More on the Trump-Jackson “Bromance”

OpalThis piece comes from McGill University history professor J.M. Opal, author of the forthcoming Avenging People: Andrew Jackson, the Rule of Law, and the American Nation.

Here is a taste of his piece in the New York Daily News:

Bottom line: The Civil War began because of the aggressive expansion of slavery in the 1840s and 1850s, not the tariff disputes of the 1820s and 1830s. If Jackson and the Democrats had continued to run the country, there might have been no Civil War — but there would have been a lot more slavery, for a lot longer. The United States would have become like Cuba and Brazil, weighed down by slavery well into the late 1800s, long after Britain (in 1834) and France (in 1848) had done away with it.

Why does this matter? Trump’s quasi-history hurts us in two ways. First, it glosses over the terrible fact of slavery. To hear it from Trump, Jackson had nothing to do with slavery, which is a bit like saying that Donald Trump has nothing do with real-estate or casinos. And when we forget about slavery, we overlook the terrible effects it had not just on black Americans but also on the overall development of our democracy.

Second, Trump’s version of history only allows men like him to make a difference. Only strongmen matter. Only they can make America great again.

That was not true in the mid-1800s, and it is not true now. Slavery was finally destroyed in our country because of the combined efforts of white abolitionists, black rebels, devout Christians, Yankee trouble-makers, and the Union Army. Abraham Lincoln was pushed to action by people less powerful and more radical than he was.

Read the entire piece here.

 

Accept Jesus as Your Savior! Vote for Me!

Today in my United States history survey course we talked about democracy in early 19th-century America. When I lecture on this topic I try to show my students how the process of democratization influenced virtually every dimension of American life in this period.

After I talk about the Second Great Awakening and its free-will approach to salvation (drawing heavily from Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity), I show the students this image from the Cane Ridge Revival of 1801:

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Then we talk about democratic political reforms such as the caucus system, universal manhood suffrage, and the rise of popular political campaigning.

I then show them George Bingham 1854 painting “Stump Speaking”

Bingham

When we look at these pictures together sometimes it is hard to tell which speaker is trying to win souls and which speaker is trying to win votes.  Whatever the case, both men are appealing to the democratic sensibilities of the American people.  The people have the choice to accept or reject the Gospel and/or accept or reject a particular candidate.  This is democracy.

The Author’s Corner with Adam Jortner

Blood From the Sky.jpgAdam Jortner is Associate Professor of History at Auburn University. This interview is based on his new book, Blood from the Sky: Miracles and Politics in the Early American Republic (University of Virginia Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Blood from the Sky?

AJ: I was trying to write about conversion, and I kept running into miracles. Reports of supernatural occurrences pop up all over the early republic, but historians usually write about these things as color commentary, not as a subject.

So I wondered what would happen if I gathered all these reports together and took them seriously—does the presence of an emergent supernaturalism tell us something about life in the early U.S.? And it turns out it does.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument Blood from the Sky?

Miracles mattered: as the meaning of the supernatural changed in the early republic, religious thought and practice adapted to a revitalized world of wonders and prodigies. At the same time, there was a political response that denied the validity of miracles and sought to expunge them from the body politic, so that the rise of miracles prompted the growth of American sects and a forgotten age of political invective against supernatural belief that sought to destroy those sects.

JF: Why do we need to read Blood from the Sky?

AJ: Blood from the Sky asks questions about religion and citizenship, and America is once again at a crossroads regarding religion and citizenship. What did the founding generation think about religious beliefs? What kinds of beliefs were beyond the pale? What kind of beliefs percolated and organized under conditions of religious freedom? And under what conditions does dislike of a religion translate into violence against that religion? I think it’s a very timely book, although I wish it wasn’t.

But Blood from the Sky is not just a book about politics. It’s also an effort to demonstrate that a vast corpus of historiography on miracles and the supernatural is applicable to American history. I think American historians have largely pushed the supernatural out of our post-revolutionary narrative, but while interpretations of the supernatural changed, they remained a critical part of American religious and cultural life. Blood from the Sky is therefore also an effort at historical reclamation, trying to demonstrate that healings, angelic visitations, visions, and mystical turnips are not just humorous anecdotes, but important sites of historical analysis.

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

AJ: I was an actor for several years before I became a historian, so I can say I went into academia for the money.

JF: What is your next project?

AJ: I’m continuing my work on religion and citizenship, trying to understand how states and localities defined religious liberty and how they enacted ideas of the United States as a “Christian nation.” To do that, you really need to look at how non-Christian whites in the U.S. practiced their religion and sought to establish their freedom—which essentially means you need to look at the story of the Jews in early America. My next project examines Judaism and citizenship in the early republic, with particular emphasis on the famed Jew Bill of Maryland, which sought in 1818 to give Jews the right to hold public office. It didn’t pass.  

JF: Thanks, Adam!

Show Your Support for the Papers of Martin Van Buren

Martin_Van_Buren-H

A little over a year ago, Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee launched the Papers of Martin Van Buren.

Mark Cheathem, one of the directors of the project, informs us that the Tennessee legislature is considering funding this effort and you can help make it happen.

Cheathem explains it all in a post at his blog Jacksonian America:

As regular readers know, Cumberland University launched the Papers of Martin Van Buren project last February. We have spent the last 13 months working hard to organize the project and begin transcribing Series 1 documents.

In an effort to move the project forward, our state representative has introduced Amendment #59 to the Tennessee Higher Education funding bill (House Bill #0511; Senate Bill #0483), which seeks to provide $250,000 in non-recurring funding for the project. Among other things, these funds will allow us to hire full-time editors and pay students to work on the project.

If you are a Tennessee resident and you think this project is worth supporting with taxpayer money, you can help by calling or emailing your state representative and senator and expressing your support for Amendment #59 to the Tennessee Higher Education funding bill (House Bill #0511; Senate Bill #0483). You can easily find both state representatives and senators at this link.

If you are out of state, your voice likely will not count as much, but the project could still use your support. You can contact Rep. Mark Pody’s office (Rep.Mark.Pody@capitol.tn.gov or 615-741-7086) or Sen. Mae Beavers’ office (Sen.Mae.Beavers@capitol.tn.gov or 615-741-2421), and express your support for Amendment #59 to the Tennessee Higher Education funding bill (House Bill #0511; Senate Bill #0483).

Projects such as the Van Buren Papers usually cannot survive solely on university funding, so federal or state money is crucial to helping them exist. For a new project such as ours, it’s imperative that we receive some kind of external funding. Your support would be very beneficial, and I would be grateful if you would take a few minutes out of your day to make a phone call or send an email.

The Author’s Corner with Richard Brown

Self Evident TruthsRichard Brown is Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of History, Emeritus at the University of Connecticut. This interview is based on his new book, Self-Evident Truths: Contesting Equal Rights from the Revolution to the Civil War (Yale University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Self-Evident Truths?

RB: I wrote Self-Evident Truths: Contesting Equal Rights from the Revolution to the Civil War because I wanted to understand how men who declared “all men are created equal” could launch a nation that maintained slavery and other forms of privilege: religious, gender, and class especially.  Was the Declaration simply a fraud, or was the founders’ statement of equality intended seriously–and if it was serious, to what extent was that goal realized?

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Self-Evident Truths?

RB: SelfEvident Truths argues that providing equal rights was a goal for some in the founding generation; but existing customs and institutions blocked realization of equal rights. Moreover the commitment to individual rights included a commitment to heritable private property, which was and remains a barrier to the actual possession of equal rights.

JF: Why do we need to read Self-Evident Truths?

RB: People need to read Self-Evident Truths so as to understand the founding of the United States, its history, and our own times. People need to comprehend how the ideal of equal rights was created and the extent to which Americans have, or have not, made equal rights a reality.

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

RB: I became committed to the study of American history as a college sophomore because I believed it would help me understand American society, its trajectory, and my place in it.

JF: What is your next project?

RB: During my career I have moved back and forth between close, microhistorical studies and broad interpretive works, sometimes–as in Self-Evident Truths–combining the two.  In my next work I plan to narrate and analyze the great fire that in 1811 destroyed most of Newburyport, Massachusetts, and the separate trials ten years apart wherein two teen-aged brothers were convicted and sentenced for arson, one to five years in prison, the other to death.

JF: Thanks, Richard!

The Author’s Corner with Craig Thompson Friend

AlongtheMaysvilleRoad.jpgCraig Thompson Friend is CHASS Distinguished Graduate Professor of History and Director of Public History at NC State University. This interview is based on his new book, Along the Maysville Road: The Early American Republic in the Trans-Appalachian West (University of Tennessee Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Along the Maysville Road?

CTF: I came across a map exhibited at the Kentucky Historical Society. Drawn by Victor Collot, a French traveler, “Road from Limestone to Frankfort in the State of Kentucky” (1795) is upside down—north is down and south is up. I wanted to know why, and that initial and rather simple inquiry gave rise to a dissertation about American settlement along an old buffalo trace during the “frontier” stage of Kentucky’s history, roughly the 1770s through 1812. The road provided me a stage on which to examine how themes of the Early American republic—republicanism, democracy, urban development, evangelical Christianity, and nationalism—shaped the construction and evolution of American communities and cultures. It also allowed me to imagine these themes as more fluid and mobile, traveling up and down the road with politicians, preachers, merchants, common people, slaves, church-goers, and thousands of migrants.

When I transformed the dissertation into a book, however, I recognized that its story needed to extend into the 1830s with the buffalo trace’s evolution into the Maysville Road which, in 1830, became the focus of President Andrew Jackson’s internal improvements veto. So, I researched an entire other book, taking the story from 1812 to 1836. This allowed me to incorporate themes that had not fully evolved in the earlier story—racial slavery, refinement, the rise of a middle class. I came to realize later, with the completion of my second monograph Frontier Kentucke, that intellectually I had been constructing a narrative bridge from the “frontier” to the “Old South” in Kentucky’s history. By stopping in the 1830s, however, I failed to grasp that thematic possibility at the time.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument Along the Maysville Road?

CTF: Along the Maysville Road, American settlers competed to shape communities and cultural landscapes through “large interwoven patterns of cultural transformation” (those themes of Early American Republic which I previously listed). Those contests framed the values, beliefs, and aspirations of the Americans who settled along the road, manifesting in the evolution of the road itself and culminating in the political battles over its internal improvements.

JF: Why do we need to read Along the Maysville Road?

CTF: So often, “frontier” histories are formulated as stories on the margins, on the borderlands of the American nation. I imagined the old buffalo trace and its settlement as reflective of the new nation’s cultural evolution as Philadelphia.

Maybe a better reason to read it, however, is to see how a historian evolves in his thinking. I think our profession expects us to hatch from graduate school fully advanced in our understanding of the past and how to apply that knowledge to anything that we study. A discerning eye will uncover in my book, however, a clear evolution in historical thinking between the pre-1812 chapters (first conceived for the dissertation) and the latter chapters (added for the book). Not all of us bloom fully with the first monograph, or even the second. Now, twenty years into the profession, I am more excited than ever about what I want to say about the past.

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

CTF: As I note in the acknowledgements to Along the Maysville Road, I decided I’d be a historian in eighth and ninth grade. I had yet to imagine how I would be a historian, but there was no doubt that I would somehow practice history as a career. It’s a testament to the power of inspiring teachers who can excite students about history and make it relevant to their lives. When I graduated college, however, I was unprepared to move on to graduate school. Instead, I began teaching in public schools, which required continuing education credits for renewal of my teaching certificate. At one of the continuing education programs, when I heard another inspiring educator, Theda Perdue, speak on the Cherokees and racialized enslavement, I had my “conversion experience” and realized that I wanted to become an American historian, researcher, writer, and teacher at the collegiate level.   

JF: What is your next project?

CTF: I have three projects underway—a monograph, a textbook, and an edited collection.

The monograph is a biography of Lunsford Lane, an African American born in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1803. He purchased his freedom in 1835, worked to purchase the freedom of his wife and six children, was tarred and feathered by a working-class mob, and run out of the state. In 1842, he wrote a narrative that was widely read among northern audiences, and that is as much as most people knew about Lane. There is so much more, but I will save those revelations for the book.

The textbook is a collaboration with Jim Klotter on a revision of The New History of Kentucky. I am finding it quite a challenge to sustain the spirit of Lowell Harrison, who originally collaborated with Jim on the original edition and who passed away in 2011, and reshape the narrative to reflect the most recent scholarship and my own interpretation of early Kentucky.

The edited collection is another collaborative project with Lorri Glover, with whom I have produced two previous collections. This time we are creating Rewriting Southern History, a worthy successor to John Boles and Evelyn Nolen’s masterwork Interpreting Southern History (LSU, 1987) and the equally pivotal predecessor Writing Southern History, edited by Arthur Link and Rembrandt Patrick (LSU 1967).

JF: Thanks, Craig!

The Author’s Corner with Joanna Cohen

luxurious-citizenJoanna Cohen is a lecturer in the School of History at Queen Mary University of London. This interview is based on her new book, Luxurious Citizens: The Politics of Consumption in Nineteenth-Century America (Penn Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Luxurious Citizens?

JC: I found my way into this book in three stages! The first step was reading Godey’s Ladies Book in my first year of graduate school. I was fascinated by the elaborate fashion plates and the juxtaposition of those images with numerous stories that praised the virtues of American women’s thrift and economy. These contradictions got me interested in the ways in which consumption habits were framed in overlapping ways in American cultural life, as signifiers of cultural sophistication and national virtue, not to mention the gender norms they promoted. The second step was two graduate courses I took: one on Gender, Nationalism and Citizenship, the other on the History of Consumer Culture in America. Both piqued my interest in different ways. When it came to citizenship I became increasingly dissatisfied with the idea that citizenship was simply a legal relationship. I wanted to explore the ways in which citizens imagined their relationship to the nation-state, especially when it came to obligations. Turning to consumer culture, I read avidly about the politics of consumption in the eighteenth century and picked up the story again in the twentieth century, but found little that explained how one connected to the other. Finally, after only a month in the archives at the American Philosophical Society, I found the phrase “Luxurious Citizens” in a speech given by “Pig Iron Kelley” in front of the Franklin Institute. That phrase summed up my conviction that the histories of citizenship and consumption were intertwined in crucial ways. I set out to trace those connections, wanting to understand the ways in which consumer capitalism shaped the meaning of citizenship in nineteenth-century America.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Luxurious Citizens?

JC: At the close of the Revolution, the newly-formed government expected citizens to serve their nation through self-sacrifice, by limiting their consumption of imported luxuries. But time and again, through war and peace, ordinary Americans demonstrated that they would not accept such limitations on their desires. Instead, they transformed themselves into citizen-consumers, claiming that the freedom to consume could be of service to the nation. In 1861, at the outbreak of war, the Union government not only acknowledged the power of the citizen-consumer, they harnessed that power to the service of the war effort. Using a tariff to harvest much-needed revenue from their citizens’ desires, the Union confirmed that the citizen-consumer was an important member of the body-politic – whose freedom to indulge themselves could save the republic or send it to its destruction.

JF: Why do we need to read Luxurious Citizens?

JC: For readers interested in nineteenth century capitalism, the origins of consumer culture in America, the gendered meanings of citizenship and the political economy that shaped the road to the Civil War, Luxurious Citizens has much to offer. But the book is also timely reflection on the far-reaching consequences of the apotheosis of the citizen-consumer. The idea that a citizen can serve the state through their consumption has a flip side: it also suggests that citizens’ consumer choices can be blamed when the state encounters economic failure.

In 2008, when the United States faced the great crash, the first round of blame was placed squarely on the shoulders of ordinary citizens who had overspent and over extended their credit. Such a story hid the deep-rooted structural failures of the US economy. Luxurious Citizens reveals the ways in which these narratives of individual accountability took root in the United States, often cloaked in the language of civic rights and personal freedoms. It is an exploration of the ways in which Americans imagine the way in which their economy works, and how the state can use and even exploit those understandings. So, at a moment when neo-liberalism as an ideology stands on the brink of collapse, Luxurious Citizens will hopefully remind people that they can re-imagine the nation’s political economy and redefine the relationship between the citizen and the state.

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

JC: Well officially I decided I wanted to become an American historian when I was doing my final year Honors thesis at Cambridge. I looked at the work of four great female authors and wrote a paper on the way in which those writers constructed (and deconstructed) what it meant to be a woman in nineteenth century America. But unofficially, I have to confess, it goes back to reading Little House on the Prairie and Little Women as a girl. Those stories still fascinate me. I recently re-read them when I got all my childhood books down from the attic for my daughter, and I still find the narratives of survival, ambition, compromise and resilience utterly compelling.

JF: What is your next project?

JC: Right now, I am working on a project that focuses on the ways in which Americans experienced loss in the nineteenth century. I explore how new capitalist, bureaucratic and commercial technologies shaped people’s emotional understanding of losing their homes, possessions and environments.

I am also working on a collaborative project with Zara Anishanslin, that explores how people “came to terms” with the ends of conflicts in the Atlantic World. Privileging visual and material culture as a source, this project asks how people made their peace with violence and war through the things and images they had in their lives.

JF: Thanks, Joanna!

The Author’s Corner with Kyle Roberts

evangelical-gothamKyle Roberts is Assistant Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago. This interview is based on his new book, Evangelical Gotham: Religion and the Making of New York City, 1783-1860 (University of Chicago Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Evangelical Gotham?

KR: The scholarship I found most exciting in graduate school was about the history of evangelicalism. So many great books came out in the 1990s and early 2000s – Heyrman’s Southern Cross, Hatch’s Democratization of American Christianity, Sensbach’s Rebecca’s Revival, Lambert’s Inventing the Great Awakening, Noll’s America’s God – but so few focused on evangelicals in cities. For a while I thought evangelicals only existed in the rural hinterland.

As for Gotham, I was regularly crossing through New York as I took the Amtrak back and forth between my home in Boston and graduate school in Philadelphia. I felt like historians had sort of figured out Boston (Puritan) and Philadelphia (pluralistic), but the story of New York was still waiting to be told. When scholars did write about religion in nineteenth-century New York, they often focused on eccentrics, such as Johnson and Wilentz’s Kingdom of Matthias, or religious communities who settled themselves in urban spaces built by others, such as in Orsi’s glorious Madonna of 115th Street. I wanted to know more about the religious beliefs, practices, and worldviews of the mainstream folk who built the city in the first place.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Evangelical Gotham?

KR: In Evangelical Gotham, I argue that the astonishing rise of the nation’s leading city and its dominant Protestant religious movement were intricately intertwined between the end of the American Revolution and the outbreak of the Civil War. Inherently pluralistic and syncretistic, evangelicalism provided a broad range of New Yorkers with a meaningful and adaptable, if at times contradictory, urban religion that helped them respond to, locate themselves within, and significantly contribute to the growth of the city and the nation over a crucial eighty-year period.

JF: Why do we need to read Evangelical Gotham?

KR: I think we miss a key part of the American experience if we ignore the place of religion in the development of the nation’s cities. There are two important things that surprised me in writing this book:

First, evangelicals were really innovative. Earlier scholars of nineteenth-century urban religion have discounted evangelicals as failures who could not think beyond transplanting rural models in urban spaces. What I found couldn’t be more different. Evangelical New Yorkers were remarkably creative people, eager to put the secular resources of the city to sacred ends. Take, for example, their rethinking of sacred space. They had some of, if not the, earliest storefront churches in the country, dating back to the 1760s; they perfected a vernacular style for meetinghouses that well suited the realities of urban real estate; they threw out centuries-old modes of funding churches and created a series of Free Churches on a radically new plan; and they adapted everything from theaters to ship decks into places for preaching the gospel. Even the briefest glance at the extent, plan, and scale of their publishing ventures confirms how forward-thinking they were.

Second, evangelicalism was not all about social control. It’s easy to caricature antebellum evangelicals as pious, middle-class do-gooders. Many of them were. But reducing their faith to some form of class control isn’t fair to my historic subjects and misses the point. I wrote each chapter around the story of one or more New Yorkers so that readers could get a sense of what their faith meant to them and how it inspired them to act upon it. Some, like Lewis Tappan and Phoebe Worrall Palmer, are still remembered today; others, like Charles Lahatt or Michael Floy, have been forgotten – but have much to tell us.

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

I think it was the summer after my junior year in high school that I made peace with the fact that I was destined to be an Americanist. I had spent that summer at MASP – the Massachusetts Advanced Studies Program – sort of a nerd camp for public school kids held at Milton Academy. There I discovered that I hated economics and loved writing. So, I gave up my thoughts of becoming an insurance agent like my father. I jumped feet first into American Studies when I got to Williams College and haven’t looked back. Along the way I also embraced my calling as a public historian and digital humanist.

JF: What is your next project?

KR: I’m trading evangelical New Yorkers for Midwestern Catholics. When I arrived at Loyola six years ago, I knew I wanted a locally-based research project through which I could teach the digital humanities, public history, and the history of religion. My first week there I made an appointment with University Special Collections to see what they had for materials related to the history of the library. (It wasn’t a completely random question, I had just spent two years in London creating Dissenting Academies Online (http://www.qmulreligionandliterature.co.uk/research/the-dissenting-academies-project/dissenting-academies-online/), a recreation of the holdings and borrowing records of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century dissenting academies.) The archivist brought out a detailed manuscript library catalog from the school’s first decade. I knew at that moment that I had found my next project.

Over the past few years I’ve worked with dozens of bright undergraduate and graduate student interns on the Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project (https://jesuitlibrariesprovenanceproject.com/). It has provided some on my most rewarding teaching and confirmed the value of collaborative research. We’ve recreated Loyola’s first library catalog in a virtual library system, tracked down and documented most of the nearly 1500 titles still surviving from the original library, identified library catalogs and collections at other Jesuit colleges and universities, and even started to reconstruct the Catholic book trade in the 1840s Mississippi Valley from a massive ledger kept by Jesuits in St. Louis. The goal is now to bring this all together in a monograph that asks readers to rethink Catholicism, print, and nationalism from the perspective of the nineteenth-century Midwest. Let’s just say Lyman Beecher actually had something to fear when he published his Plea for the West in 1835!

JF: Thanks, Kyle!

The Author’s Corner with Spencer McBride

pulpitandnationSpencer W. McBride is a historian and documentary editor at the Joseph Smith Papers. This interview is based on his new book, Pulpit and Nation: Clergymen and the Politics of Revolutionary America (University of Virginia Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Pulpit and Nation?

SM: Pulpit and Nation grew out of my doctoral dissertation. In graduate school, I set out to discover the actual role of religion in the American Revolution and the process of state and national formation that followed. Through my research—which included reading numerous diaries of early American clergymen and the lay men and women who sat in their congregations—I became fascinated with the curious interrelationship that I encountered: the political utility of religion and the religious utility of politics. I wrote this book that enabled readers to understand the power, limitations, and lasting implications of early national leaders using religion as a tool for political mobilization.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Pulpit and Nation?

SM: In the founding of the United States of America, early national political leaders deliberately created an alliance with the country’s religious leaders, an alliance designed to forge a collective national identity among Americans. Accordingly, while religious expression was common in the political culture of the founding era, it was as much the calculated design of ambitious men seeking power as it was the natural outgrowth of a devoutly religious people.

JF: Why do we need to read Pulpit and Nation?

SM: Religion mattered in the founding of the United States, but not in the way many Americans think that it did. There is certainly no shortage of controversy surrounding the role of religion in politics, particularly where the founding era is concerned. Talk of America’s founding as either a “Christian” or “secular” nation remains a common theme among politicians, pundits, and certain segments of the general public despite scholars’ warnings against such overly-simplistic constructs (warnings that include your own timely Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?). I present Pulpit and Nation as an example of how the history of religion in early American politics appears when viewed in all of its complexity, an elucidation of how its relationship to power structures looks when we delve into the motives behind the religious utterances of men seeking to mobilize the public to one cause or another. My book demonstrates that by eschewing the “Christian Nation” question altogether and engaging broader themes and narrower questions, religion’s significant in the politics of the Revolutionary era is more apparent, albeit more complex.

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

SM: I actually decided that I wanted to be a historian at age 13. My father majored in history in college and, as a result, our house was filled with history books and historical discussion for as long as I can remember. This means that I was exposed to the study of the past from a young age. Then, in 8th grade, I had a phenomenal United States history teacher named Ron Benovitz who taught the subject in such an engaging way that I was absolutely hooked from that point on. I knew that I wanted to be a historian, although I had no clue what such a career would actually look like. As I progressed in my education and the details and options of working as a historian became increasingly clear, my passion for the discipline continued to grow. I consider myself quite fortunate to be doing as an adult what I dreamed of doing as a teenager.

JF: What is your next project?

SM: I am currently working on two projects that I am particularly excited about. The first is a documentary history of New York’s Burned-over District. The book will feature primary source documents that illuminate the cultural and social transformation of western New York amid the waves of religious revivals that swept through the region during the Second Great Awakening. The second project is a book about Joseph Smith’s 1844 presidential campaign, and how the controversial Mormon leader’s little-known run for the White House illustrates the political obstacles to universal religious liberty in nineteenth-century America.

JF: Thanks, Spencer!

The Author’s Corner with Gergely Baics

feedinggothamGergely Baics is Assistant Professor of History and Urban Studies at Barnard College, Columbia University. This interview is based on his new book, Feeding Gotham: The Political Economy and Geography of Food in New York, 1790-1860 (Princeton University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Feeding Gotham?

GB: Working on a research paper as a graduate student, I came across a vernacular sketch of African American dancing contests at Catharine Market in 1820 in Shane White’s wonderful article, “The Death of James Johnson.” The drawing captivated me for its intimate depiction of the vibrant and cosmopolitan public spaces of Early New York City. Catharine Market—its economy, social organization, and everyday life—became the subject of that paper. Over time, I realized that that small sketch of Catharine Market opened up a much larger subject: the vast and complex landscape of food provisioning in America’s first metropolis.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Feeding Gotham?

GB: Feeding Gotham brings the critical question of food access to the center of our understanding of nineteenth-century urban life and living standards. It argues that the antebellum deregulation of food markets created a new structural inequality, similar to health and housing conditions, that defined and shaped the development of the American city.

JF: Why do we need to read Feeding Gotham?

GB: Feeding Gotham examines the vital problem of food access in a city experiencing unprecedented growth, with its population rising from thirty thousand to nearly a million. It presents a comprehensive account based in political economy and the social and geographic history of the complex interplay of urban governance, market forces, and the built environment in provisioning New Yorkers. The book’s narrative traces how access to food, once a public good, became a private matter left to free and unregulated markets. In situating the deregulation of food markets within a broader matrix of public and private goods, it underlines the highly contested and open-ended outcomes of antebellum political economy debates. Moving beyond the debates, the bulk of the book studies the stakes involved. Most critical, Feeding Gotham brings the subject of food access to the center of our understanding of nineteenth-century urban living standards, a conversation thus far dominated by concerns over housing and sanitary provisions. The book documents how unequal access to food, much like shelter and sanitation, became a structural condition of inequality, part of the modern city’s increasingly stratified built and social environment. Importantly, the analysis extends to the understudied subject of food quality. It documents that the city’s surrender of all regulatory oversight of its food supplies contributed to deteriorating quality, which disadvantaged especially the rising rank of working-class immigrant populations. Central to the book’s approach is the systematic application of geographic information system (GIS) analysis. Feeding Gotham is the first book that maps the food system of a major nineteenth-century city, and one of few that deploys GIS systematically to study a specific problem in urban history. GIS mapping—from data creation to interpretation—provides a theoretical framework, methodological approach, and empirical base for the book’s main arguments. The extensive cartographic material was carefully created and designed to present a systematic and layered spatial analysis of food access in the nineteenth-century American city.

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

GB: First, I became an urban historian, and second an Americanist. I cannot recall when my fascination with cities began—probably, growing up in Budapest has a lot to do with it. It was during my undergraduate years that I discovered that I could become an urban historian, and this felt like an obvious intellectual path for me. My attraction to America also began with cities. I watched films like The French Connection or Serpico as a kid, and I was thrilled by the images of gritty New York City. Over the years, I found myself again and again seeking to study in the U.S., and becoming intellectually fascinated by the extraordinary complexity of this country. American cities, their history of immigration, booms and declines, deep inequalities, layered geographies, perplexed and fascinated me. Focusing on transnational urban economic and social history for my Ph.D., I found my topic in the food system of nineteenth-century New York City. What began as a project in urban history, over the years also became a project in U.S. economic and social history. Today, I consider myself both an urbanist and Americanist. I am most fortunate to have a joint-appointment in History and Urban Studies.

JF: What is your next project?

GB: I am currently at work on a new monograph, tentatively titled, The Transitional City: Economic and Social Geography of New York in the Mid-Nineteenth Century. My ambition is to study empirically (with the systematic application of GIS mapping) and then to theorize the spatial processes that propelled the transition from what historians describe as the walking city of the early nineteenth century to the segregated metropolis of the late nineteenth century. In addition, with a coauthor we have been writing a series of articles linking back to this larger work, and making use of advanced GIS methods, focusing on land use, the street grid, and the experiential geography of nineteenth-century Manhattan. Finally, with two colleagues we are developing a new project on the spatial history of late nineteenth to early twentieth-century Copenhagen, making use of new crowdsourced GIS data. In all of these projects, besides the specific urban historical questions at stake, I am also interested in advancing methods of spatial history.

JF: Thanks, Gergely! Sounds like some great stuff.

At Lincoln Memorial University

lmu

Next week  (Sept. 22) I am making my first visit to Harrogate, TN. I will be delivering the Kincaid Lecture at Lincoln Memorial University.  My lecture is titled: “The Bible in the Age of Lincoln: The American Bible Society and the Origins of Christian America.”

Here is the press release from LMU:

Harrogate, Tennessee, August 18, 2016—Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) and the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum will present the 2016 Kincaid Lecture Series at 10 a.m. on Thursday, September 22, 2016. Dr. John Fea will present The Bible in the Age of Lincoln: The American Bible Society and the Origin of Christian America based on his book The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society (Oxford University Press, $29.95).

 “While his book gives us a seminal history of an organization that has influenced American and world cultures, Dr. Fea’s presentation will closely examine the bible of Lincoln’s time and how it shaped policy and society during the Civil War,” Museum Director Thomas Mackie said. “I am sure his insights will inspire each of us to examine how the Bible is impacting the current election.”

In The Bible Cause, Fea examines the American Bible Society (ABS), whose primary mission at its founding in 1816 was to distribute the Bible to as many people as possible. In the book, Fea demonstrates how the organization’s mission has caused it to intersect at nearly every point with the history of the United States. Today, ABS is a Christian ministry based in Philadelphia with a $300 million endowment and a mission to engage 100 million Americans with the Bible by 2025.

“The Bible Cause is far more than a definitive history of the American Bible Society, though it succeeds admirably in that respect,” said Margaret Bendroth, executive director of the Congregational Library and Archives. “John Fea also tells a broader story about American culture, how religion came to play such a central role in shaping national identity and how, in turn, secular ideals have shaped American belief and behavior. It is an important story, told with affection, care and thoughtful critique.”

Fea serves as professor and chair of the department of history at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and is the author of a blog entitled The Way of Improvement Leads Home. He teaches courses including United States History to 1865, Colonial America, Revolutionary America, Civil War America, Teaching History and Social Studies, History of American Evangelicalism and Pennsylvania History.

Fea is the author or editor of four other books including Why Study History?:Reflecting on the Importance of the Past (Baker Academic); Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction (Westminster/John Knox Press); Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation (University of Notre Dame Press) and The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press).

Supported by the Dr. Robert L. Kincaid Endowed Research Center, the lecture is free and open to the public. A book signing and dessert reception will take place at 6 p.m. in the museum. For more information or to register, contact Program and Tourism Director Carol Campbell at 423.869.6439.

The Dr. Robert L. Kincaid Endowed Research Center promotes the scholarly study and public understanding of the influence created by the Judeo-Christian Ethic upon the era and the legacy of Abraham Lincoln.

The Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum is located on the historic campus of Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee. Housing one of the top five Lincoln and Civil War private collections in the world, the Museum is open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.  For more information about this and other programs at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum, call 423-869-6235.

Lincoln Memorial University is a values-based learning community dedicated to providing educational experiences in the liberal arts and professional studies. The main campus is located in Harrogate, Tennessee.

The Author’s Corner With Laurel Shire

ShireLaurel Clark Shire teaches history at Western University in London, Ontario.  This interview is based on her new book, The Threshold of Manifest Destiny: Gender and National Expansion in Florida  ( University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016)

JF: What led you to write The Threshold of Manifest Destiny?

LS: I knew that I wanted to write about women and US imperialism in the 19th century. I was deeply influenced by scholars such as Amy Kaplan, Kristin Hoganson, and Laura Wexler, and I wanted to test some of the ideas about gender and U.S. expansion coming out of literary and visual studies using the tools of social and political history. I began to look at different contexts in which I might do that. I discovered Florida, an early 19th century frontier, had been remarkably underexplored by historians of Manifest Destiny and of women and gender. I also had friends and family I could stay with in Florida, and their generosity made the research possible on a grad student budget.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Threshold of Manifest Destiny?

LS: American political leaders leveraged gender norms – not only masculinity but also femininityin order to Americanize Florida, setting a precedent for U.S. policy in many subsequent frontier zones further West. They used white women’s presence in Florida to justify violence against Seminole peoples and to rationalize generous social policies for white settler families, many of them slaveholders. At the same time, they relied on white women’s material, domestic and reproductive labor to create homes and families there; the building blocks of permanent colonial settlement. In short, white women were indispensable to the process of settling Florida for the U.S., a process that displaced both Indigenous people and enslaved people of African descent.

JF: Why do we need to read The Threshold of Manifest Destiny?

LS: Gender history continues to be treated as a separate and ancillary subfield in a lot of American history, especially in political, military, and diplomatic history, even though very good historians have been making what was once a “hidden” history available to us for more than 40 years. My hope is that readers outside of women’s and gender history will read this book and will understand it as a model for how we might begin to integrate intersectional social history (history that accounts for how social categories of gender, race, class, and sexuality work together in significant, historically contingent ways) into general historical accounts of the American past. This book tries to marry cultural history to policy history, and I hope it’s successful and occasionally even entertaining.

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

LS: I never decided to become an American historian! I decided to get a Ph.D. in American Studies because I wanted the freedom to do interdisciplinary work in American cultural studies. Frankly, I was concerned that a History department would be too conservative for the kind of history I wanted to write. As a pragmatist and a materialist, though, I’ve never had much patience for theory that doesn’t prove itself useful “on the ground,” so my work ends up being deeply historically grounded. I fell in love with the 1830s and 1840s in a 19th-century American Studies seminar with Terry Murphy at GWU and wanted to write about that period. I assumed that when I hit the job market I would be a candidate for a job in American Studies or Women’s Studies, but then the market sorted me into history – in my first year on the job market, I only got interview invitations from History departments, and I ended up accepting a position in one. No one was more surprised than me. And then I learned that I really loved teaching U.S. history using American Studies tools.

JF: What is your next project?

LS: The next book is about women and migration in the 19th century. The work in Florida brought me into contact with many different kinds of migrants in the 19th century, but did not allow me to follow those who exited Florida, about whom I remain curious. I am broadly interested in how imperial and national borders shaped the lives of women in North America and the Caribbean, and also in how women’s experiences of race (privilege, enslavement, and displacement) or gender (subordination, widowhood, motherhood) may have transcended territorial limits, or served to expand or penetrate borders. In many ways, their diversity challenges and even explodes the very category of “woman” and reveals how the intersections of gender, race, nation, and borders continually remade social categories and opportunities. This project is shaping up to be a combination of microhistorical biography and macrohistorical context using digital methods in mapping and text analysis.

JF: Thanks, Laurel!

The Author’s Corner with Robert Elder

thesacredmirrorRobert Elder is Assistant Professor of History at Valparaiso University. This interview is based on his new book, The Sacred Mirror: Evangelicalism, Honor, and Identity in the Deep South, 1790-1860 (The University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write The Sacred Mirror?

RE: I noticed that most historians writing about religion in the pre-Civil War American South described conflict between evangelicalism and the South’s honor culture, at least in the period before 1830, but that they often used a relatively thin and gendered (male) definition of honor that didn’t really do justice to the complexity and depth of honor as an ethical system. If Bertram Wyatt-Brown was right, and I think he was, about the pervasiveness of this ethic in the South, then you would expect to find it influencing every aspect of evangelicalism, and that’s exactly what I found. I found that early evangelicals didn’t reject honor, but instead tried to subtly redefine it as coming “from God alone.” I found that when you take into account gendered versions of honor, especially female honor, the tension between honor and evangelicalism evaporates, which helps to explain why women joined evangelical churches in greater numbers than men during this period. I found that church discipline, which was a very public process, was a powerful site for determining honor and shame in a culture that gave great weight to communal authority and opinion. Since honor cultures place such a heavy emphasis on communal authority, and since churches throughout this period were so willing to exercise that authority, this also has important implications for our view of evangelicalism as a the religious expression of modern individualism.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Sacred Mirror?

RE: I argue that evangelicalism in the pre-Civil War South drew a significant part of its strength from the same cultural wellspring that fed honor, a deep assumption of the legitimacy of communal authority. I also argue that because evangelicalism combined a belief in communal authority with an emphasis on individual experience, it served as a kind of cultural bridge between two ways of defining individual identity, and so represented a uniquely southern version of modernity.

JF: Why do we need to read The Sacred Mirror?

RE: I think the standard way of teaching southern evangelicalism is to describe a period of early radicalism followed, post-1830, with a nearly complete capitulation to southern mores, especially honor and slavery (with important exceptions, such as the emergence of black Christianity). What I hope to do with this book is to smooth out that trajectory at both ends, and to describe southern evangelicalism from an angle that escapes the opposition/accommodation binary that has often characterized the field. I’d like to think that anyone interested in American or southern religious history, particularly the history of evangelicalism, needs to read this book. I’d also like to think that anyone interested in the transition to modernity (a much bigger topic!), the historical alternatives to modern individualism, and, of course, honor, should also read the book. 

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

RE: I think I can only answer the question if I change it to “a historian of the American South”. I grew up in Wichita, Kansas, but my father is from Chattanooga, Tennessee, so I was very conscious of the cultural differences between the midwest and the South from a pretty early age. When I got to college in South Carolina, I figured that history was probably one of the best ways to explore that difference and I ended up in an “Old South” course that cemented the deal. I was also fascinated by the sense in South Carolina that history mattered: people argued about it all the time, and you could literally see it around you. I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to be a historian (I don’t even remember weighing whether or not to go to graduate school), I just became fascinated with it and kept following that fascination. That’s probably not a good model to follow in every case, but I’ve been very lucky.

JF: What is your next project?

RE: I’m just starting to work on a new cultural and intellectual biography of John C. Calhoun, the South Carolina senator who the historian David Potter once called “the most majestic champion of error since Milton’s Satan.” I’m hoping to reinterpret Calhoun in the context of the flood of recent scholarship on slavery and capitalism, southern intellectual history, and new international histories of secession and the modern nation state (not to mention recent events). The last biography of him is almost twenty-five years old, and these new histories have completely redrawn the landscape, so it seems like we need to come to terms with him again. Plus, there just aren’t enough biographies of dead white guys, so I thought I’d do my part. 

JF: Thanks, Robert!

The Author’s Corner with Brian Gabrial

thepressandslaveryinamericaBrian Gabrial is Associate Professor and Chair of Journalism at Concordia University. This interview is based on his new book, The Press and Slavery in America 1791-1859: The Melancholy Effect of Popular Excitement (University of South Carolina Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write The Press and Slavery in America 1791-1859?

BG: I am a journalism historian who has long been interested in how we come to think about people or groups and how the press influences those perceptions. In particular, I was concerned with how the “mainstream” press marginalizes or silences people. My earlier research focused on the American Indian and their mistreatment in the 19th-century press. Following that, I turned my attention to the African American slave.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Press and Slavery in America 1791-1859? 

BG: The book demonstrates that slavery was the critical political issue in the three decades before the Civil War and that political intransigence over it caused the war. It importantly illustrates how white Americans’ ideas about race and racial problems had their roots in the past and have sad, contemporary resonance. 

JF: Why do we need to read The Press and Slavery in America 1791-1859?

BG: The book shows how the press was complicit partner with powerful political structures that maintained a horrific labor system. It reveals how many Americans were informed about slaves who were never a happy, docile group content with their lot. Instead these black Americans faced enormous obstacles that kept them in figurative and literal chains and yet fought for freedom when facing certain death as a result.

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

BG: I have always a strong interest in history, but I didn’t want to become a historian until graduate school and had an incredible mentor and advisor who gave me the intellectual freedom explore ideas about cultural history and the press’s place and role in that history.

JF: What is your next project?

BG: I am currently working on another long-term media discourse study that I call “Manifest Destiny north.” It concerns the 19th-century relationship between the United States and Canada (British North America) before Canada’s 1867 confederation. The focus is how the American press reflected an idea that Canada rightfully belonged to the United States. To counter this, the Canadian press reflected its own ideas about Canadian nationality and identity. Like the Press and Slavery book, it may show how these ideas retain contemporary resonance.

JF: Thanks, Brian!

The Author’s Corner with Edward Gray

TomPaineIronBridgeEdward Gray is Professor of History at Florida State University. This interview is based on his new book, Tom Paine’s Iron Bridge: Building a United States (W. W. Norton & Company, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Tom Paine’s Iron Bridge?

EG: There are really two answers to that question. The first is that I wanted to write a book about a familiar figure. My previous book was about the Connecticut traveler John Ledyard, somebody few had ever heard of. I got tired of trying to justify a book-length project on such an obscure person. The second is that I had been teaching Paine’s famous 1776 call-to-arms, Common Sense for years. When I finished the Ledyard book, I decided to re-read the rest of Paine’s oeuvre. That process led to my discovery of Paine’s interest in iron bridges. It seemed weird that at the height of his powers as revolutionary propagandist, Paine turned to architecture. A little further reading made it clear that for Paine, this interest was not just a typical enlightenment-era gentlemanly divergence. I began to wonder what this iron bridge business was all about? I didn’t find a satisfactory answer in any of the many Paine biographies or other studies of his life and thought. After a few summers fishing for clues in British archives, I concluded that there was a book to be written. 

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Tom Paine’s Iron Bridge?

EG: Thomas Paine is not generally thought of as a state builder. But his iron bridge demonstrates that that is exactly what he was. 

JF: Why do we need to read Tom Paine’s Iron Bridge?

EG: I think the book has a great deal of contemporary resonance. Politicians are constantly trumpeting the need for improved infrastructure. In general, they defend that need as an economic one: without adequate transportation infrastructure, America’s commercial primacy will suffer. What they don’t talk about, but what seems very much the case, and what obsessed Paine and most of his revolutionary contemporaries, is the fact that infrastructure has a political function as well. Insofar as the fractious United States constitutes a political community, it does so as a function of its capacity to draw together its distant and diverse parts. Whether Paine’s iron bridges or modern high-speed rail, functional and efficient infrastructure makes this possible.  

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

EG: It happened in college. I tried out a bunch of different majors, but history appealed to me. Its best practitioners achieved a combination of literary ambition and empirical rigor that I found captivating. Initially, I was interested in French history. I wrote a few papers about Jews and Judaism in nineteenth-century France and then I got interested in the French Revolution. When I raised the possibility of going to grad school, one of my professors urged me to avoid all things French. This was in 1986 or 1987; the eve of the French Revolution’s bicentennial. Everybody, it seemed, was doing something on the French Revolution. Over the course of the next few years, I started reading books about the American Revolution. I discovered, in particular, Gordon Wood’s Creation of the American Republic and that was that. 

JF: What is your next project?

 EG: I’m working on a history of the Mason-Dixon Line, from the seventeenth century through the Civil War Era. I’ve also been working on a smaller project about Henry Laurens’s 1780 imprisonment in the Tower of London. 

JF: Thanks, Edward!

 

Lin-Manuel Miranda Will Give Plenary Address at SHEAR’s 2016 Annual Meeting

Miranda

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius behind the smash Broadway musical “Hamilton,” will give the plenary address at the 2016 meeting of the Society of Historians of the Early American Republic in New Haven.

Here is the announcement from the SHEAR website:

We are thrilled to announce that this year’s SHEAR plenary will feature an interview with Hamilton playwright and star Lin-Manuel Miranda. His schedule unfortunately will not permit him to join us in New Haven, but he has graciously agreed to a filmed interview, which will be shown during the conference plenary, and followed by a panel discussion. This unusual format affords us an opportunity: We invite you to send us questions for the interview. Of course, it is likely that there will be time to pose only a small selection of questions, but we’d like the interview to reflect the interests and thoughts of SHEAR members.

Please send your questions to HamforSHEAR@gmail.com by March 25th.

See you in New Haven this July!

Joanne B. Freeman and Brian Murphy

SHEAR Has a Blog!

SHEAR logo

The Society for Historians of the Early American Republic has started a blog.  Mark Cheathem, a veteran of the history blogosphere who has been quite busy lately, is involved with the project.  He explains:

We are excited to launch SHEAR’s new blog, The Republic! This blog will serve as the place to go for news about the organization and scholarship on the period.

Planning for this blog began in 2011, when the late Drew Cayton, then serving as SHEAR president, asked Caleb McDaniel and me to put together a working group to look into expanding the organization’s social media footprint. Rachel Herrmann and Beth Salerno joined us in crafting a proposal that addressed not only social media but also other ways in which the organization could incorporate twenty-first-century technology.

A number of SHEAR presidents—Harry Watson, Drew Cayton, Pat Cohen, John Larson, Ann Fabian, and Jan Lewis—and the members of the advisory council have been supportive in recognizing the need for SHEAR to make this move. Last year, Ann Fabian, with the approval of the advisory council, appointed me as SHEAR’s first social media coordinator. I asked Caleb and Liz Covart, whom many of you know from Ben Franklin’s World, to brainstorm our path forward. After the conference, we invited Vanessa Holden and Lyra Monteiro to join the committee. Late last year, the committee members and JER editor Cathy Kelly held a virtual meeting and discussed a number of possible approaches to take.

The committee members came away with several conclusions. First, we wanted SHEAR to have a viable and vibrant connection to the world of social media. We established Facebook and Twitter accounts several years ago, and they have proven successful in attracting the attention of both SHEAR members and non-members. In addition to taking a more active approach to social media during the year, we hope to have a more visible presence at the annual meeting. Second, we believed that our charge included more than just social media, so we altered the vision to include new media, which is a more encompassing description of what we intend. Lastly, we wanted to expand SHEAR’s reach in the digital world by establishing a blog. Most major historical organizations have taken this step, and it seemed appropriate for SHEAR to do so as well.

What can you expect from The Republic? On a weekly or biweekly basis, depending on the time of year, we expect to publish posts as diverse as author interviews, JER-related pieces, and pedagogical essays. We also hope that you will send us your relevant CFPs or perhaps even research queries that you have for other SHEARites. If you have an interest in contributing to the blog in some way, don’t be shy! Reach out to us at shearrepublic@gmail.com

The Author’s Corner with Paul Gilje

GIljePaul Gilje is the George Lynn Cross Research Professor of History at the University of Oklahoma. This interview is based on his new book, To Swear Like a Sailor: Maritime Culture in America, 1750-1850 (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write To Swear Like a Sailor?

PG: When I finished Liberty on the Waterfront (2004) there were a series of issues that I wanted to explore further connected to my research on American maritime culture.  I set out to write To Swear Like a Sailor as a series of essays on a wide variety of topics like swearing, language, logbooks, story telling, songs, reading, images and material culture.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of To Swear Like a Sailor?

PG:  Although I began the book as a series of discrete essays related to maritime culture, as I wrote the book the individual chapter began to speak to the same issue: that there was a close overlap between mainstream and maritime culture.  In other words, America in the early republic was a maritime culture in ways that scholars have not sufficiently appreciated.

JF: Why do we need to read To Swear Like a Sailor?

PG: Do you want to know how to swear like a sailor? Then read the book.  Of course, the book is about more than swearing.  It explains why sailors swore using words we might not find that exceptional.  The book also traces how and where the generic name of “Jack Tar” emerged.  You can read some really bawdy sailor songs.  More importantly, the book follows the development of sailor lyrics from the seventeenth to the mid nineteenth century.  In the chapter on logbooks you will see how these journals began as a straight forward record of a ship’s daily progress, became a means for sailors to remember the past, and contributed to the development of great literature like James Fenimore Cooper’s sea tales and the works of Herman Melville.  There is more, but ultimately the reader will come to see the importance of all things maritime to America before the Civil War.

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

PG: I think back to the third grade and how I skipped down a Brooklyn street–not always a safe proposition even in the 1950s–singing “Swamp Fox, Swamp Fox, Tail in his hat, no one knows where the Swamp Fox is at.”  I learned this song watching a Disney story about Francis Marion during the American Revolution.  Watch it sometime.  It is a hoot.  The Swamp Fox was played by Leslie Nielson in his youth, delivering lines seriously in a style that later became camp and made him a fortune.  In short, I always loved history, even Disney history (no comment here).  But as a working class Brooklyn kid I never thought I could get a PhD.  Then in college I took a leave of absence (I had a good draft number) and went to Europe to travel for a semester.  There I decided that even if it was unlikely, I should roll the dice and try to become a historian.  I returned to Brooklyn College, did well enough to get into Brown.  I survived graduate school, where I learned what it meant to become a historian.  Thirty-six years later I am still loving and learning history (but seldom skip down the street).

JF: What is your next project?

PG: I am beginning to work on a book called Eighteen Hundred. It will be an exploration of the interaction between politics and society in which I will narrate the election of 1800 as a background to a series of personal stories about the experience of people who lived through that year.  Right now I have sixteen such stories outlined ranging from the richest of the rich to the poorest of the poor, and from Gabriel (leaders of a slave rebellion) to Handsome Lake.

JF;  Sounds really interesting.  Thanks, Paul.

Spotted in Oxford: Cassandra Good’s *Founding Friendships*

One of the most popular features of The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog is our Author’s Corner series in which we interview authors of new books.

Over the course of the next several days I will be posting pics of books we have featured in the Author’s Corner and that I spotted last week at the Oxford University Press bookstore in Oxford, England.

Here is Cassandra Good’s Founding Friendships: Friendships between Men and Women in the Early American Republic.   Read her Author’s Corner interview here.

Good Oxford