typically explored. 
Holy Nation is also an Atlantic study, as it follows over 110 itinerant ministers (almost evenly divided between men and women) across the Atlantic World.  When I first started researching this project, I had a map hanging on my wall with different colored pushpins and yarn to mark their journeys.  It quickly turned into a knotted mess, but it provided a visual analogy for my study.  I wanted to bring to life the interconnected nature of this religious society and to demonstrate the ways it existed outside of the somewhat artificial and arbitrary boundaries we sometimes impose on the past.  An Atlantic framework allows me to demonstrate the diasporic and cosmopolitan nature of their identity and community.
For those interested in nineteenth-century reform movements and/or network theory, Holy Nation argues that the Friends’ transatlantic community provided the ideological and logistical foundations for the anti-slavery movement as well as universal peace, public education, woman’s rights, and a host of other benevolent organizations and causes.  Quakers, I argue in the latter half of my book, provide a useful example of the potential for a small, marginalized, and diasporic community to effect significant political change. 
Finally, I really, really hope that Holy Nationwill dispel the idea once and for all that eighteenth-century Quakers were passive and neutral (at best) or secret Anglophiles (at worst).  I argue against these mischaracterizations in my book, highlighting the ways that Society members continued to be very much engaged in worldly politics.  The image of the silent, drab, withdrawn Friend needs to be erased from history books (and oatmeal boxes)!
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
SC: I was an early convert (pun intended). I had the fortune to study with wonderful and smart teachers and professors at every level of my education who helped me understand the power of the past to interpret the present and to change the future.  I am impassioned by my work with students, and I try to help my students connect with all of the very ordinary people in the past who have set in motion very extraordinary change.
I also love primary source research, and I continue to be so energized and inspired by the enthusiasm of archivists and librarians at the places I work. 
JF: What is your next project?

SC: I am writing a graphic history tentatively titled Whaler, Traitor, Coward, Spy: William Rotch, the Quaker ethic, and the Spirit of Capitalism.  William Rotch, who I discuss only fleetingly in Holy Nation, was a wealthy and (in)famous whaler from Nantucket who was accused of treason by four different governments in three different countries in less than two decades.  It begins by highlighting my argument about Friends’ transnationalism – Rotch understood himself to be a citizen of the world and refused to recognize the authority of any of the wartime governments under which he lived – but it then also seeks to integrate this worldview with the new, globalized understanding of political economy that emerged alongside of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century wars for independence and empire.  I am particularly interested in whether Quakerism complemented or challenged the ideology of capitalism.  Did he reflect the era’s belief that the market economy would assure peace and equality as a way of integrating these logics?  Or was Rotch, essentially, an early transnational capitalist off-shoring his business empire to avoid paying tariffs? Or did he envision a more radical stance in which religion challenged the very logic of capital?

JF:  This sounds great.  Thanks for participating in The Author’s Corner!

The Author’s Corner with Carla Mulford

Carla J. Mulford is Associate Professor of English at Penn State University (University Park) and the Founding President of the Society of Early Americanists. This interview is based on her new book, Benjamin Franklin and the Ends of Empire (Oxford University Press, 2015).
JF: What led you to write Benjamin Franklin and the Ends of Empire?
CJM:  My book originated from an interest in Franklin’s writings on the Haudenosaunees (called the Iroquois or Six Nations, by the settlers). In thinking about Franklin’s ideas about Indians, I was led to ask myself the question: If Franklin’s views about Native peoples shifted across time and became more humanitarian, did a similar shift occur with regard to people of African descent? Contemplating the answer to this question led to an even larger question about Franklin’s views about the British Empire, its expansion into North America, India, and Ireland, and its fostering of a slave trade intended to benefit people back in Britain but leave British Americans unable to pursue “handicraft” (artisan) labor, improve their living standards, and develop their own systems of internal trade in the colonies of North America. To learn more, I studied early modern and early American economy, the histories of the peopling of North America, European imperial political economies, and the history of international legal views on sovereignty. This work dovetailed with my work as a Penn State professor. I began offering courses in literature related to early American environmental and social history and in historical and contemporary writings by Native peoples. The result, nearly twenty years later, is Benjamin Franklin and the Ends of Empire, a book based in twenty years of reading and a decade of writing. Several pieces that didn’t make it into the book have been published as stand-alone arguments.

Franklin began his professional life working to shore up the British Empire in North America by supporting economic measures that would help colonists thrive financially and physically while also supporting the greater British Empire in the Atlantic world. Beginning in the 1750s, Franklin wrote a series of briefs – written in the form of letters to William Shirley, then governor of Massachusetts – articulating a platform of alliance with Britain but allowing for the colonies’ political and financial self-determination, because imperial policies were hampering the colonists’ abilities to build self-supporting enterprises and develop networks for mutual defense against the other European imperial efforts in North America. In the 1760s, as Franklin attempted to negotiate with British ministers about American matters, he was forced to deal with the clear indifference of Britons in England to the life situation of Britons in North America. He developed a legal argument supporting the original sovereignty of colonial Americans, and he finally relinquished any effort to retain an alliance with the Empire. He argued from the 1750s onward that the ends of any empire ought to be in supporting the wellbeing of all its peoples, wherever they happened to be living.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Benjamin Franklin and the Ends of Empire?
CJM:  Franklin believed in the ideals of freedom embodied in the early modern liberalism he imbibed as a tireless and voracious young reader aspiring to learn more about the British Empire. His experiences as printer, writer, politician, and diplomat taught him that if he really wanted to see the liberal values he admired – values said to have descended as the freedoms articulated in England’s Magna Carta – at work in North America, then the American colonies needed to break from Britain and form their own political, financial, commercial, and labor goals.
JF: Why do we need to read Benjamin Franklin and the Ends of Empire?
CJM:  My book attends to materials that many who study Franklin have given little comprehensive attention to: his readings as a youth (and what he might have learned from them and held onto as ideals); his theories of fiscal, social, and political economy; his concerns about the British Empire in India and Ireland; his changing concerns about Native American and African peoples; and his views on land title and sovereignty. Contrary to many historians who place Franklin’s turn against the British Empire in the mid-1770s, when he was denounced in the Cockpit by Alexander Wedderburn, my book shows that Franklin’s turn against Britain’s imperial system began in the middle 1750s and were articulated in a number of documents from that era onward.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
CJM:  I believe I have always been fascinated about the impact of past events on present times. I can’t imagine living a life devoid of historical knowledge. How would we know why and how we got to the complicated place where we are, without a roadmap – roadmaps, really – of our past? And how would we understand how fully constructed historical stories have been, without a recognition of “spin culture” in our lives today?

As a student of early American literature, I studied the writings of people whose works were not very well known to the current generation of students, however well known they were in the era in which they were written. I helped to reform the established canon of literature by seeing that students of early materials would have available to them writings by women, Native peoples, Africans and African Americans, and laboring people – those who were not typically written about in the literary histories of the twentieth century.

My work on Franklin extends this trajectory of my interests by exploring understudied writings by a major American author. Among literary scholars, Franklin’s autobiography is often considered his sole piece of important writing. In Franklin studies, I wanted to show that the qualities of writing associated with his autobiography, a late-in-life writing, were available from the very beginning, not just in “literary” materials but in his writings on economics, politics, and society.
         
JF: What is your next project?

CJM:  My next monograph, titled Benjamin Franklin’s Electrical Diplomacy, takes up a line of argument tangential to Benjamin Franklin and the Ends of Empire. Benjamin Franklin’s Electrical Diplomacy shows how Franklin attempted to use his scientific fame to influence political policy. Planned as a much shorter and complementary book, this new work embraces several fields, including the history of the circulation of books and manuscripts, the history of science, and the history of eighteenth-century British and French imperial decision-making. 

JF: Thanks, Carla!

The Author’s Corner with Jordan Landes

Jordan Landes is Research Collections Librarian for History at the Senate House Library, University of London.  This interview is based on her recent book London Quakers in the Trans-Atlantic World: The Creation of an Early Modern Community (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2015).

JF: What led you to write London Quakers in the Trans-Atlantic World: The Creation of an Early Modern Community?

JL: When I started my PhD, I knew I wanted to work on religion and London. At the time, Simon Dixon, now of the University of Leicester, was working on Quakers in the parishes of London. I took many of the same people and examined their activity in the American and Caribbean colonies. The study that followed revealed inter-connected networks that have occupied me for nearly a decade. Frederick Tolles first wrote about Quakers in an Atlantic context in the 1950s, so the examination of the Society of Friends from that aspect has a long history. My study aims to place London Quakers and their networks in that context.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of London Quakers in the Trans-Atlantic World: The Creation of an Early Modern Community?

JL: In the first fifty years of the Society of Friends, the London Yearly Meeting and London Friends played a large role in Quaker activity throughout Great Britain, Europe, and the Caribbean and American colonies, creating networks and participating in the movement of ideas, goods and people. These networks, maintained through regular correspondence, exchange of print materials and a travelling ministry, overlapped trade and friendship networks to create a system that allowed Quakerism to be firmly established throughout the Atlantic world.

JF: Why do we need to read London Quakers in the Trans-Atlantic World: The Creation of an Early Modern Community?

JL: This book brings together many strands of historical study: London history, Atlantic history, religious history, economic history, book studies and early American history. I think many of the practices enacted by the London Yearly Meeting and its constituent meetings were innovative, such as shipping books and epistles on multiple ships to ensure copies arrived. In fact, I was surprised at the level of organisation and even bureaucracy London Quakers developed and adapted to maintain contact with scattered Quaker communities and to communicate the faith. Furthermore, the roots of the Quaker reputation in business, as abolitionists, and more, can be traced to and were enabled by the Quaker Atlantic activity before 1725.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

JL: I am not actually an American historian but am flattered to be identified as one. I would describe myself as an Atlanticist with London tendencies on the history side, and a research librarian in history on the library side.

JF: What is your next project?

JL: My next projects are driven by the collections we hold in Senate House Library, including writing about walking in London. The walking project should allow us to look at why and how people moved around London over the course of four centuries, but especially at how and why that movement was recorded. I am hoping to include Quakers in the walking project, if possible.

JF: Thanks, Jordan!

The Author’s Corner with Stephen Hague

Stephen Hague teaches British, British imperial and modern European history at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey.  This interview is based on his new book, The Gentleman’s House in the BritishAtlantic World, 1680-1780 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
JF: What led you to write The Gentleman’s House in the British Atlantic World?
SH: Before becoming an academic historian, but after graduate training in British history, I worked for a number of years in museums and historic sites.  One site in particular, a house called Stenton in Philadelphia, was especially influential in my thinking.  When I went to work there it struck me how similar Stenton was to small classically-inspired houses dotted not only over the American landscape, but in Britain as well.  Much has of course been written about such houses in America, but it seemed to me that historians, architectural historians and others too often linked these (relatively) small houses in America with very large country houses in Britain.  This approach struck me as comparing apples and oranges. Instead, there seemed more than ample room to investigate similar houses, and, importantly, the people who lived in them, on both sides of the Atlantic. 
On a related note, one book that always troubled me is quite an old book now, Lawrence and Jean Stone’s An Open Elite?, which argued that by analyzing big country houses in Britain it was evident that social mobility had been limited.  The problem I had with their approach is that I had a sense that they had been looking in the wrong place:  big houses rather than the more modest ones that most interested me, and seemed the more likely venue for social change.  Scholars in the 1980s had pointed this out about the Stones’ work, but after twenty-five years no one had done the legwork to investigate further. 
A problem arose when I undertook research in Britain, where it became immediately apparent that this form of house had been almost completely ignored.  The quite extraordinary documentation of American classical houses (Historic structure reports, paint analyses, interpretive plans, archaeological surveys, research reports, extant collections, and so on) was entirely absent on the British side.  As a result, there was an enormous amount of research to be done on the British version of the small classical house, which led to the core of my book, a detailed exploration of one county in England, Gloucestershire. After that, I circled back to the American side to knit my research together into an Atlantic world study that I hope will be revealing for British and early American historians alike.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Gentleman’s House in the British Atlantic World?
SH: By looking at buildings, landscapes, spatial arrangement, furnishings and people together – a ‘material culture’ approach – we can learn a great deal about how eighteenth-century Britons staked out and defined their social position across the Atlantic world.  Such a social and cultural reading of small classical houses and their owners offers an account of moderate change and well-paced social mobility that reflects Britain’s stable but dynamic growth in the eighteenth century, with a particularly important transition point in the second quarter of the eighteenth century.
JF: Why do we need to read The Gentleman’s House in the British Atlantic World?

SH: From my perspective, perhaps the most important reason to read The Gentleman’s House is because it seeks to break down barriers and build bridges between several bodies of literature.  First, it is an effort to position a material object – a type of house – at the center of analysis and use that as a way of constructing a social group that we can analyze.  Secondly, in so doing I attempt to draw together not only architecture, but spatial arrangements, interiors, furnishings, and the social action that all these things enabled.  In other words, in the first instance the emphasis is on things (i.e. buildings), but the real attention is on people, what they did with and in those things, and what those things represented about them.  Thirdly, the book tells us a lot more about small classical houses in Britain and the genteel people who inhabited them than we have known before, including their many transatlantic links.  Fourthly, it takes exception to American exceptionalism, and seeks to craft a British world narrative that views provincial Britain and British North America similarly.  Viewing the eighteenth century in this holistic way offers, I think, very interesting insights, and helps to make more sense of British society up to (and even after) the American war for independence.  Finally, The Gentleman’s House provides a different perspective on the important issue of social mobility and how eighteenth-century Britons constructed their identities.  The book suggests that houses like these were more about confirming status in British society in a particular position, rather than necessarily aspiring to a more elevated position.  This incremental version of social change is more realistic, and with better explanatory power.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

SH: To be honest, I never did.  I have always thought of myself as a British historian, and teach primarily British and European history.  But having spent years on both sides of the Atlantic, eighteenth-century America has always struck me as quite a British place.  Moreover, having worked in historic sites and museums in America, having looked at American collections, studied material objects in America, and having benefitted particularly from the wisdom of early American colleagues in Philadelphia, it seemed readily apparent that there should be much more communication between early American historians and historians of Britain.  If the book achieves this in even small measure then I will be happy to be co-opted as an American historian!
JF: What is your next project?
SH: As I studied small classical houses for this book, I became increasingly interested in the subsequent use to which they were put, as residences, museums, hospitals, schools, and so on.  This got me thinking more about the way history has been used in various historical revivals and the issue of historical memory and how the past constructs the present.  Although I am still thinking about the exact direction I want to take with my next project, it will be an outgrowth of a forthcoming essay I wrote entitled, “‘Phony Coloney’:  The Reception of the Georgian and the Construction of Twentieth-century America,” due out next year in a volume on the Neo-Georgian movement. Weaving my interest in the eighteenth century together with transatlantic relations, material culture, and the cultural history of the British empire, I am currently (and very tentatively) calling my new project, ‘Interpretations of the Georgian, the Anglo-American Aesthetic and the idea of Greater Britain, 1870-1950’.  I am spending this summer in Britain, reading, researching, and bouncing these ideas around at several conferences and workshops, which is naturally good fun.
JF:  Thanks, Stephen!

The Author’s Corner with Benjamin N. Lawrance

Benjamin Lawrance holds the Barber B. Conable Jr. Endowed Chair in International Studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology. This interview is based on his new book Amistad’s Orphans: An Atlantic Story of Children, Slavery, and Smuggling (Yale University Press, January 2015).

JF: What led you to write Amistad’s Orphans?

BL:I first started thinking about Amistad’s Orphans when a colleague showed me a letter from a former child slave, Ka’le, to President John Quincy Adams. I was struck by the language used and the appeals to justice. At the time I was working on a project on contemporary child trafficking in Africa. Many NGO reports use free child slave stories to catch the attention of the reader. So I began to wonder what other letters existed from child slaves, written as children. And the answer appeared to be, very few. So I returned to the very family story of the trial of the survivors of La Amistad. And I decided that a children’s story needed to be told. As an African historian, it piqued my interest to try to retell a classic 19th century American tale with the insights of African and Atlantic history. And, to my surprise, no one had tried to do that.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Amistad’s Orphans?

BL: Amistad’s Orphans argues that the role of African child slaves in the illegal slave trade has been significantly underestimated and their experiences misunderstood because all too often the 19th century is framed as an “Age of Abolition.” Not only were children a critical and highly desirable constituency of nineteenth-century Atlantic slave-trading networks, but a reappraisal of their participation also compels us to recognize that the inception of abolitionism in the Atlantic marked the beginning of an age of child enslavement.

JF: Why do we need to read Amistad’s Orphans?

BL: Amistad’s Orphans is a deeply personal story of six childhoods and how the largest forced migration in human history had profound consequences for the lives of children. I follow the journeys of six African children to illustrate the broader experience of African child enslavement and mobility during the early to mid-nineteenth century. These six lives, although single threads, are woven into a collective narrative, and via their pain, suffering, and survival, we begin to understand the African child slave experience. Reading Amistad’s Orphans will make you realize the centrality of children to the massive illegal trafficking enterprise undergirding the trans-Atlantic trade.

The title of this book, Amistad’s Orphans, is provocation to rethink the relationships, strategies, and experiences of slave children whose identities are too often determined primarily by their status as slaves. In order to uncover the lived experience of children more broadly, six lives are united into one imagined slave ship family. The six children shared many experiences, first and foremost the process of being bereft of family by their enslavement as children. As an analytical term—a dynamic definition, if you like—“orphan” emerges from actively and intentionally bringing into conversation the experiential insights bequeathed by six remarkable historical survivors: Mar’gru, Kag’ne, Te’me, Ka’le, Covey, and Antonio. 

My book is an experiment in what Rebecca Scott and Jean Hébrard have described as “micro-history in motion,” insofar as a carefully chosen event, or set of personalities viewed at the ground level, reveals broader regional dimensions. At its most expansive, Amistad’s Orphans demonstrates that when our attention is directed away from adults and toward the qualitatively different experiences of African slave children, a prevailing wisdom about the nineteenth century begins to lose its luster. The details of the children’s lives, contextualized with a wide spectrum of diverse evidence from the epoch, support two general, mutually situated, observations. Not only did slave traders actively seek children in increasing numbers during this period, but also child enslavement provided both slave producers and consumers with specific capacities not afforded by adult slaves to avoid detection and continue their illicit economies. Dispensing with the misidentification of the epoch as an age of abolition reveals the early nineteenth century as the beginning of an age of child enslavement.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

BL: I fell in love with history in high school in Australia. I had two amazing teachers who brought the worlds of Thucydides and Herodotus and the trench warfare of WWI to life, and I realized how important it is story study, understand, and reflect on the past. I first became enmeshed the history of US slavery as an undergraduate, and perhaps the most influential book for me at that time was CLR James’ Black Jacobins. First and foremost though I consider myself a legal historian and anthropologist. I learned the value of legal studies from several superb graduate mentors.

JF: What is your next project?
BL: I’m working on several new projects that reside at the intersection of history, anthropology, and sociology. I’m examining the historical experience of forced marriage in Africa and beyond, and I am looking at the lives of people who can’t prove their identity or citizenship, or who face the threat of deportation throughout the globe. Perhaps the most famous example in US history is the story of Wong Ark Kim, which, like the Amistad case, also went to the Supreme Court.
JF: Can’t wait to read about it, thanks Benjamin.

And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner