Let’s Remember What Thomas Jefferson Thought About Religious Liberty for Muslims

Jefferson and Religious Liberty

Check out Elahe Izadi‘s piece at The Washington Post.  It quotes several scholars of early American history, Islam, Thomas Jefferson, and religious liberty including Denise Spellberg, Andrew O’Shaughnessy, and John Ragosta.

Here is a taste:

Jefferson authored the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and asked that it be one of just three accomplishments listed on his tombstone. The Virginia law became the foundation of the religious freedom protections later delineated in the Constitution.

Virginia went from having a strong state-established church,  which Virginians had to pay taxes to support, to protecting freedom of conscience and separating church and state. Jefferson specifically mentioned Muslims when describing the broad scope of protections he intended by his legislation, which was passed in 1786.

“What he wanted to do was get the state of Virginia out of the business of deciding which was the best religion, and who had to pay taxes to support it,” said Spellberg, a professor of history and Islamic studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

During the bill’s debate, some legislators wanted to insert the term “Jesus Christ,” which was rejected. Writing in 1821, Jefferson reflected that “singular proposition proved that [the bill’s] protection of opinion was meant to be universal.”

He continued:

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read, “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan [Muslim], the Hindoo [Hindu], and Infidel of every denomination.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner With L.H. Roper

RoperL.H. Roper is Professor of History at the State University of New York at New Paltz.  This interview is based on his recently edited book The Torrid Zone: Caribbean Colonization and Cultural Interaction in the Long Seventeenth Century Caribbean (University of South Carolina Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write The Torrid Zone?

LHR: In 2012, I began a correspondence with Laurie Wood (now at Florida State) in which we lamented both the perennially secondary position the Caribbean occupies in our understanding of ‘colonial America’ and the particular lack of a comparative treatment of the history of the region’s colonization by Europeans.  We decided to do something about this state of affairs and we began recruiting ‘partners in crime’.  Happily, there are a number of young and talented historians who are working on the Caribbean whom we were able to recruit along with several ‘seasoned veterans’.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Torrid Zone?

LHR: The agendas and behavior of Native people had a significant effect on Caribbean history well into the eighteenth century. The Torrid Zone, particularly by virtue of the global extension of the personalities involved in its colonization and their conceptions of society and politics, constituted a fully representative, but not especially distinctive, manifestation of the sensibilities at work in European overseas colonization.

JF: Why do we need to read The Torrid Zone?

LHR: The contributions are filled with insights on the history of the seventeenth-century Caribbean generally and of places such as Jamaica and Suriname particularly.  Since this region constituted the primary target of European interest in the Western Hemisphere at this time, it is impossible to have helpful understanding of the expansion of European interests, including the colonization of North America, or the cultural interactions that this expansion generated—and the effects of these phenomena—without some knowledge of what went on in the Torrid Zone.  The essays also shed helpful light on the networks of merchants and political figures—operating both in the Caribbean and outside of it—who managed European operations in the region and who extended their social and political influence elsewhere.  Readers will learn a good deal about the Native agendas and responses to European activity in the Torrid Zone as well.

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

LHR: Although I was trained nominally as an American historian, I regard myself primarily as a historian of the expansion of overseas European (particularly English) interests and of the cultural interactions this generated.  While I was in graduate school during the ‘Pleistocene Era’, it dawned on me that the best way to comprehend ‘early American history’ was through a better understanding of the social and political worlds in which overseas traders and colonizers operated, from which colonists (and colonizers) derived their worldviews, and with which colonists (perhaps to a surprising degree) maintained close social, political, and economic associations.  This view has only strengthened over the course of my career.

JF: What is your next project?

LHR: I hope to begin work on two (having just finished two books in the past year).  The first is a further investigation of English involvement in the ‘Guinea trade’ and the other is an examination of the European colonization of the region bounded by the Connecticut and Susquehanna Rivers and Chesapeake Bay between 1636 (the founding of the Connecticut colony) and 1741 (the Treaty of Lancaster).

JF: Thanks, Louis!

Gordon Wood Reviews Stephen Brumwell’s *Turncoat*

TurncoatYesterday we posted an Author’s Corner interview with Stephen Brumwell, author of Turncoat: Benedict Arnold and the Crisis of American Liberty.

Over at The Weekly Standard, Gordon Wood reviews the book.  Here is a taste:

It was once common knowledge, the story of Benedict Arnold—that extraordinarily successful patriot general who abruptly turned against the American Revolution. Because he had been so trusted by George Washington, Arnold was regarded as the worst of traitors. Indeed, his very name became synonymous with treachery and treason. Not so anymore. Nowadays many young Americans have no idea who Arnold was, and even those who have vaguely heard of the name have little sense of what he did and why “Benedict Arnold” has been a byword for betrayal through much of our history.

This loss of memory comes in part from a changing view of the revolution. In the hands of present-day teachers and professors the revolution is no longer the glorious cause it once was. It is now mostly taught—when it is taught at all—as a tale of woe and oppression, redressing what many academics believe was an overemphasis on the patriotism of great white men. “Those marginalized by former histories,” writes the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Alan Taylor in a recent introduction to current scholarship, “now assume centrality as our stories increasingly include Native peoples, the enslaved, women, the poor, Hispanics, and the French as key actors.” In his own narrative of the revolution, American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804, Taylor has painted a bleak picture of the event. Most of the patriots were not quite as patriotic as we used to think. The Southern planters, for example, engaged in the revolution principally to protect their property in enslaved Africans, but “implausibly blamed the persistence of slavery on the British.” Ordinary white men were even worse. In the West, where the fighting was especially vicious and bloody, they tended to run wild and slaughter Indians in pursuit of their “genocidal goals.” In the end, writes Taylor, it was a white man’s revolution whose success came at the expense of everyone else—blacks, Indians, and women.

No doubt this dark and sordid side of the revolution needs to be exposed. But unfortunately, this exposure has become so glaringly dominant nowadays that there is little room for the older, more patriotic story to be appreciated. Modern scholars haven’t gone so far as to describe Benedict Arnold as a hero for turning against this rather squalid and nasty revolution—after all, the side to which he defected was by their standards of judgment not appreciably different from the side he left—but since patriotism doesn’t have the appeal it used to have, Arnold’s treason seems not to matter as much anymore.

Yet of course it does matter, which is all the more reason to welcome another account of Arnold’s career, written, as many of the best and most readable histories of the revolution are written these days, by an independent scholar who is not caught up in the academic world’s obsessions with race and gender.

Read the entire piece here.

Whatever you think of Gordon Wood and his scholarship (I am a fan of his scholarship and writing style), it seems as if he cannot review a book these days without turning it into a diatribe on a field that appears to have left him behind.  This is a really good review, but it is odd that Wood has to frame it in this fashion.

An Interview with the Editors of the *Journal of the Early Republic*

JEROver at The Panorama, Will Mackintosh interviews Andy Shankman and David Waldstreicher, the new editors of the Journal of the Early Republic.

Here is a taste:

Will: What are some of your plans for your editorial tenure at the Journal of the Early Republic?

Andy: Above all stewardship (which is an idea I’ve stolen from David) because I think the journal is in such great shape and has had such an impressive run of editors. So above all, I hope to do no harm. I’d like to involve the SHEAR community in helping us to think about special issues on topics that a large portion of our readers would like to see. For me, the core mission of the journal is to publish excellent original research drawn primarily from primary sources. But I also feel that we’ve never produced more high-quality scholarship at a greater (even overwhelming) rate than we are right now. I want to think about ways the JER might help us to attempt some broad, synthetic thinking, and perhaps get scholars of different generations and scholarly focuses talking to each other. So many people are asking so many critical questions now about the nation’s origins—about race and slavery, gender relations, the role and nature of the state at all levels, about how all of that relates to capitalism and political economy, about the need to bring together historiographies about institutions, cultural and social relations and constructions, political though,t etc., scholarships that haven’t always engaged with each other as much as they might—it’s a tremendously exciting time to be a student of the early American republic, and I want to think about ways in which the JER can continue to capture and convey that excitement.

David: Doug Bradburn buttonholed me with this same question at SHEAR in Baltimore when I took over in 2012 and I answered in one word: stewardship. (I’m still wondering if he was disappointed.) The job of the editor is to get the best possible work in all subfields into the journal. Articles should be timely in the sense of speaking to matters of current interest to historians, but it is even more important that articles should be built to last a long time, to be resources for historians in all fields and for others who will be interested in we know not what in 10 or 20 or 50 years (witness the renewed fascination with aspects of economic and diplomatic history, utterly unpredicted when I was in grad school). Sooner or later, anything may become timely again. Journal editing is about creating and spreading brand new discoveries and interpretations but also about archiving original research it so it is there to be more easily found later when it is needed. But perhaps most of all, regardless of whether one focuses on the short or long term of scholarship in our field, the number one job of the editors is to draw on whatever expertise we can muster, including especially the readers who graciously review manuscripts for us, to make every piece that passes through our hands (or now, screens) better whether we publish it or not.

Read the entire interview here.

Teaching Liberty

Liberty Appeal

Over at The Junto, Tom Cutterham writes about his course on the “meaning of liberty” from the American Revolution to Civil War.    Here is a taste:

The truth is, I find it hard even to begin thinking collectively about freedom. Our starting point is unfreedom. It was the same for Thomas Jefferson. His Declaration of Independence gives meaning to liberty by listing its violations. When we read David Walker, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Jacobs in my class, we try to glimpse freedom by looking deep into its absence. But it’s too easy for students to assume that because slavery has been abolished in America, the problem of liberty has already been solved. Spend too long pondering slavery, and just about anything else starts to look like liberty.

There were critics of abolitionists who tried to raise the same problem. In my class, we read William West’s series of letters to The Liberator, describing “wages slavery” as a system of dependence, abjection, and poverty which West calls “worse” than chattel slavery. It is wage slavery that can most truly claim to be the “sum of all evils,” West writes, because it is only this variety of slavery that hypocritically appropriates “the name of liberty.” We read West critically, of course. But when I ask my students if they ever felt like their boss was a tyrant, that’s when they begin to understand that freedom is a problem of the present, not just of the nineteenth century.

It’s the curse of such a topic—the meaning of freedom in American history!—to be so deeply bound up with progress. Didn’t things just keep on getting better; sometimes faster, perhaps, and sometimes more slowly, but basically, better? We read Judith Sargent Murray in the second week, then Sarah Grimké in the seventh, the Seneca Falls declaration and Lucretia Mott in the tenth. One of my students noted how depressing it is to see the same good arguments repeated, periodically, over sixty years of alleged progress. The way we raise and teach our children, the way they imbibe the ideology infused in their surroundings—as those women powerfully described—is an unfreedom none too easily abolished.

Read the entire post here.  I love the way Cutterham challenges his students to think historically about the “meaning of liberty.”  History teachers take note.

Rethinking America with John Murrin

Murrin

Princeton historian John Murrin never wrote a monograph.  But his essays packed a punch.

Princeton Alumni Weekly is recognizing a new book of Murrin’s classic essays titled Rethinking America: From Empire to Republic

I can think of few early American historians who have had more of an influence on the way I think about the colonial and revolutionary America.  I will always be grateful for his endorsement of my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction.

At one point or another, I have taught, or built lectures around, the following Murrin essays:

“The Great Inversion, or Court versus Country”

“No Awakening, No Revolution?: More Counterfactual Speculations”

“A Roof Without Walls: The Dilemma of American National Identity”

“1776: The Countefactual Revolution”

They are all in this book.

Here is a taste of the Princeton Alumni Week piece:

Opening lines: “Americans have always shared one conviction about their Revolution: It was a good thing for the United States and the entire world. The revolutionary generation believed that its principles would benevolently affect social conditions, agriculture, political economy, the fine arts, and even basic demographic trends. Only now are many of these themes being recovered… The early chroniclers of the Revolution began to lose some of the movement’s context even while quoting directly from its fundamental documents. They explained and defended the Revolution in terms essentially constitutional and political, as the triumph of liberty, equality, and limited government against the menace of irresponsible power and aristocratic privilege—rather feeble dangers, they somewhat paradoxically implied, if only by giving these challenges little real chance of success in America’s unique, libertarian environment, which they found at work in the very first settlements.”

The Junto is Back!

JuntoThe Junto: A Group Blog on Early American History is back with a new look and a new roster of bloggers.

Here is a taste of their first post on the new site:

I’m thrilled to introduce our new batch of full-time bloggers for us. After a very broad search with lots of fabulous applicants—we had far more qualified candidates than we had room to fill—our new “generation” of writers are positioned to take the site in exciting directions. You can find all of their bios in our “Members” pages, but here is a quick run-down:

  • Carla Cevasco, an assistant professor of history at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and scholar of food, medicine and the body, and material culture in early America and the Atlantic world.
  • Elbra David, who recently finished a PhD at the University of California, Irvine, on economy and law in the early republic.
  • Julia Gossard, an assistant professor of history at Utah State University, who studies the history of childhood, youth, and gender in the eighteenth-century French world.
  • Philippe Halbert, a doctoral student in art history at Yale University whose dissertation examines the material culture of domestic life in French and Spanish colonial Louisiana.
  • Vanessa Holden, an assistant professor of History and African American and Africana Studies at the University of Kentucky, who studies the history of gender and sexuality in the antebellum South, slave rebellion and resistance, and same-gender loving individuals in the Atlantic World.
  • Ebony Jones, an assistant professor of history at North Carolina State University who studies the histories of Atlantic world slavery, the transatlantic slave trade, and imperial crime and punishment.
  • Lindsay Keiter, a historian of women and gender in early British North America, who currently works for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
  • Adam McNeil, a soon-to-be doctoral student at the University of Delaware and scholar of nineteenth-century African American history.
  • Jordan Taylor, formerly Digital Projects Editor at the Journal of American History and co-editor of the blog Process, and a PhD student at University of Indiana.
  • Emily Yankowitz, an MPhil student at the University of Cambridge who will be a PhD candidate in history at Yale this fall.

Read the rest here.  Welcome back, Junto!

Freedom on the Move

slave_ads_3

Cornell University is the host of “Freedom on the Move,” a digital database of fugitive slave ads from North America.  Here is a taste of Allison Meier’s article on this resource at Hyperallergic:

Readers of the May 24, 1796 Pennsylvania Gazette found an advertisement offering ten dollars to any person who would apprehend Oney Judge, an enslaved woman who had fled from President George Washington’s Virginia plantation, Mount Vernon. The notice described her in detail as a “light mulatto girl, much freckled, with very black eyes and bushy black hair,” as well as her skills at mending clothes, and that she “may attempt to escape by water … it is probable she will attempt to pass as a free woman, and has, it is said, wherewithal to pay her passage.” She did indeed board a ship called the Nancy and made it to New Hampshire, where she later married a free black sailor, although she was herself never freed by the Washingtons and remained a fugitive.

The advertisement is one of thousands that were printed in newspapers during colonial and pre-Civil War slavery in the United States. The Freedom on the Move (FOTM) public database project, now being developed at Cornell University, is the first major digital database to organize together North American fugitive slave ads from regional, state, and other collections. FOTM recently received its second of its two National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) digital humanities grants.

Read the rest here.

Teaching the American Revolution

The_Boston_Massacre_MET_DT2086

Over at The Panorama, historians Andrew Shankman and Eliga Gould write about how they teach the American Revolution.

Here is a taste of Shankman’s piece:

I try to show them that the revolution was part of a conversation that began in the early modern period about how to better the conditions of each of us and strengthen the obligations we owe to one another, the duties and responsibilities we have for each other. By showing how the revolution fits within that conversation it retains its grandeur while, hopefully, not imparting a sense of the exceptional and the particular: I hope my students will see the residents of British North America engaged in a charged often acrimonious and crucial series of conversations that were larger than any one group and more significant than the creation of any single nation.

And here is Gould:

Another area where my teaching and scholarship overlap is the message that I hope students in the course will take away. As every teacher knows, one of the central challenges with any survey is negotiating the gap between how professional historians understand historical events and how those events are perceived in the media and popular press. In courses on the American Revolution, as Serena Zabin writes in last October’s joint issue, that gap has often manifested itself as a tension between “the popular narrative of democracy’s heroic birth and the scholarly account of an imperialist and racist nation’s origins” (WMQ, 755). Of late, though, I worry that even stories of democracy’s heroic birth are not as popular or familiar as we might like to think. Three years ago, in a YouTube video that has scored more than 2 million views, PoliTech, a student-run group at Texas Tech, quizzed fellow students on the basic facts of American history: Who won the Civil War?  Who did we gain our independence from? And when? With one or two exceptions, the answers were variations of “I have no idea” or “I couldn’t tell you.”

Americans and Land

American_progress

Earlier this week President Donald Trump tweeted:

I responded with a couple of tweets:

and

Not everyone was happy with me:

I thought about this series of tweets again when I read H.W. Brand’s piece at the website of the History Channel.  It is a (very) short introduction to Americans’ relationship to the land.  Here is a taste:

Before long, a critical mass of Americans joined Washington in concluding they needed a government of their own. Complaints over taxation and other issues joined the land question in triggering the American Revolution, which ended with the Americans in possession of the Ohio Valley and much more.

The new land proved the British right about one thing: More western settlement meant more trouble with the Indians. To the tribes of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys, American independence was a disaster. The Americans were more aggressive in seizing land than the British had been. Often tribes secured treaties from the governments of the white settlers, but those treaties rarely inhibited the whites from taking what land they wanted.

At times the Indians resisted. In the first years of George Washington’s presidency, an Indian confederacy that formed in the region between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes inflicted a series of defeats upon settlers and local militia groups. They received arms and moral support from the British, who, still stinging from the loss of their 13 American colonies, were happy to provoke trouble for the upstart republic.

Washington summoned one of his lieutenants from the Revolutionary War, Anthony Wayne, known as Mad Anthony for his impetuous style of command. Wayne led America’s first federal army under the Constitution, called the Legion of the United States, against the Indian confederacy and won a decisive victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, near modern Toledo.

The victory allowed the settlement of Ohio, but it meanwhile foreshadowed a century of struggle between whites and Indians over land along the westward-moving frontier.

Read the rest here.

“Religion and Politics in Early America” Conference Recap

Yes–there was a conference in Saint Louis this weekend.  And yes, I was there.

I arrived early on Thursday morning (the first day of the conference) and got hit with food poisoning that kept me in my hotel room most of the day.  My plan was to attend sessions and catch-up with friends and colleagues on Thursday, give a paper on religious disestablishment in New Jersey on Friday morning, and chair another session on Friday at 2:30.  I was scheduled to fly out of St. Louis in the early evening on Friday and get back to Pennsylvania late Friday night so I could help preside over the PA District 8 National History Day competition at Messiah College on Saturday.

Then the Nor’easter hit the East Coast.

My Friday night flight was cancelled and American Airlines could not book me on another flight that would get me back to Harrisburg in time for History Day.  In the end, I gave my 9:00am presentation on New Jersey, caught a taxi to the airport where I rented a car, and made the 12-hour drive back to Pennsylvania.  It was the only way.  (I did shell-out the $6.00 for Sirius/XM radio so I had company on the drive).

I got home around 2am, caught a few hours of sleep, and was at Messiah College by 8am.

Cathay

With NHD PA Region 8 Coordinator Cathay Snyder at the awards ceremony at Messiah College

History Day

The students, teachers, and parents awaiting the start of the NHD awards ceremony

I was only able to do this because my friend Jonathan Den Hartog agreed to take my 2:30pm chair duties in St. Louis on Friday.  Thanks again, Jonathan!

And speaking of Jonathan, check out his post on the conference at Religion in American History blog.  Here is a taste:

On a related note, the conference was successful in bringing together both historians and literary scholars. Although disciplinary differences were on display–in one panel: unpacking one sermon vs. treating a long genealogy of ideas vs. considering both physical and written evidence–still good efforts were made to talk across borders and gain greater insights.  Further, presenters showed how different methodologies could illuminate a shared topic.

These two pieces–the critical mass and the conversation across disciplines–point to the energy in the field. These conversations are not only important in 2018, but they point to questions of enduring concern. Those digging into the topic are making great contributions, and I expect we will continue to see great results growing from this conference into the future.

Read his entire report here.

A Nice Intro to the Early American Book Trade

lady

PVF read Francis Brooke in the south Jersey countryside

When I was writing The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America I spent a lot of time reading scholarship on the book trade in early America.  I was trying to trace the print infrastructure that brought ideas into the southern New Jersey hinterland at the time of the American Revolution.

Elaina Frulla‘s piece at the Pedagogy & American Literary Studies blog reminded me of my work on the book that eventually gave birth to this blog.  Drawing on some of the best scholarship in the field, Frulla identifies “four major methods for distribution and sale of books in early America.  They are:

Bookstores

Libraries

Academic libraries

Book agents and “hawkers.”

This is a great piece for graduate students or those new to the field.  Read it all here.

Mary Beth Norton Was the First Historian to Use the Word “Gender” in *The William and Mary Quarterly*

wmq-cover1

The phrase “African American” was not used in the WMQ until 1999.

Check out Michael McDonnell‘s piece at Panorama on the William and Mary Quarterly‘s searchable index.  For those of you unfamiliar with the William and Mary Quarterly, it is the premier journal of early American history.

Here is a taste of McDonnell’s piece: “Historiographical Revolutions in the Quarterly: From Research to Teaching“:

The origins of the index lay in the research that David Waldstreicher and I began doing for the article that would eventually become “Revolution in the Quarterly?: A Historiographical Analysis” in the special joint issue of the WMQ and JER entitled “Writing To and From the Revolution.”

As we began work, we soon discovered that there was no single “at a glance” listing of the articles that have been published in the journal. Sure, we could have browsed J-STOR’s holdings, but only issue by issue. The Omohundro Institute’s own listing of Quarterly articles also needs similar unpacking, and does not link to full-text versions. (https://oieahc.wm.edu/wmq/browse_past.cfm)

To weigh up and assess the place of the Revolution in the pages of the Quarterly, we wanted a more accessible and assessable list of titles. To expedite our research, we asked a research assistant to put a spreadsheet together of the articles. We have recently put this online at https://www.michaelamcdonnell.org/wmq, and are happy to share this work in the hope that it will help further historiographical research and teaching and access to the Quarterly essays.

In the first place, of course, readers can use the index to test or examine our research results. While we focus mostly on the content of articles about the American Revolution in the main essay, we discuss our methodology in an accompanying piece available via the OI Reader. The entire special issue, our original article, and our methodological appendix including the tables we drew up are freely available via the Reader. No subscription is necessary.

As we explain in the essay, we used the index to compile lists of essays on or about the Revolution, and as a helpful way to dive deeper in to the full-text versions to examine the content of articles, but also to check if an essay on the Great Awakening, for example, was also an article on the coming of the American Revolution.

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner with Martin Brückner

9781469632605.jpg.pngMartin Brückner is professor of English and Material Culture Studies at the University of Delaware. This interview is based on his new book, The Social Life of Maps in America, 1750-1860 (Omohundro Institute and University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write The Social Life of Maps?

MB: This book had its beginnings in a map encounter and the slow realization that maps played a wonderfully complex role in the lives of early Americans. My map encounter was seeing Henry Popple’s luxuriously crafted A Map of the British and French Empire in America (1733) fully assembled and on display in Colonial Williamsburg. Designed as a wall map, the map measured a whopping six by six feet. It was not only the physically largest map showing the colonies during the long eighteenth century, but it managed to impress someone like John Adams, who, upon seeing it in Independence Hall in 1776, wrote to his wife Abigail “It is the largest I ever saw, and the most distinct. Not very accurate. It is Eight foot square!”

I found his reaction to be curious because it pointed to what I thought was an uncharacteristic response for an Enlightenment-trained actor like Adams: why would the Pennsylvania Assembly hang up a super-sized and costly map that would simultaneously broadcast its very inadequacy as a map? My curiosity grew when I realized that despite the fact that the Popple map was soundly rejected by the British scientific community, it nevertheless was prominently staged in colonial state houses and by private citizens like Benjamin Franklin. Contrary to my expectation, map accuracy was not all that mattered to early Americans. Instead, they engaged with maps using multiple and often contradictory frames of reference, from way-finding tool to theatrical spectacle and from empirical evidence to sentimental possession. Inspired by the diversity of map uses, I set out to track the social lives (or call it careers) of both singular maps like the Popple map and generic commercial maps by asking the twofold question: How were large and small maps embedded—real and symbolically—in American public and private life? And what did American-made maps do—really do—for Americans?

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Social Life of Maps?

MB: This book’s argument, broadly speaking, is that American-made maps emerged as a meaningful media platform and popular print genre during the mid-eighteenth century precisely because the map as artifact and the concept of mapping had become involved in social relationships between people. On the one hand, the argument emphasizes that cartographic literacy was anything but a common competence; reading the squiggly lines of topographical maps, following map coordinates, in short, thinking cartographically was not only a skill and habit that had to be learned and practiced, but which in the process generated many applications and odd turns as American citizens took to maps as a major mode of social communication. On the other hand, because most maps were commercial maps and were thus considered by map-makers and map-users as saleable goods, much of their value—be it informational, symbolic, or affective—came emphatically alive during the social process of exchange. Examining the social life of maps in early America allows us to comprehend more fully the expressed faith in the usability of maps as a popular tool a large number of people embraced in order to shape their lives as individuals, citizens, or members of communities like the family or the nation.

JF: Why do we need to read The Social Life of Maps?

MB: You should read this book because I believe it will change the way you think about how maps work in American history and culture! Far too long have we undervalued, even misunderstood, the significance of maps by only considering maps as either empirical evidence of geographical knowledge or as rhetorical representation of political power. But if you read this book, you will discover that Americans had access to a vast array of commercial and home-made maps. These maps were not only best-sellers and available to a highly diverse audience, but they were prominent participants, even agents of change, in the new nation’s changing cultural landscape. From map giants imitating the size of the Popple map to flashy handkerchief maps, from cheap pocket maps to elaborately drawn and embroidered school maps, American-made maps helped shape the public sphere and new business models; they were prominent display objects in people’s homes; they were cherished as gifts and heirlooms; they were essential to the curricula of the nation’s educational systems; and above all, because they were widely available as visual and decorative objects, the very look of American maps defined the way in which people looked at pictures and their personal surroundings, be it indoors and outdoors. After reading this book, you will think about historical maps in new and different ways.

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

MB: I came to American history gradually and by following a circuitous path. As a student and teacher of early American literature, I always felt that it was my second job to always historicize the words and images I found in sermons and poems, plays and novels. But from the moment that I discovered that maps played a crucial role in early American literature, I became fascinated by the history of cartography, especially the “new history” of cartography and its attending focus on the production of maps, the role of industrial print culture, the social history of consumption, not to mention historical archives including wills, inventories, and sales records. While I now read maps through the lenses of being a textual historian, material culture specialist, and a map historian, my take on American history is deeply informed by the fact that I am an immigrant and that therefore I constantly look at American history and the maps that represent it in order to better understand my new home when thinking, for example, about its roads that are set up in grid patterns, its fascination with landed property and neighborhoods, or the way in which its public media opts to represent data as different as the weather or election results.

JF: What is your next project?

MB: I am currently working on three interrelated projects, all of which explore the relationship between American literature, material culture, and the history of capitalism. I am currently co-editing a volume investigating the phenomenon of fugitive archives; the contributors examine the facts and fictions surrounding the loss and recovery of archives or archived objects, including their structures, uses, and the challenge they pose for the curation of personal and communal experience. My second project is a digital database called “ThingStor” and is conceived to become a material culture database for finding and cross-referencing material objects cited in American literature and the visual arts. You can view its prototype (and actively contribute to it) at www.materialculture.udel.edu. Finally, my next research project examines the cultural history of “literary things” and the American tradition of object narratives; this book project explores in particular the transfer of popular fiction into material forms and the way in which these were packaged and sold in an emergent marketplace rife with mass-marketing, cross-over products, and the vertical integration of cultural forms.

JF: Thanks, Martin!

The Author’s Corner with Patrick Griffin

515zcPMhSNL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Patrick Griffin is Madden- Hennebry Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. This interview is based on his new book, The Townshend Moment: The Making of Empire and Revolution in the Eighteenth-Century (Yale University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write The Townshend Moment?

PG: I started the book with nothing more than a hunch.  I had always been fascinated by the parallels and connections between Ireland and America in the eighteenth century.  And two British brothers, Charles and George Townshend, at the very same moment held important positions that helped determine the fate of each place.  Could their stories, if brought together, tell us more about Ireland and America and about the empire the brothers were responsible for?  I began scratching the surface, and I discovered that their entangled story suggested a deeper set of questions.

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

PG:  At certain junctures of time and through contingent events, men and women come to believe they are living during critical “moments.”  Empire and revolution are born through such ways of thinking.

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

PG: We need to read this story because it reminds how complex the past really is and how we, as actors, try to come up with simple ways to bring meaning to that complexity and act on that meaning in the present with an eye toward creating the future.  The book offers on one level a dual biography of two larger-that-life characters who determined the fortunes of empire, as well as a comparative history of Ireland and America in the eighteenth century.  It also explores, in a new way, the relationship between imperial reform and revolution at the beginning of the “Age of Atlantic Revolution.”  Finally, it suggests how powerful people believe that they can comprehend and shape the forces of history and global processes of change to try to bring order to a system.  Of course, they soon learn that people far away have other ideas.  They, too, come to believe they can craft their own destinies, but ones often at odds with what those in power propose.  This is a classic tale of hubris, a drama in fact.

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

PG:  I became an American historian by dumb luck, contingency, or Providence.  I don’t quite know which. I was destined to be a Political Scientist.  I started my graduate career doing Comparative Politics.  I soon learned that I had talents in other areas.  In a graduate program for history, I followed my passions, and they led me to the eighteenth-centiry Atlantic.  I have been there ever since, and I imagine I will be there for a long time still.

JF: What is your next project?

PG: I am, speaking of hubris, working on a study of the Age of Atlantic Revolution(s).  The parentheses matter here.  I am not sure if the period gave birth to a singular event or to a plurality of events.  We shall see.  I am calling it, for lack of a better term, a provocation.

JF: Thanks, Patrick!

The Author’s Corner with Richard Grimes

52796422.jpegRichard Grimes teaches history at La Roche College. This interview is based on his new book, The Western Delaware Indian Nation, 1730–1795: Warriors and Diplomats (Lehigh University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write The Western Delaware Indian Nation?

RG: My study of the western Delawares came about when I read Michael N. McConnell, A Country Between: The Upper Ohio Valley and Its Peoples, 1724-1774. He mentions that during the eighteenth century, the three divisions or phratries (Turtle, Turkey, Wolf) of Delawares  came together in an ethnic sense. McConnell only hinted on this but did not elaborate. This planted the seeds of a potential doctoral dissertation for me as a student and teacher at West Virginia University. However, I wanted to explore this further with regard to a new social order and cultural identity of the people who became the western Delawares of the Ohio Country. I wanted to examine whether they became a distinct nation of Indians.

JF:  In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Western Delaware Indian Nation?

RG: The main argument of my book centers on how certain bands of eastern Delawares migrated west across the Alleghenies throughout the first half of the eighteenth century and re-invented themselves as a people in the Ohio west. I focus on how Delaware people altered their society and developed a political structure to meet the challenges of the Ohio Country with its imperial struggles between France and England and an eventual emerging American nation.

JF: Why do we need to read The Western Delaware Indian Nation?

RG: I think my book offers a different perspective on how American Indians took initiatives to survive in a changing world. The Delawares were not helpless victims but proactive in their response to a European invasion and in determining their own historical trajectory. They also adapted to a changed world. As an example I demonstrate that the western Delawares developed a central governing council to put them on a diplomatic footing with the British and French and later with the United States.

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

RG: I always loved history. As a young child, I read history books, Classics Illustrated comics, and was a big fan of Hollywood films that dealt with historical epics such as Errol Flynn in The Sea Hawk, The Charge of the Light Brigade, and They Died With Their Boots On and John Wayne in The Searchers and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. But I did not enter college until the age of 35–when I decided to change careers and learn to study , research, and write history. I was deeply inspired by my professors at the University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, and West Virginia University. I did not enter a classroom as a teacher until the age of 44. I had a lot of catching up to do.

JF: What is your next project?

RG: I have two things in mind. I would like to continue my studies involving Native Americans in colonial America. I am interested in American Indian relationships with George Washington and to explore how these early experiences shaped his American Indian policies as president.

I have also written articles on the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers of the American West. My Master’s thesis focused on the Cheyennes, so I will eventually focus my research and writing on the Cheyenne Indians of the Great Plains. I plan to do a scholarly study of the Dog Soldiers– I am very excited to begin this.

JF: Thanks, Richard!

My Piece on the Greenwich Tea Burning at the Omohundro Institute Blog

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Check out my piece on the Greenwich Tea Burning at Uncommon Sense, the blog of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.  The post accompanies “The Politics of Tea,” episode 160 of Ben Franklin’s World and part of the Doing History 2: To the Revolution! series.  Learn more here.

A taste:

In 1772, Philip Vickers Fithian, a twenty-four year old graduating senior at the College of New Jersey at Princeton, delivered his commencement disputation on the topic, “political jealousy is a laudable passion.” The disputation echoed the words of John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon’s Cato’s Letters. It distinguished between “domestic and ecclesiastical jealousies,” which were harmful to the kind of Christian morality essential to sustaining a republican government, and “political” jealousy, which Fithian described as “rational, uniform, and necessary.” The truly “jealous” citizen kept a careful and virtuous watch on his government leaders to guard against vice and corruption. Political jealousy served as a unifying force. Fithian said that it had the “natural tendency” to “unite people” around interests closely associated with the preservation of a political community. Two years later, Fithian would witness political jealousy in action among the patriots of his hometown, the small hamlet of Greenwich, New Jersey.

Greenwich is located on the Cohansey River about six miles from the Delaware Bay. In the eighteenth century it served as an official British customs port, albeit not a very busy one. Sometime in the second week of December 1774 a brig—local lore identifies it as the Greyhound—docked at John Shepherd’s river landing. It carried East Indian tea. Fithian, who had just spent a year working as a tutor on Robert Carter III’s Nomini Hall plantation on the Northern Neck of Virginia, was in town when the Greyhound arrived. He knew that these were not ordinary times and the Greyhound, because of its cargo, was no ordinary ship.

Read the rest here.

The New *Common-Place* is Here

Common Place

Here is the press release:

In the brand-new issue of Common-place, you’ll find a bounty of fresh and challenging ideas from both leading and rising historians. Carla Pestana’s revelations about maroon communities in colonial Jamaica offers a cautionary tale on the influence of “categorical thinking” on historians. In a rare rediscovery, Eric Gardner provides an analysis and full textual reproduction of the fiery and eloquent reconstruction lecture delivered in 1867 Philadelphia by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. Exhibit design maven Richard Rabinowitz offers a ranging and challenging analysis of changing public expectations about history, and their implications for the training of future historians.

In Object Lessons, Paul Erickson probes Isaiah Thomas’s Paper Mill Account Book and inventory records to uncover an industrialist’s understanding of the materiality of texts. Matt White’s account of his important discovery in Charles Wilson Peale’s revolutionary war journal reminds us that no matter how accessible texts are in the digital world, there’s just no substitute for visiting the archive and viewing the original. 

Also in this edition of Common-place, Mary Kuhn tells the story of the extraordinary international popularity of an early 19th century novel about a man who falls deeply and passionately in love . . . with a flowering plant.  And Poet Terrance Hayes gives us the powerful and haunting poem “Taffeta,” which begins with the narrator talking to a t-shirt image of Frederick Douglass.
 
Turning to digital history, Liz Covart discusses the extraordinary public history potential of podcasting, using her successes creating the podcasts “Ben Franklin’s World” and “Doing History”. Will Fenton explores the potential and the potential confusion inherent in large-scale digital resource databases, offering the carefully-crafted introductory path to his website Digital Paxton as one guide to clarity.
 
You’ll also find reviews of new books on Cadwallader Colden, the African American festival Pinkster, the symbiotic relationship between American evangelicalism and New York City, and the roles played by regulated and deregulated meat markets in feeding the antebellum inhabitants of Gotham.

Finally, as the editorial term of co-editors Anna Mae Duane and Walter Woodward draws toward a close, there’s an important announcement from the American Antiquarian Society about the future, and possibly changing nature of Common-place itself.

It’s not just food for thought, but a banquet of thought-provoking ideas, all for you in the new edition of Common-place.
 
Common-place is co-edited by Anna Mae Duane and Walter W. Woodward at the University of Connecticut, and published by a partnership of the American Antiquarian Society and the University of Connecticut. It’s all ready for your computer, tablet, or mobile device right now at www.common-place.org.