The Author’s Corner with John Oldfield

John Oldfield is Professor of Emancipation and Slavery at The University of Hull. This interview is based on his new book, The Ties that Bind: Transatlantic Abolitionism in the Age of Reform, c. 1820-1866 (Liverpool University Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write The Ties that Bind?

JO: I wrote The Ties that Bind in an attempt to challenge more orthodox histories that tend to place antislavery within narrow national contexts, whether American exceptionalism, in the case of the USA, or Britain’s history of humanitarian interventionism. Antislavery, I argue, should be seen as an international movement that rested on dense networks that brought together activists on both sides of the Atlantic. American abolitionists, particularly so-called “second wave” reformers like William Lloyd Garrison, relied heavily on British antecedents and borrowed many of their ideas, whether it was their use of “agents” or antislavery lecturers, the pledging of “parliamentary” candidates or the importance of grass-roots organization. But these influences also flowed the other way and part of my intention in The Ties that Bind was to explore how figures like Garrison influenced British activists, George Thompson being an obvious case in point. There were always limits to international co-operation, perhaps most evident in British reactions to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). For some British reformers, American abolitionism would always seem too sensationalist, too “popular” and even potentially dangerous. This is what Garrison was getting at when he said that British abolitionists “walked in silver slippers.” Antislavery in Britain, he went on, had “never been tried in the fiery furnace, nor compelled to encounter a single storm of persecution, and therefore is no more a test of English character, than is the opposition of Americans to a monarchical form of government.” So, while there were obvious affinities here, there were also important differences. Finally, I wanted to explore the related question of opinion-building, the processes whereby activists turned an idea (that slavery was wrong) into a social movement. This, again, is a transatlantic story but one not without its stresses and strains, as the British reaction to things such as antislavery songs and antislavery performers makes abundantly clear.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Ties that Bind?

JO: Simply put, The Ties that Bind argues that we should see antislavery as an international movement based on close ties that bound together activists on both sides of the Atlantic. Adopting an interdisciplinary approach, it stresses the importance of opinion-building techniques and, above all, the role of personality in shaping the abolitionist world of the nineteenth century.

JF: Why do we need to read The Ties that Bind?

JO: I think two points are relevant here. The Ties that Bind, like my previous books, makes the case for seeing antislavery as an international movement. Abolitionists, from Granville Sharp to William Lloyd Garrison, saw themselves as “citizens of the universe” and that outlook dictated their political outlooks, as well as the policy choices they made. American abolitionists learned a great deal from their British counterparts and Garrison, in particular, played on these Atlantic affinities; hence his preoccupation with celebrating 1 August, the anniversary of emancipation in the British Caribbean. Of course, American abolitionism was always more than a pale imitation of British antislavery but it is instructive, I think, to stress the importance of these international “connections.” My second point leads on from the first. One of the things I was keen to do in The Ties that Bind was to emphasize the importance of antislavery for activists today and for broader histories of humanitarianism. I think there are a number of issues at play here. One is the importance of grass-roots organization. On both sides of the Atlantic, abolitionists created complex networks that linked center to periphery, being careful at the same time to give rank-and-file members a chance to air their views. This mix between guidance and independence, I would argue, kept the movement fresh and relevant, and it is a model that has been adopted successfully elsewhere, notably in US campaigns around gun rights, tobacco control and drunk-driving reduction. Another crucial factor, which again has implications for activists today, was the willingness of abolitionists (not all of them, admittedly) to engage with electoral politics. Historians may question the effectiveness of the Liberty Party, to take an obvious example, but there is little doubt in my mind that such initiatives helped to divorce the federal government from the idea of slavery. Finally, as I have already said, antislavery was an international movement, based on close ties that bound together British and American reformers in dense transatlantic networks. Indeed, cosmopolitanism was an important dynamic within nineteenth-century abolitionism, evident in common political attitudes and assumptions that flowed from east to west and from west to east. In this sense, antislavery was never a parochial British or American affair, any more than the US Civil Rights Movement or the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa were narrow parochial affairs.

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

JO: I was an undergraduate in the UK during the 1970s, a decade that seemed to be dominated by the USA, not always for the right reasons. Whether it was the Vietnam War or the unfolding drama surrounding the Watergate break-in, it was difficult not to be affected by these events in some way, inside or outside the classroom. The 1970s also witnessed a remarkable outpouring of revisionist studies of US slavery, from John Blassingame’s The Slave Community (1972) to Eugene Genovese’s magisterial Roll, Jordan, Roll (1974). Collectively, these books not only seemed to speak to the contemporary situation in the USA but also to break new ground, not least in their use of sources (slave narratives, for instance) and their openness to other disciplinary approaches. As a result, I found myself drawn to courses on US history and to anything that dealt with the American South or slavery, race, and identity. I guess this was the start of my journey towards becoming an American historian. After graduating, I went on to graduate school, choosing to write my PhD thesis on the nineteenth-century black leader, Alexander Crummell (1819-1898). Over the past forty years, my research interests have broadened and today I would consider myself as much a historian of the Atlantic World, as an American historian. I have also developed a lifelong interest in the history of antislavery, both at a national and international level. But I have always taught US history and in many ways The Ties that Bind marks a return to many of the themes that first excited me as an undergraduate.

JF: What is your next project?

JO: Good question! I am currently co-editing a volume on European colonial heritage, which should appear in the second half of 2021. Beyond that, I want to build on the work I did in The Ties that Bind on William Lloyd Garrison and George Thompson, using it as a template to explore other transatlantic friendships that centered on reform. Then there is the ongoing debate here in the UK about the history and legacy of slavery, which is bound to quicken in pace as we inch ever closer to 2033 and the bicentenary of emancipation in the British Caribbean. Now more than ever there is a need for an “integrated” history of British antislavery, which not only commemorates the achievements of people like William Wilberforce but also recognizes Britain’s deep and tragic involvement in both the slave trade and the wider business of slavery.

JF: Thanks, John!

The Author’s Corner with Michael Turner

Michael J. Turner is the Roy Carroll Distinguished Professor of British History at Appalachian State University, North Carolina. This interview is based on his new book, Stonewall Jackson, Beresford Hope, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in Britain (LSU Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Stonewall Jackson, Beresford Hope, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in Britain?

MT: Several areas of interest came together and I thought it a project worth pursuing, given the time and opportunity. Going back many years, I wrote a research paper as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Rochester, New York, which touched on British responses to the American Civil War. I found this a fascinating subject, but I did not develop it further at that time (1992). I started working on other things, though I remained interested in British-American interaction, especially during the nineteenth century, and eventually I began to publish in the field. A series of articles, and a book on the role of America in British radicalism (2014), led directly to Stonewall Jackson, Beresford Hope, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in Britain. So did a visit to Richmond, Virginia, in March 2013. I was walking in Capitol Square and I spotted a statue of Stonewall Jackson. On the base, it mentioned something about being a gift from “English gentlemen,” which made me curious. Nobody in the nearby museum seemed to know the story behind it, so when I got home I looked into it. I soon found that Beresford Hope, with whom I was already familiar as a Conservative MP and High Church activist in Victorian Britain, played a leading role in the commissioning, construction, and delivery of the Jackson statue. I decided to find out why. Meanwhile, in the background, over the past 25 years or so, a significant trend in the relevant historiography has been the internationalization of the Civil War. Scholars have been placing the war in a wider setting, investigating its impact around the world and asking how and why it affected foreign opinion about America. I wanted to contribute to these discussions. Building on a longstanding interest in British-American interaction, intrigued by the connection between Hope and the Jackson statue, and wishing to add to our understanding of the Civil War as more than just an American war, my focus was on British perspectives that might previously have been under-studied or under-estimated. We already know a lot about the chief determinants of British attitudes—like cotton, or slavery, or ideas about democracy, or imperial security—but what about other factors?

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Stonewall Jackson, Beresford Hope, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in Britain?

MT: There was considerable sympathy for the South in Britain and this arose not only from economic interest and political preferences, but also from a sense of social, ethnic, religious, and cultural affinity. Admiration for Southern “heroism,” personified in Stonewall Jackson, was of particular importance, and he was to have a lasting fame in Britain because of the values he was supposed to represent.

JF: Why do we need to read Stonewall Jackson, Beresford Hope, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in Britain?

MT: It is a wide-ranging book. From two points of entry—Beresford Hope’s leadership role in pro-Southern agitation, and Stonewall Jackson’s British reputation—the book opens up to explore the many reasons why people in Britain wished the Confederacy well and continued to sympathize with the South in the postwar decades. Stonewall Jackson, Beresford Hope, and the Meaning of the American Civil War in Britain combines and adds to two approaches: relating the Civil War to its international ramifications, and explaining British responses to the American crises of secession, war, and Reconstruction. The goal is to expand knowledge and understanding of these matters, not least by offering fresh insights gleaned from research into previously neglected sources and historical agents.

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

MT: It must have started as a child. I remember my favorite books being historical books, my favorite movies being historical movies, and so on, I think because history is all about real people—why they do things, their ideas and circumstances, what motivates them—and of course the patterns of the present all have their roots in the past. At school, history was the subject I enjoyed most and the one for which I worked hardest. There was one very influential teacher, who had read Modern History at Oxford, and I wanted to do the same. I went up to Oxford in 1984 and stayed for seven years! I had brilliant tutors for the BA, a superb supervisor for my doctorate, and access to wonderful libraries and other resources. Then I came to the States, for the first time, to do the postdoc at Rochester. I count myself truly blessed that it all worked out so well.

JF: What is your next project?

MT: I am currently engaged in a study of problems facing the Church of England in the Victorian age, seen from the perspective of High Church laity.

JF: Thanks, Michael!

The Author’s Corner with Hannah-Rose Murray

Hannah-Rose Murray is Early Career Leverhulme Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. She is also the creator of a virtual Black Abolitionist tour of London, highlighting six important sites where African American activists made an impact on the UK landscape. This interview is based on her new book, Advocates of Freedom: African American Transatlantic Abolitionism in the British Isles (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Advocates for Freedom?

HM: The book developed from my PhD project, which focused on Black abolitionism in the British Isles during the nineteenth century. When I first started my research, I collated thousands of newspaper articles about Frederick Douglass’ visit to Britain and Ireland between 1845-1847, and after reading the pioneering works of Richard Blackett and Audrey Fisch realized that there was a wealth of material and sources to search through and uncover the larger story behind this transatlantic movement. I was fascinated to learn why Douglass was so famous and I developed a framework, adaptive resistance, which explores the reason why some activists were more successful than others: broadly, it’s a triad that rests on performance, antislavery networks and exploitation of print culture. For example, one of the reasons why Douglass was so successful in 1845 was due to his oratorical skill, his connections to William Lloyd Garrison’s antislavery movement and friends across Britain and Ireland, who in turn befriended newspaper editors and published pamphlets and materials to maximise support for Douglass and the abolitionist cause. Others, like Moses Roper, were maligned in the press by newspaper correspondents and by some abolitionists; he often had to make his own way around Britain without such concrete networks of support. Through excavating British newspaper articles, I could analyze their performances, their testimony and how they were received by the press and public across the nineteenth century, and how certain events–like the publication of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the American Civil War impacted their missions. Additionally, I created a mapping project that attempts to record as many African American speaking locations as possible. So far, I’ve mapped 4,700 sites in 1,550 locations across Britain and Ireland. As well as being a handy visualization tool for my research, it also presents numerous analytical patterns: why certain activists spoke in some locations rather than others and even how some followed early railway routes for ease of transportation. This filtered into the book too.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Advocates for Freedom?

HM: I argue that by sharing their oratorical, visual, and literary testimony to transatlantic audiences, African American activists galvanised the antislavery movement and highlighted not only their death-defying escapes from bondage but also their desire to speak out against slavery and white supremacy on foreign soil. Using a framework I term adaptive resistance, I uncover the reasons why some activists were more successful than others, why they visited certain locations, how they adapted to the political and social climate, and what impact their activism had on British society.

JF: Why do we need to read Advocates for Freedom?

HM: The politicized and radical journeys undertaken by African Americans to the British Isles are crucial to understanding their testimony and future careers, but also the antislavery movement and the Black Atlantic as a whole. For the first time, my book reveals new testimony and archival discoveries surrounding the stories of Moses Roper, Frederick Douglass and Josiah Henson (to name a few) and uses digital mapping to analyze their antislavery missions as well as a theoretical framework to determine why some activists were more successful than others. In this detailed study, I examine how in Britain and Ireland, thousands of slave narratives and abolitionist pamphlets were sold, petitions were signed, hundreds of pounds were raised for societies or given directly to help purchase individuals or their family members from slavery. Thousands more attended meetings at chapels, town halls, school rooms and lecturing halls, who often queued for hours beforehand and millions of words were written in response to Black activists and their stories of slavery. These activists challenged misconceptions of slavery, advanced the cause of abolition and mobilized public opinion. Through their interventions with the press, correspondents published Black abolitionist letters, speeches and commentaries, and their message was spread often beyond their immediate reach or where they had lectured. Their tireless activism often created and sustained antislavery momentum across the transatlantic, and their international missions inspired further action as well as apoplectic rage in the United States.

My work is also timely: as the Black Lives Matter protests continue to take place around the world, it’s important to recognize that the activists I discuss were declaring that their Black lives mattered nearly two centuries ago. It’s well documented that the movement has strong historical roots, but my chapter on Ida B. Wells’ lynching campaign in Britain in 1893 and 1894 is particularly prescient when we consider the modern lynchings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The book highlights not only the trajectory between activists in the c19th and today, but also how far we still have to go to accomplish their anti-racist missions.

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

HM: I have always loved learning about U.S. history since I was a teenager and was very lucky to visit America a few times when I was studying in secondary school. I started working on Frederick Douglass’ experiences in Britain ten years ago, achieved my PhD in 2018 and haven’t looked back since! My work centres around the rediscovery and amplification of African American testimony–including from Frederick Douglass–to ensure that their lives, histories and memories are no longer invisibilized. Their testimony can also shine a new light on their courageous and inspiring activism on both sides of the Atlantic and remind us that antislavery agitation had a fundamental transatlantic element. Activists like Douglass believed that their missions abroad would have very real consequences for enslavers, proslavery defenders, and racists back home.

JF: What is your next project?

HM: I envision Advocates of Freedom as part of a trilogy: this current work is quite broad and extends from the late 1830s to the early 1890s, so the project I’m working on now is a focused study between 1840-1870. I’m studying the ways in which African Americans used visual and performative testimony in the British Isles to convince the transatlantic public about slavery. For example, Moses Roper exhibited whips, chains and manacles on the Victorian stage and even demonstrated how they worked to his audiences. Henry ‘Box’ Brown, the infamous activist, lecturer and entertainer who escaped slavery by posting himself in a box from Richmond to Philadelphia, starred in a play based on his own life in Kent, England. Other activists like James C. Thompson wrote his own poetry and performed it to his audiences and exhibited paintings of his life in slavery. It’s fascinating to consider how activists used growing technological and visual mediums to inform audiences and entice them to their lectures.

The third book in this ‘trilogy’ (if it does get that far!) will focus on African American postbellum activism in the British Isles. Activists continued to travel to Britain and Ireland and followed in the footsteps of their forebears to raise awareness and educate transatlantic audiences on global racism. Additionally, they campaigned around the fact that, contrary to popular belief, U.S. chattel slavery had never actually died. Instead, its foul spirit had mutated and evolved into practices such as lynching and the convict lease system, which preserved the legacies of centuries of oppression. While antebellum slave narratives and speeches distinctly served the purpose of abolition, post-war testimony–particularly in oratorical form–was specifically shaped around abolition’s broken promises. They continued to denounce white supremacy, challenge Lost Cause narratives and white domestic terrorism up to the early twentieth century.

JF: Thanks, Hannah-Rose!

The Author’s Corner with David Hall

the puritans a transatlantic historyDavid Hall is Bartlett Professor of New England Church History Emeritus at Harvard Divinity School. This interview is based on his new book, The Puritans: A Transatlantic History (Princeton University Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Puritans?

DH: The Puritans: A Transatlantic History grew out of my ambition to understand the British side of the story more fully; or, to say this otherwise, to replace the paradigms that accompany all versions of “American” Puritanism with paradigms appropriate to an older, richer, and much more significant phase of religious and political history.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Puritans?

DH:  I answer (to my satisfaction) the question of “Who were the Puritans?” by rooting the British movements firmly in the context of the Reformed international, and I link the immense difficulties of the 1640s, when a promising alliance between Covenanter Scotland and the Long Parliament broke down, to a straightforward theological question, the nature of the church.

JF: Why do we need to read The Puritans?

DH:  For anyone who knows next to nothing about Reformation Scotland and the remarkable insurgency of 1637-38 (my ignorance was complete before I decided to invest myself in Scottish history), fresh light is  thrown on every aspect of the Puritan movement, and especially its political travails and triumphs.  On the English side, my substantial survey of the “practical divinity” and its problems–up to and including the emergence of “Antinomianism” in the years 1620-1650–is a persuasive alternative to the (tired) history of English “Calvinism,” an alternative more fully attuned to devotion and  the rhythms of spiritual life.  My survey of a “reformation of manners” brings social history into the story, as well.

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

DH: As a child I began to read historical fiction, some of it dating from the end of the C19 (books belonging to my parents or grandparents), books that cast a spell over me that has never quite vanished.  I also fell in love with American literature after being introduced to it in a serious manner in college and, briefly, pondered doing a Ph.D. in English, the compromise being American Studies.  It was accidental that my earliest books were on the seventeenth century, as I really wanted to be writing about the nineteenth; but the turn toward “popular” religion/culture in early modern studies captured my imagination and the rest is (history).

JF: What is you next project?

DH: The Puritans was a very challenging book to write, so I’m turning to something simpler, probably an edition of two seventeenth-century manuscripts.

JF: Thanks, David!

The Author’s Corner with James Delbourgo

619ROeDHlSL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgJames Delbourgo is Associate Professor of History of Science and Atlantic World at Rutgers University. This interview is based on his new book, Collecting the World: Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British Museum (Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Collecting the World? 

JD: My first book was on electricity in colonial North America and I wanted to see what the pursuit of science looked like from a completely different angle. When I learned that Hans Sloane, the founder of the British Museum (1753), had been in Jamaica and made natural history collections there, I was fascinated. What was the future founder of the world’s first national public museum doing in the Caribbean and what were the links between slavery and the origins of that museum? I was never taught this in school and thought many readers would be interested in the answer. I was also fascinated by the idea of a universal collection and a museum that aspired to contain every kind of thing in the world. We live in an age where universalism is often critiqued and mistrusted but the early modern era and the origins of museums were powerfully inspired by notions of the universal.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Collecting the World?

JD: One argument is that collecting things always involves collecting people: there is no such thing as “a collector” in the sense of an isolated individual and Sloane relied on worldwide networks to accumulate the thousands of objects which the British Museum was created to house. The second is that Sloane is vital for understanding the complex legacy of the Enlightenment: out of slavery and imperialism emerged the first articulation of an ideal of universal free public access to museums and their collections, an ideal we still cherish and must defend today.

JF: Why do we need to read Collecting the World?

JD: It is the first book to tell the full story of how the world’s first public museum came into being, and shows how that enlightened institution owes its origins to slavery and imperialism, while also championing Sloane’s legacy in calling for universal access to museums and knowledge. Sloane is a compelling contradiction and defies easy categorization: he embodies the relationship between enlightenment and imperialism and his collections embody the great global collision of peoples that took place in the long eighteenth century. It’s also a story about universal knowledge and the dream of total information, and what their pursuit actually entailed. This dream is familiar to us today through digital technology and the internet, but Sloane’s house in eighteenth-century London — where he sought to assemble a universal museum — is an important to precursor to this ongoing ideal of somehow collecting the entire world in a single place. Finally, it’s a book that connects several historical subdisciplines — from the history of science to the history of the African diaspora — and urges us to move beyond academic specialization to tell richer, more complex stories for a broad reading public.

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

JD: I was completing my first year as an undergraduate student at the University of East Anglia in the UK and wrote a seminar paper about Abraham Lincoln’s theory of the union for Professor Dan Richter who was visiting professor that year. It was a liberating experience to try to understand someone else’s thinking in a completely foreign time and place. As one wit has quipped, all the best stories are true. I once explained my work to a member of my family, who listened carefully and then replied, “But you really live in the past then?” Yes.

JF: What is your next project?

JD: I have several current research interests which include the history of collecting; global & Atlantic histories of science especially in the early modern period; and the transport of key objects from around the world into various museum collections.

JF: Thanks, James!

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 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 Lindsay O’Neill

Lindsay O’Neill is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Southern California. This interview is based on her new book, The Opened Letter: Networking in the Early Modern British World (University of Pennsylvania Press, October 2014).

JF: What led you to write The Opened Letter?

LO: Growing up as the world of the Internet developed gave me a front row seat to communicative change. It also revealed to me the strains such alterations create. But I knew this was not the first communications revolution the world had seen and so I became curious about previous moments of transformation. This drew me to the British Isles in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries: a time when print culture was blossoming, the post office was permanently opened to the public, and the British world was expanding geographically. It was a period that had and needed new modes of communication. At first, it was print and the growth of the newspaper press that captured my interest, but that lacked the frisson of the personal. I wanted to know how people connected with each other over long distances. I found the answer in letters. However, I also wanted to do something different with these letters. My investigations suggested that they connected whole social networks rather than simply two individuals. This led me to the world social network analysis, which allowed me to map out the webs of connection embedded in letters. Explaining what these uncovered became The Opened Letter.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Opened Letter?

LO: As the British world expanded geographically and individuals circulated through it more frequently letters became a critical mode of communication and connection. They allowed the British to establish and extend the social networks that increasingly kept their world turning during a time of geographic and social change.

JF: Why do we need to read The Opened Letter?

LO: First, the book helps us understand how the geographically expansive British world of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries functioned socially, economically, and politically by recognizing the importance social networks. However, second, it also helps us question and think about our own communicative world. We too live in an increasingly global world that is dependent upon new forms of media. I hope that reading my book will push people to put their own experience of change into a wider historical context.

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

LO: I always tell people that I became a British historian because I wanted to study America. I grew up loving American history. I remember getting chills when reading about “the shot heard ‘round the world” in fifth grade and my family possesses embarrassing video footage of me giving a tour of Gettysburg in eighth grade. However, when I took classes in college I was inundated and intrigued by the histories of other countries – places that had very unfamiliar and new stories to tell. In British history I found a happy medium: I got to explore the history of a place that was foreign to me, but one in which the future America rested.

JF: What is your next project?

LO: One story haunted me while I was doing research for The Opened Letter. It seemed that every letter book I opened mentioned the plight of two African princes from Delagoa in east Africa who had arrived in London in 1721. They had boarded a ship to see England, but the captain nefariously sold them into slavery in Jamaica instead. Miraculously, after almost two years as slaves, they were freed and ended up trying to drum up support in London to get back to home. This story gripped me and has not let go, so presently I am tracing the travels of these princes and the motivations of those who got involved with them. Besides giving me the chance to tell a story full of drama and tragedy, their journey will also allow me to delve deeper into the nature and organization of British global power in the early eighteenth century.

JF: Thanks Lindsay, sounds intriguing!
And thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner

"The Making of the English Working Class" Turns 50

The Guardian is running a nice piece by Emma Griffin on the 50th anniversary of E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class, a classic work of English social history.  Griffin is most impressed by the way Thompson’s canonical book “managed to weather Marxism’s subsequent fall from academic grace.”  Here is a taste:

The Making, with its preface so memorably declaring the book’s intention “to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the ‘obsolete’ hand-loom weaver, the ‘Utopian’ artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity”. The book’s mythic status should not distract us from the raw originality of the work. In 1963, weavers and artisans were not the stuff of history books. Pioneering social historians had been studying working people since the early 20th century, but the focus remained squarely on the tangible, the measurable, the “significant” – wages, living conditions, unions, strikes, Chartists. Thompson touched on the trade unions and the real wage, of course, but most of his book was devoted to something that he referred to as “experience”. Through a patient and extensive examination of local as well as national archives, Thompson had uncovered details about workshop customs and rituals, failed conspiracies, threatening letters, popular songs, and union club cards. He took what others had regarded as scraps from the archive and interrogated them for what they told us about the beliefs and aims of those who were not on the winning side. Here, then, was a book that rambled over aspects of human experience that had never before had their historian. And the timing of its appearance could scarcely have been more fortunate. The 1960s saw unprecedented upheaval and expansion in the university sector, with the creation of new universities filled with lecturers and students whose families had not traditionally had access to the privileged world of higher education. Little wonder, then, that so many felt a natural affinity with Thompson’s outsiders and underdogs.

And there was something more. Running through The Making was a searing anger about economic exploitation and a robust commentary on his capitalist times. Thompson rejected the notion that capitalism was inherently superior to the alternative model of economic organisation it replaced. He refused to accept that artisans had become obsolete, or that their distress was a painful but necessary adjustment to the market economy. It was an argument that resonated widely in the 1960s, when Marxist intellectuals could still believe that a realistic alternative to capitalism existed, could still argue that “true” Marxism hadn’t been tried properly.