The Author’s Corner with William Bolt

boltWilliam Bolt is Assistant Professor of History at Francis Marion University. This interview is based on his new book, Tariff Wars and the Politics of Jacksonian America (Vanderbilt University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Tariff Wars and the Politics of Jacksonian America?

WB: I wrote Tariff Wars and the Politics of Jacksonian America because the tariff had been neglected for over 100 years. Since the tariff provided the national government with ninety percent of its annual revenue, I deemed it to be an important subject that historians had ignored for too long.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Tariff Wars and the Politics of Jacksonian America?

WB: Tariff Wars argues that the tariff needs to be a part of the narrative on antebellum politics, but it also argues that the tariff helped to spread democracy. Whenever Congress debated a tariff, scores of petitions and memorials arrived in Washington and public meetings were held regarding the tariff. Many Americans followed these debates and the tariff, in my opinion, helped to draw more Americans into the political process.

JF: Why do we need to read Tariff Wars and the Politics of Jacksonian America?

WB: People should read Tariff Wars because this issue was important to the people of the era. The people understood it and closely followed all efforts either to lower or raise the tariff. 

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

WB: I decided to become an American historian about twenty years ago, I took a course on Jacksonian Democracy and the instructor, the late Richard E. Ellis, was having the time of his life relating studies about Andrew Jackson, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, and Martin Van Buren. Sitting in that classroom and watching him reenact duels and congressional debates I found my calling.

JF: What is your next project?

WB: I am currently working on two follow up projects. A long-term project and a short terms one. My labor of love is a study of the rivalry between Millard Fillmore and William H. Seward. It is tentatively titled, “Empire State Rivalry.” It examines how two men with so much in common came to be bitter enemies. Their rivalry, I argue, hastened the demise of the Whig Party and contributed to the coming of the Civil War. My short-term project is a study of the year 1841. It is tentatively titled, “Year of here Presidents.” It looks at the presidencies of Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, and John Tyler. This work also is relevant to today because there is an intriguing Supreme Court confirmation battle in the final days of Van Buren’s presidency, and also a replace and replace battle over the Independent Treasury and National Bank. The year 1841 also sees the fate of the Amistad captives resolved. So there is a lot going on. These projects will helpfully keep me out of trouble.

JF: Thanks, Will!

The Author’s Corner with Jason Opal

OpalJason Opal is Associate Professor of History at McGill University.  This interview is based on his new book Avenging the People: Andrew Jackson, the Rule of Law, and the American Nation (Oxford University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Avenging the People?

JO: I had always been fascinated by Andrew Jackson and his intense following in the United States, especially in the wake of his controversial invasion of Spanish and Seminole Florida in 1818. I was also struck by the tone and vehemence of the Congressional debates that followed in early 1819. The pro-Jackson representatives talked about the “laws of nations” and the “rights of nature,” suggesting that Old Hickory symbolized a new claim to national sovereignty within the brutal world he saw.

But what made me want to dig deeper was what happened right after these debates—not the bitter controversy over slavery in Missouri, but the severe economic crisis that lasted from 1819 to 1822. Here, Jackson was an arch-conservative foe of public banks, stay laws, and other assertions of democratic sovereignty against international “laws” of commerce. Here, he rejected some of the most popular—and, in some sense, nationalistic—measures of his day. This just did not fit with the traditional view of Jackson as a patriotic champion and democratic reformer. Nor did it align with the usual critiques of Jackson, which stress his hostility to native peoples and black Americans.

So, I wanted to offer a new look at the towering enigma from Tennessee, one that stayed as close as possible to primary sources (rather than historiographical debates) and that scrutinized Jackson’s early career and political education (rather than his legendary times in the White House). I did not intend to besmirch Jackson, nor to condemn his fans. I just wanted to see what he was about, and to understand why so many Americans loved him so fiercely.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Avenging the People?

JO: I argue that Jackson led and embodied one version of American nationhood—of the American people as a nation who shared blood—that grew out of the long struggle with the British Empire and its native and black proxies during the post-Revolutionary decades. This kind of nationhood asserted American sovereignty vis-à-vis its enemies, including the right to avenge American blood around the globe, while restricting their sovereignty in times and places of peace, that is within the society they reluctantly composed.

JF: Why do we need to read Avenging the People?

JO: Especially since the United States, unlike most western democracies, still functions according to its first written Constitution (with amendments), it is always important to study the Founding era. In a way, this history is not history at all, but a kind of ongoing past.

Jackson was not one of the Founders of 1787, but he was probably the single most important figure in the later, longer rise of “democratic” models of American nationhood and popular sovereignty. Understanding that is especially important now that President Trump repeatedly and (I think) sincerely invokes Jackson’s name to authorize an “America First” course of action.

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

JO: I have loved history for as long as I can remember and was determined to become a history professor by the time I was in eighth or ninth grade. (One viewing of Les Misérables at the Shubert Theatre in Boston clinched it.) I honestly can’t imagine anything more compelling than the debatable record of what people have done and what it all means.

I decided to study the early United States after I took Mary Beth Norton’s class on the American Revolution at Cornell in the spring of 1996. I turned to cultural and social history after working with Jane Kamensky at Brandeis in 1999. Inspiring teachers have that effect!

JF: What is your next project?

JO: Moving to Montreal in 2009, right when I was starting this project, gave me a new vantage point on American history. It also revealed the importance of other languages, which had always been a weak point for me. I’m comfortable at last in French and am now studying Portuguese, both of which will help for my new book project, a global history of Barbados. As many early Americanists have shown, this island was the center of the early English empire and the starting point for its seventeenth-century turn to black slavery. I want to retell the island’s long ordeal by drawing in the associated histories of the Portuguese, French, Dutch, and British empires and of the many African nations that later gave rise to the Bajan people.

I’m also working on two collaborative projects. The first is a collection of essays on the “Patriot” rebellions of the late 1830s along the US-Canadian border. I’m writing about the economic priorities that underlay US-British rapprochement and that helped to doom the Patriots. Maxime Dagenais of McMaster University and Julien Mauduit of Université du Québec à Montréal are editing this book, which I hope will reach people in both French and English Canada and in my native country. Second, I’m writing a history of epidemic diseases and the American people with my dad, Dr. Steven Opal of the Brown University School of Medicine.

JF: Thanks, Jason

The Author’s Corner with Kristalyn Shefveland

anglonativevirginiaKristalyn Shefveland is Associate Professor of History at the University of Southern Indiana. This interview is based on her new book, Anglo-Native Virginia: Trade, Conversion, and Indian Slavery in the Old Dominion, 1646-1722 (University of Georgia Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Anglo-Native Virginia?

KS: During my PhD program at the University of Mississippi, I took two seminars on the American colonies, with emphasis on the Southeast. One was a history seminar in which we discussed at length the Chesapeake school and the evolving issues of race, particularly as it related to the work of Edmund Morgan and Winthrop Jordan, and the seminal work of Powhatan’s Mantle. The other was an anthropology seminar in which we were introduced to the body of scholarship on the Eastern Woodlands and the emergence of the trade in skins and slaves. Out of these two courses I came away with many questions about the Stegg/Byrd family and the role of Virginia in the Indian slave trade. I was inspired by the work of Alan Gallay, Robbie Ethridge, and Charles Hudson and wanted to know more.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Anglo-Native Virginia?

KS: Anglo-Native Virginia argues that attempts to regulate and control trade and indigenous peoples via a tributary system was at the foreground of Virginia’s native concerns from Governor Sir William Berkeley to Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood. This tributary system and its accompanying categories and rules represent an era of deep upheaval in the indigenous communities of the coastal plain and piedmont, resulting in the enslavement of native peoples as the colonies used the frontier exchange economy to finance their emerging plantation complex.

JF: Why do we need to read Anglo-Native Virginia?

KS: As an interdisciplinary work of ethnohistory, I hope this book finds an audience in a number of venues, including but not limited to scholars of Atlantic trade, colonial settlement, Southern Studies, slavery studies, and Indigenous peoples. The book asks us to consider the central role that indigenous and colonial interaction played in the larger narrative of the plantation South. It asks us to look more closely at how trade with Native peoples shaped Virginia history as it transitioned from a fledgling colonial outpost to a settler society dependent upon slave labor. I argue that the Southeast cannot be understood without understanding Virginia and one cannot understand Virginia without understanding the tributary system. The framework of this project came from my interest in demonstrating the importance of Native history for broader narratives. Until fairly recently, Native peoples of Virginia have been in the background of important studies that have focused on the Atlantic slave trade, mercantilism, and the plantation economy. A full understanding of the important role that Virginia tributary and foreign Natives played in the trade in skins and slaves as it relates to the Atlantic economy and mercantilism has been the subject of important recent scholarship and I think my work complements this emerging field.

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

KS: I started writing stories at an early age and they always had a historical element. I split my childhood between the small Mississippi river town of Wabasha, Minnesota and a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. I was always drawn to the historic sites of the two very different communities, one barely 2,500 people and the other a sprawling rustbelt town where suburbs converged into one another. In Minnesota, I was raised on the history of Euro-Native interaction, trade and settlement, and the folklore of the river valley. Across the river in Wisconsin was the Big Woods that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about and the town of Maiden Rock. In sum, I always loved a folktale and a yarn, a lifelong love affair that my parents greatly encouraged by going through historic towns and stopping at roadside markers, even when it added an hour or three to our regular road trips to Minnesota or Florida. In Ohio, I had the opportunity to work with an incredible high school teacher, Steven Abbey, who allowed me to take independent studies on a wide variety of historical topics and then I had the pleasure to attend Bowling Green State University where I studied under the Great Lakes historian, Edmund Danziger. He fostered my love of stories and helped to guide my scholarship towards the field of ethnohistory. In his seminar courses as well as the eye-opening classes I got to take with the Latin American historian, Rob Buffington, I knew that I wanted to pursue the field of history beyond undergrad. I was lucky to land at the University of Mississippi to work in interdisciplinary collaboration on indigenous peoples with Sheila Skemp and Robbie Ethridge. In a bit of kismet, I moved south to study peoples who came originally from Lake Erie.

JF: What is your next project?

KS: I am currently at work on a book on historical memory of indigenous peoples in Florida, particularly the town of Vero Beach, on the Indian River. This is a project of personal importance to me as it is a place I have known all my life and yet its deeply manicured history of settler pioneers and adventurous rogues reveals an incomplete narrative. I came to this study because of a large Spanish-mission style building that overlooks the town center with a relief carving of Pocahontas. Indian River produce advertisements from the 1880s-1970s depict idyllic jungle scenes, complete with friendly and noble Indians of vaguely Plains motifs—a vision at odds with the region’s indigenous past. Yankees, calling themselves pioneers and colonizers, moved to the region in waves throughout the early 20th century, viewing Southerners with scorn as the wealthy Northern investors built empires of citrus and sugar.

The Indian River Farms Company of Davenport, Iowa made the greatest strides toward conquering Florida. While settling the region, the company created a romantic narrative to sell land to potential Yankee colonizers. Street names included Seminole, Osceola, Cherokee, Mohawk, Kickapoo, and Ute. Buildings included the Chief Sleepy Eye Lodge and the Pocahontas Arcade. All names considered “picturesque” by would be settlers. Situating these endeavors within the broader context of Yankee imperialism in the Caribbean, particularly Cuba, I am reconsidering the legacy of a colonial southern past alongside the emergence of the vacation south to explore its potential impact on studies of the Indigenous south.

JF: Thanks, Kristalyn!

Quote of the Day

From the editorial board of The New York Times:

The Carrier deal stands as an interesting argument against longstanding Republican economic orthodoxy.  In making the deal, Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence have embraced the idea that government does indeed have a role to play in the free market.  They intervened, and as a result, 800 people will keep their jobs.  If they applied the same interventionist approach to other labor issues–raising the minimum wage and expanding overtime pay come to mind–millions of working people might actually stand a chance.

The Author’s Corner with Zara Anishanslin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JF: What is your next project?

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

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

JF: Thanks, Zara!

The Author’s Corner with Willem Klooster

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

JF: What led you to write The Dutch Moment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JF: What is your next project?

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

JF: Thanks, Willem!

The Author’s Corner with Christy Clark-Pujara

PujaraChristy Clark-Pujara is Assistant Professor and Anna Julia Cooper Fellow in the Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  This interview is based on her new book Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island (New York University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Dark Work?

CCP: After reading Joanne Pope Melish’s Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England, 1780-1860 (1998), in graduate school, I became mildly obsessed with the history of northern slavery. I engrossed myself in the scholarship of northern slavery, everything from Lorenzo Greene’s The Negro in Colonial New England (1968) and Edgar McManus’ Black Bondage in the North (1973) to Leslie Harris’ In the Shadow of Slavery (2003). My focus on Rhode Island was rather serendipitous. I began researching slavery and emancipation in Rhode Island in the years after Ruth Simmons commissioned the report on Brown University and its connections to the institution of slavery in 2003. After reading the report and the secondary literature that highlighted Rhode Island’s overt investments in slavery, I was surprised to find out that no one had written a history of how those economic ties to the business of slavery had shaped the lives of the enslaved and curtailed the freedom of their descendants. Dark Work builds and expands on my PhD dissertation, “Slavery, Emancipation and Black Freedom in Rhode Island, 1652-1842, (University of Iowa-Iowa City, 2009).”

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Dark Work?

CCP: I contend, that the business of slavery—the economic activity that was directly related to the maintenance of the slaveholding in the Americas, specifically the buying and selling of people, food, and goods—encouraged race-based slavery, stalled the emancipation process and circumscribed black freedom in Rhode Island from the colonial period through the American Civil War. In response to economic, political, and social marginalization enslaved and free black Rhode Islanders resisted bondage, fought for their freedom and banded together to build institutions to combat their circumscribed freedom.

JF: Why do we need to read Dark Work?

CCP: There is no comprehensive history of slavery in Rhode Island even though the business of slavery was central to the development and economic success of the colony and state. Moreover, a full accounting of the institution of slavery in the Americas necessitates a full accounting of the business of slavery, which was concentrated in the northern colonies and states. I also hope that my work contributes to scholarly literature combating the myths that northern slaveholding was rare, that slavery was mild or that emancipation was quick and free blacks were fully incorporated into the new nation. Other denials include that only a few northerners were invested in the business of slavery or that investments in slavery were confined to the slave trade. These myths are powerful and dangerous, as the erasure or marginalization of the northern black experience and the centrality of the business of slavery to the northern economy allows for a dangerous fiction—that the North has no history of racism to overcome.

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

CCP: I decided to become a historian in college. To my great surprise I actually enjoyed my college history courses. In high school, I found my history classes to be rather boring—all we did was memorize names, dates and events. My college professors, on the other hand, emphasized what we could learn and change about ourselves and our world through historical analysis. History was means by which we could understand and transform the present. I was hooked. I wanted to do what they did—teach and write history, because history can make us better citizens.

JF: What is your next project?

CCP: My current book project, From Slavery to Suffrage: Black on the Wisconsin Frontier examines how the practice of race-based slavery, and debates over abolition and black settlement shaped white-black race relations from French settlement in the 1740s through the American Civil War. Black people were a tiny minority in Wisconsin territory, and later the state; nevertheless, race-based slavery and anxieties about black migrants led white Wisconsinites to debate the merits of abolition and the rights of black residents. In the mid-nineteenth century, fugitive slaves passing through Wisconsin often assisted; on the other hand, blacks who sought permanent residency experienced social, economic, and political marginalization. My project highlights the complexities of racism against black Americans in the formative years of the state and argues that histories emphasizing the favorable treatment of black fugitives obscured the limited freedom black people faced in early Wisconsin.

JF: Thanks Christy!

The Author’s Corner with Trevor Burnard

Trevor Burnard is Professor and Head of School at the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. This interview is based on his newest book, Planters, Merchants, and Slaves: Plantation Societies in British America, 1650-1820 (University Of Chicago Press, 2015).

JF: What led you to write Planters, Merchants, and Slaves?

TB: This book was written in a very short period but is the fruit of many years of reflection. I wanted to understand and then explain how what I call the large integrated plantation system first developed in Barbados in the middle of the seventeenth century was eventually taken up in other British American slave societies (from Maryland to Demerara) and why it was so economically successful and socially monstrous. The book is more about planters and merchants than slaves but the experience of enslaved people is at the heart of the book nevertheless. I wanted, as in previous works, to show what exactly enslaved people were up against, especially during the African period of slavery before abolitionism placed some constraints on planters’ behaviour. I also wanted to show just how rich and powerful plantation societies were, especially before the American Revolution divided British America in two. I encourage readers to think of early America as not just the thirteen colonies but also as including many Caribbean (and Canadian) colonies and to consider how American history looks like if viewed from somewhere like Jamaica (where I have done most of my empirical work). I thought about just doing a book on Jamaica but I wanted a wider audience – one that included scholars interested in Atlantic, Caribbean, and British history as well as historians of early America.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Planters, Merchants, and Slaves?

TB: The large integrated plantation system, containing hundreds of enslaved persons and a small white managerial class, was difficult to establish, mainly because it was hard to persuade sufficient white men to do the hard work of disciplining slaves, but once established proved remarkably successful, becoming the most important economic and social institution in early America. The American Revolution, which divided the plantation world between America and the British Empire, has masked just how important this institution was but if we are to understand the making of the modern world, we have to understand the peculiar world of the plantation.

JF: Why do we need to read Planters, Merchants, and Slaves?  

TB: Three reasons. First, by looking at the history of colonial British America in an Atlantic rather than an American perspective and recognising that British America is spatially different from the later USA gives us a quite different perspective on what is America. Second, a wide ranging and empirically grounded examination of plantation societies shows us not only that the system of slavery that sustained plantation agriculture was essential to the prosperity of British America but also that the plantation was not regressive but progressive and surprisingly modern, especially in techniques of slave management. Third, we need to recognise that this system brought enormous economic and political benefits to planters, merchants and many ordinary white people and that these benefits were explain why most whites supported slavery for economic reasons even besides racial dislike of Africans and a shared belief in white superiority.

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

TB: I like to be called an American historian rather than, say, a Caribbean or even an Atlantic historian but I look at America obliquely, as one does as a foreigner. I study American history before the USA developed and am especially interested in those parts of America that did not become part of the USA. I am a New Zealander by birth who was from undergraduate days interested in understanding provincial identities in the settler colonies, including colonial British America. I did graduate studies in America before teaching in Jamaica, New Zealand, England and now Australia. I still find the processes which helped develop made the colonies of British America fascinating but I come to my area of study as someone who has little  interest in modern America (though I like to visit) and who sees colonial British America always through the perspective of an interested outsider. I see the establishment of the USA as both accidental and not altogether positive and American history in the colonial period as way more interesting and transformative than modern American history. I write my works as an outsider who is more attuned to Britain and the Antipodes than to the USA. I wish the USA well but my work is, unsurprisingly given my background, not written with any ambition to say anything about contemporary America. One thing I hope readers will think if they read my book is that American history can look differently when written from Melbourne or London or Kingston

JF: What is your next project?

TB: Next year I publish a book with the University of Pennsylvania Press, out in June, which is linked to the topics in Planter, Merchants, and Slaves. It is called The Plantation Machine: Atlantic Capitalism in French Saint Domingue and British Jamaica, 1748-1788 and is co-authored with John Garrigus.

JF: Thanks, Trevor!

The Author’s Corner with Calvin Schermerhorn

Calvin Schermerhorn is Associate Professor of History at Arizona State University. This interview is based on his new book The Business of Slavery and the Rise of American Capitalism, 1815-1860 (Yale University Press, April 2015).

JF: What led you to write The Business of Slavery and the Rise of American Capitalism, 1815-1860?

CS: The book starts with the premise that some of the most creative people in American history were among the most destructive as well. I was struck by the savvy creativity and intense entrepreneurialism of slavery’s businessmen. And at the same time I was shocked and disturbed by the effects on subjects whose lives were shattered, ended, or turned upside down by the slave trade. That massive forced migration was vital to the production of American cotton and sugar — and to the U.S. and global economy. And that same process of human trafficking was absolutely reliant on chains of credit linking New Orleans and Richmond with New York and London. To tell that story, I looked for a bridge between big-picture history of processes and small-focus history of people and particular events. The Business of Slavery bridges macro-history and micro-history by looking at American capitalism at the level of the firm. Many of the subjects of the book were “Masters of the Universe” to borrow from Tom Wolfe. Several were New Yorkers. But I really wanted to tell the story of those who were trafficked and sold, including kidnap victim Solomon Northup, who published Twelve Years a Slave, and also several obscure subjects like Sam Watts who was bought, sold, and mortgaged with money that traveled oceans.

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

CS: The slavery business shows the creative destruction of a vital sector of the American economy from the War of 1812 to disunion in 1861. Rather than a localized or marginal process, the process of commoditizing people was deeply enmeshed in a national economy and international finance and shows the process of modern capitalism more strikingly than any other enterprise.

JF: Why do we need to read The Business of Slavery?

CS: It’s a good read about a troubled and troubling history. The Business of Slavery follows the money. In a narrative of seven firms or partnerships, along with the stories of the captives themselves, the book goes beyond traditional questions of slave-labor and production, looking instead at strategies of firms. It’s a business history rather than merely an economic or cultural history. It reassembles chains of supply, chains of credit, and maps international networks responsible for slavery’s growth. It turns out that the hopeful modernity of capitalism, including individual liberty, advancing technology, and the immense social trust and optimism required for the system to work were also components of turning people into products and flinging them across a vast geographic space, from the head of the Chesapeake Bay to the bottomlands of the Brazos River in Texas.

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

CS: I was pursuing a Master of Theological Studies degree at the Harvard Divinity School when I came across some truly inspirational historians doing work in American intellectual and religious history. I wasn’t very good at theology. And I wrestled (and still do) with the divide between personal faith and what is suitable for classroom instruction and scholarly debate. But I always had an interest in history. I’d gone to historic sites as a kid, collected coins, and even served as a costumed interpreter in a living history museum (I played an English colonist in Maryland among Yaocomico Indians). And the kinds of questions historians asked inspired me to delve more deeply into the past of the Chesapeake region where I grew up, particularly its deep yet scarcely mentioned African American history. It’s been a tremendously fulfilling journey from there.

JF: What is your next project?

CS: I’m finishing United States Slavery: A Family History for Cambridge University Press. It delves into American slavery’s history from the Revolution to Reconstruction through the lives of enslaved people, contextualizing family ordeals with the big processes of westward expansion, financial integration, and the upheaval of war and its legacy. In my spare time I’m writing a historical novel on the unintended consequences of human intention and action. The main drama is American slavery and the coming of civil war, particularly around Richmond, Virginia, and Boston, Massachusetts. The novel follows a handful of characters, free and enslaved, telling their personal stories, revealing the secrets and emotions the archives can’t or won’t, all textured with the stuff of history.

JF: Sounds like promising work, thanks Calvin!

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

Michael Limberg On His First Day At AHA 2015

Michael Limberg is a graduate student at the University of Connecticut who is writing a dissertation on how U.S. philanthropists, missionaries, and diplomats worked to change and modernize a changing Near East in the decades following World War I.  We are thrilled to have him writing for The Way of Improvement Leads Home this weekend.  Here is his first dispatch, written earlier today.–JF
I’m currently ensconced on a Metronorth train traveling from New Haven to Grand Central Station.  From there it will be a brief brisk walk to the Hilton in Midtown Manhattan to register and attend my first panel.  As someone who usually drives to conferences and archives, I’m enjoying the chance to work while traveling. 

This is my second AHA; I presented a paper at AHA 2013 in New Orleans, but I’m not presenting anything this time around.  This will be a short trip, only two days out of the conference’s four-day run.  I’m attending this year to network, hear some papers of interest, get a glimpse into the job interview process, and possibly score a deal or two at the book exhibit.  I’m much more familiar with the annual conference for the Society of Historians for American Foreign Relations, my primary sub-field, so I look forward to the chance to hear some papers on religious history and global history.  No obvious spotting of other conference-bound historians on an early-morning train so far.
After getting slightly lost wandering through Manhattan, I found the hotel and raced through registration with barely enough time to make my 10:30 panel.  (No lanyards in sight) 

The panel (AHA 106, History, Economics, and the Wide-Ranging Impacts of the 1973 Oil Shock on U.S. Foreign Relations) was well-attended.  It was co-sponsored by the Historians of American Foreign Relations, my usual crowd.  The three papers had disparate foci on corporations, the rhetoric and structure of the international economic order, and traditional state-to-state economic and military aid.  As pointed out by the commentator, Amy Offner, they all shared a common purpose in challenging the popular and political narrative of the 1973 oil embargo as a crisis or challenge to U.S. power abroad.
BetsyBeasley’s paper argued that large “oil services” companies, including Halliburton, actually found the oil crisis a beneficial opportunity to increase profits and diversify by moving away from direct investments.  These companies actually posted record profits in 1973 and 1974.  They marketed their expertise and know-how to global producers, accelerating a shift in the work of U.S. oil companies begun in the 1950s and 1960s.  Beasley’s paper was the most interesting for me, raising questions about the gendered language of expertise and the marketing of free market and service economics. 

ChristopherDeitrich’s paper examined competing visions for the international economy put forward by global south/OPEC nations and by the United States at a 1974 United Nations special session.  He argued that Henry Kissinger as Secretary of State tried to counter proposals for a New International Economic Order focused on justice and equality for disenfranchised nations by framing free market capitalism as “common sense” economics.  Kissinger’s model used a similar-sounding rhetoric of equality but in fact sought to limit economic policy choices for developing or postcolonial nations.  I’m intrigued by the possibility of examining these competing economic and rhetorical models the next time I teach a US Foreign Relations course, since I had trouble this semester getting my students to historicize the neoliberal free market economic model that has been prevalent in policy during the last several decades.

David Wight focused on US aid policies toward Egypt in the wake of both the oil crisis and the 1973 Yom Kippur War.  He argued that the Treasury and State Department’s programs to send military and economic aid to Egypt failed in their short-term goals for economic and political liberalization.  Despite this failure, however, attempts to encourage corporate investments and military equipment sales in conjunction with Arab petrodollars contributed to the strengthening of US-Egyptian diplomatic ties during the late 1970s. 

As one of the presenters stated, these papers show examples of economics as “politics by other means”, highlighting the fuzzy lines between the two in many circumstances.  The papers showed some of the strengths of new work on political economy being done in foreign relations scholarship, particularly in incorporating elements of image analysis, pop culture sources, or gendered analysis.

From here I’m off to a contentious-looking panel titled “What is the Responsibilityof Historians Regarding the Palestine/Israel Conflict?” and a quick tour of the book exhibits, but I hope to check in again later tonight!

The Author’s Corner with Max M. Edling

Max Edling is a lecturer in North American history at King’s College London. This interview is based on his new book, A Hercules in the Cradle: War, Money, and the American State (University of Chicago Press, November 2014).

JF: What led you to write A Hercules in the Cradle?

ME: A Hercules in the Cradle is the sequel to my first book, A Revolution in Favor of Government: Origins of the U.S. Constitution and the Making of the American State (2003). That book identified the urge to build a viable central state with adequate fiscal and military capability as a central aspect of the making of the federal constitution of 1787. Long before the book was out I knew that the response from many of my fellow historians would be to say: “Well, it may be true that the Federalists, with Hamilton and a misguided Washington in the lead, wished to create a fiscal-military state in America. But thank God, Jefferson came along and set everything right again in his ‘Revolution of 1800’.” But I was not so sure. The Constitutional clauses spelling out the fiscal and military powers of the federal government turned to fiscal and military institutions under the first Congress. I wanted to learn if and how these powers and institutions were put to use in early United States history. Although the fiscal and the military are intertwined, I chose in the end to concentrate on taxation, public finance and the funding of wars from the Peace of Paris to the end of the Civil War.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of A Hercules in the Cradle?

ME: The book argues that the United States very soon after independence acquired fiscal and financial capacities similar to that of advanced European powers at the time. The federal government put that power to good use in the next century to get an edge over its American competitors until the United States ended up the unquestioned master of the North American continent after the Civil War.

JF: Why do we need to read A Hercules in the Cradle?

ME: I hope that A Hercules in the Cradle can help us better see the imperialist strand in early United States history. I do not say this because I am a critic of the United States in world affairs. In my work I have pointed to the similarities between the political development in the United States and political and institutional innovation in the rest of the world, primarily Britain, in the early national period. As a European there is nothing surprising to me about the fact that the United States built its greatness in part on war and violence. In their book Dominion of War, Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton say that “the long-term pattern of America’s development look[s] broadly similar to those of other large, successful nations.” I couldn’t agree more. So while remaining sensitive to what is unique about American history, I strive to interpret American developments as variations on universal themes. I also think that the book will be of interest to readers interested in the history of the American state and federal government, the history of finance, and the history of war.

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

ME: My interest in history began in early childhood and was essentially romantic. History and historical fiction were variations on the tales and sagas that spurred my imagination. My grandparents also took me to an endless row of museum and historical sites when I was the right age. In high school I had a very gifted history teacher who was also a newly minted PhD. He made me see for the first time that history could be an academic discipline. But after a year of studying history at university I strayed into political science and was heading down that road when almost by chance I happened go to Cambridge, UK, for a year as a visiting graduate student from Stockholm University. I enrolled in the Cambridge history PhD program and became a historian of America. It is something I have never regretted.

JF: What is your next project?

ME: My recent move to King’s College London, where the History Department has a strong tradition of British imperial history, coincided in time with my realization that the conventional view of the American founding is misguided in fundamental respects. To paraphrase J.G.A Pocock, it seems to me that the American founding did not establish the first liberal nation but the last of the early modern empires. Here “empire” is not synonymous with strength but with diversity in the formal status of the territories, but also the legal status of the subject population, that make up the composite polity of the empire. The defining feature of a liberal nation is universal citizenship. The liberal nation is made up of individuals who as citizens are equal and have rights. Crucially, they have the same rights. As one legal historian puts it, the liberal nation is constructed as “a homogeneous space of rights.” Clearly this is not a good description of the early United States, which was a regime marked by diversity rather than homogeneity. Instead of universal rights we find here institutionalized oppression and inequality. Instead of a nation of equal citizens we find a hierarchically organized polity designed to maintain the privileges of full citizens by giving them rights over the labor, bodies, and resources of household dependants, non-citizens, and captive peoples. Instead of limited government we find a regime where the citizens shape the legal system and governmental institutions to defend and improve their position. I plan to write a history of the American founding as the creation not of a liberal nation but of a republican empire.

JF: Sounds very interesting. Thanks Max!

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

The Author’s Corner with Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith is Associate Professor of History at Virginia Commonwealth University. This interview is based on his brand new book, Robert Morris’s Folly: The Architectural and Financial Failures of an American Founder (Yale University Press, September 2014).

JF: What led you to write Robert Morris’s Folly?

RS: I encountered Robert Morris’s story while doing research for a seminar paper in graduate school. We were looking at Philadelphia town houses, and I found mention of Morris’s wayward mansion in an old history of the city. Morris’s tale was so dramatic – a central figure of the American Revolution, considered the wealthiest man in the new nation, who suddenly lost everything and went to debtor’s prison while his palatial home was torn down. Not much had been written on any of this, which I found surprising, so I wrote up my paper as best I could and then moved on to other pressing projects. But the story of Morris’s ruin stayed with me, and after my first book came out, it seemed like a story I just had to tell. I also saw it as an opportunity to experiment with blending a material culture study with narrative history.

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

RS: American anxieties about the role of the nation’s wealthiest citizens go back to the earliest years of the American republic. Robert Morris’s particular travails helped ordinary Americans identify civic boundaries for such citizens, while also revealing the importance of buildings and landscapes for giving focus to these concerns.

JF: Why do we need to read RMF?

RS: First, I hope it is a good read, allowing the reader to chew over some human themes, such as pride, vanity, and failure. But Robert Morris’s story became more urgent after the 2007/2008 global financial collapse, when we saw people in high places making poor financial decisions with tragic results for lots of people. The book provides some historical context for this, as well as the subsequent Occupy movement. In addition, I hope the book offers a useful response to our general tendency to valorize the “Founding Fathers” and their decisions.

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

RS: I was a teenager, on a job site with my father, who is an architect specializing in historic preservation. We were measuring an old church on a riverbank – I was not much help, just holding the tape – and there suddenly seemed to be so much going on in the stillness around this old building, it really fired my imagination. Before then, history was only something I found in textbooks, but the layers of experience evoked by the old church’s walls suggested that there could be so much more. After that, I had some really inspiring American Studies mentors while an undergraduate at my little liberal arts college, and they showed me that such a thing as a life in this field might be possible.

JF: What is your next project?

RS: I have my feelers out now on two new projects. One is a study of the restoration of American lighthouses in the twentieth century. The other is a look at the material culture of American spiritualism — “table turning.” These are very different, but I think there are exciting possibilities for each. It will be sad to leave Morris’s world behind for now, though.


JF: Thanks Ryan, great stuff!

Thanks to Megan Piette for facilitating this installment of The Author’s Corner.

And Speaking of MOOCs…

Louis Hyman and Edward Baptist of Cornell University are teaching one on the subject of American capitalism.  Here is the introduction:



In an article at the History News Network, Hyman and Baptist defend MOOCs.  Here is a taste:

MOOCs offer a tremendously promising way to communicate about pressing ideas with a broad audience. In one semester the two of us can teach, at most, a few hundred students at Cornell. Indeed, all of our Cornell colleagues combined could teach a few thousand. But in a MOOC we can reach tens of thousands, all around the world, for free. Commuters can listen to the podcasts of our lectures, or even watch the lectures on their phones during a coffee break. Education can be flexible, and it can bring people together–sometimes in classrooms, but often or even most of the time somewhere else.
So rather than a triumph of individualistic, market values, the MOOC represents a democratic way to raise collective education. Rather than creating a uniform product consumed in isolation, MOOCs are more likely to restore critical conversations to the classroom–and the book club. Rather than disempowering faculty members and universities, MOOC technology can give them greater reach while eliminating inefficiencies that profit nobody except for a few corporate behemoths. MOOCs can support a flipped classroom inside the university and democratic education outside the university. Thus academics, students, and people in general shouldn’t hopelessly pine for a past before anyone thought of a MOOC. Instead, we should figure out how to use MOOCs to help make a future that fits our democratic values.

What is the Most Influential History Journal in the English Language?

Google Scholar, Google’s specialized search engine for scholarly literature, uses the h-index to measure the impact of scholarly articles. Created by University of California, San Diego physicist Jorge E. Hirsch in 2005, the h-index is one of several attempts to quantify the productivity and quality of scholars. The index is a relatively simple measurement, using only the most highly-cited articles in its formulation.
Though designed to rank the contributions of individual scientists, the h-index can also be applied to researchers and publications, and according to Professor Hirsch the index will also give reasonably accurate rankings for arts and humanities journals, though it will be less reliable for individual researchers given the book-driven nature of the discipline.
Though the top two history journals are both economics-focused (and the Journal of Economic History is noted for its cliometric approach), Hirsch says that the h-index does not favor quantitative over non-quantitative research.
– See more at: http://hnn.us/article/153862#sthash.RYc2l0FW.dpuf

Google Scholar, Google’s specialized search engine for scholarly literature, uses the h-index to measure the impact of scholarly articles. Created by University of California, San Diego physicist Jorge E. Hirsch in 2005, the h-index is one of several attempts to quantify the productivity and quality of scholars. The index is a relatively simple measurement, using only the most highly-cited articles in its formulation.
Though designed to rank the contributions of individual scientists, the h-index can also be applied to researchers and publications, and according to Professor Hirsch the index will also give reasonably accurate rankings for arts and humanities journals, though it will be less reliable for individual researchers given the book-driven nature of the discipline.
Though the top two history journals are both economics-focused (and the Journal of Economic History is noted for its cliometric approach), Hirsch says that the h-index does not favor quantitative over non-quantitative research.
– See more at: http://hnn.us/article/153862#sthash.RYc2l0FW.dpuf

Google Scholar, Google’s specialized search engine for scholarly literature, uses the h-index to measure the impact of scholarly articles. Created by University of California, San Diego physicist Jorge E. Hirsch in 2005, the h-index is one of several attempts to quantify the productivity and quality of scholars. The index is a relatively simple measurement, using only the most highly-cited articles in its formulation.
Though designed to rank the contributions of individual scientists, the h-index can also be applied to researchers and publications, and according to Professor Hirsch the index will also give reasonably accurate rankings for arts and humanities journals, though it will be less reliable for individual researchers given the book-driven nature of the discipline.
Though the top two history journals are both economics-focused (and the Journal of Economic History is noted for its cliometric approach), Hirsch says that the h-index does not favor quantitative over non-quantitative research.
– See more at: http://hnn.us/article/153862#sthash.RYc2l0FW.dpuf
Google Scholar, Google’s specialized search engine for scholarly literature, uses the h-index to measure the impact of scholarly articles. Created by University of California, San Diego physicist Jorge E. Hirsch in 2005, the h-index is one of several attempts to quantify the productivity and quality of scholars. The index is a relatively simple measurement, using only the most highly-cited articles in its formulation.
Though designed to rank the contributions of individual scientists, the h-index can also be applied to researchers and publications, and according to Professor Hirsch the index will also give reasonably accurate rankings for arts and humanities journals, though it will be less reliable for individual researchers given the book-driven nature of the discipline.
Though the top two history journals are both economics-focused (and the Journal of Economic History is noted for its cliometric approach), Hirsch says that the h-index does not favor quantitative over non-quantitative research.
– See more at: http://hnn.us/article/153862#sthash.RYc2l0FW.dpuf

Google Scholar, Google’s specialized search engine for scholarly literature, uses the h-index to measure the impact of scholarly articles. Created by University of California, San Diego physicist Jorge E. Hirsch in 2005, the h-index is one of several attempts to quantify the productivity and quality of scholars. The index is a relatively simple measurement, using only the most highly-cited articles in its formulation.
Though designed to rank the contributions of individual scientists, the h-index can also be applied to researchers and publications, and according to Professor Hirsch the index will also give reasonably accurate rankings for arts and humanities journals, though it will be less reliable for individual researchers given the book-driven nature of the discipline.
Though the top two history journals are both economics-focused (and the Journal of Economic History is noted for its cliometric approach), Hirsch says that the h-index does not favor quantitative over non-quantitative research.
– See more at: http://hnn.us/article/153862#sthash.RYc2l0FW.dpuf
Google Scholar, Google’s specialized search engine for scholarly literature, uses the h-index to measure the impact of scholarly articles. Created by University of California, San Diego physicist Jorge E. Hirsch in 2005, the h-index is one of several attempts to quantify the productivity and quality of scholars. The index is a relatively simple measurement, using only the most highly-cited articles in its formulation.
Though designed to rank the contributions of individual scientists, the h-index can also be applied to researchers and publications, and according to Professor Hirsch the index will also give reasonably accurate rankings for arts and humanities journals, though it will be less reliable for individual researchers given the book-driven nature of the discipline.
Though the top two history journals are both economics-focused (and the Journal of Economic History is noted for its cliometric approach), Hirsch says that the h-index does not favor quantitative over non-quantitative research.
– See more at: http://hnn.us/article/153862#sthash.RYc2l0FW.dpuf

When I first saw this question posed by History News Network I immediately thought the most influential history journal would be The American Historical Review (AHR) followed closely by the The Journal of American History (JAH).

I could not have been more wrong.  The AHR finished fourth and the JAH finished fifteenth.

The most influential journal is actually The Journal of Economic History followed by The Economic History Review and Journal of Latin American Studies.

Here is a taste of the explanation behind the rankings:

Google Scholar, Google’s specialized search engine for scholarly literature, uses the h-index to measure the impact of scholarly articles.  Created by the University of California, San Diego, physicist Jorge E. Hirsch in 2005, the h-index is one of several attempts to quantify the productivity and quality of scholars.  The index is a relatively simple measurement, using only the most highly-cited articles in its formulation.

Though designed to rank the contributions of individual scientists, the h-index can also be applied to researchers and publications, and according to Professor Hirsch the index will also give reasonably accurate rankings for arts and humanities journals, thought it will be less reliable for individual researchers given the book-driven nature of the discipline.

Though the top two history journals are both economics-focused(and the Journal of Economic History is noted for its cliometric approach), Hirsch says that the h-index does not favor quantitative over non-quantitative research. 

Interesting.

Were Tariffs the Primary Cause of the Civil War?

Harper’s Weekly, Feb. 28, 1863

David John Marotta, writing at Forbes, thinks that it was the South’s opposition to protective tariffs that caused the Civil War.  Marotta is a “contributor” to Forbes who writes “on small changes that can yield enormous gains over time.”  According to his bio at another website, he is the founder of Marotta Wealth Management in Charlottesville and has written hundreds of financial articles.

I think Marotta should stick with what he knows best and stay out of the history business.  Here’s a doozy from his piece:

Slavery was actually on the wane. Slaves visiting England were free according to the courts in 1569. France, Russia, Spain and Portugal had outlawed slavery. Slavery had been abolished everywhere in the British Empire 27 years earlier thanks to William Wilberforce. In the United States, the transport of slaves had been outlawed 53 years earlier by Thomas Jefferson in the Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves (1807) and the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in England (1807). Slavery was a dying and repugnant institution. . .

Slavery was an abhorrent practice. It may have been the cause that rallied the North to win. But it was not the primary reason why the South seceded. The Civil War began because of an increasing push to place protective tariffs favoring Northern business interests and every Southern household paid the price.

I will let Mark Cheathem of Jacksonian America blog take it from here.  Read his take-down of Marotta piece here. A taste:

According to the 1860 U.S. Census, slavery was on the rise and had been for a number of decades. 

Slave population of the North in 1790: 40,086; in 1860: 64

Slave population of the South in 1790: 657,538; in 1860: 3,953,696

Christianity and Capitalism

In the most recent Then and Now column at The Christian Century Valparaiso University’s Heath Carter chides American Christians for their failure to challenge “the economic status quo.”  Check out his piece: “The Moral Contours of Our New Gilded Age.”  Here is a taste:

In the United States, contemporary Christianities rarely challenge the economic status quo. On the contrary, they typically celebrate the ever more elusive and yet no less alluring “American Dream.” Christians are as enamored with upward mobility—and all the iPads, designer countertops, and luxury sedans that come with it—as the next person.

Meanwhile, we abide and even endorse an unbiblical distinction between “fiscal” and “moral” issues. It is little wonder that, at the Lutheran university where I teach, students assume that corporations—as much “persons” as you or I according to the Supreme Court—are, by their very nature, exempt from the Golden Rule. “Nature” is the key word here, for in the minds of many our free enterprise system, championed by Democrats and Republicans alike, seems as natural as the earth and sky.

John Turner of George Mason University has responded to these two paragraphs (and Carter’s entire piece) at The Anxious Bench.  A taste:

I agree with most of the second paragraph, much less so with the first. I don’t think it’s true that mainline denominations and the American Catholic Church, to name two examples, “rarely challenge the economic status quo.” I’m a bit out of date, but at the last Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly I attended, there was an abundance of challenges to the economic status quo. On the other hand, what is true of mainline denominations is rather less true of the average mainline pulpit. If Carter substituted “contemporary evangelicals” for “contemporary Christianities,” perhaps his statement would be more true. Even so, many contemporary evangelicals do challenge the economic status quo, just from the right rather than the left. There is such a diversity of denominations, churches, and opinions that any clear voice on such matters is impossible for Protestants. The Catholic Church is a more effective critic, I would suggest.

It is true that many Christians “endorse an unbiblical distinction between ‘fiscal’ and ‘moral’ issues.” I agree that some Christians exempt business and businesspeople from the Golden Rule, believing that cutthroat competition — if harmful to certain parties — works out best for our society as a whole. Our very system of government, to a substantial extent, gives its blessing to the pursuit of self-interest and relies on a system of checks and balance to compensate for human depravity.

Everyone Loves the History of Capitalism

The New York Times is running an article on the renewed interest in the history of American capitalism.  It features the work of Bethany Moreton, author of To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise and Stephen Mihm, author of A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men, and the Making of the United States.  It also quotes or references historians Louis Hyman, Sven Beckert, Seth Rockman, Ed Baptist, Nathan Connolly, Nan Enstad, and Julia Ott.

Here is a quick taste:

After decades of “history from below,” focusing on women, minorities and other marginalized people seizing their destiny, a new generation of scholars is increasingly turning to what, strangely, risked becoming the most marginalized group of all: the bosses, bankers and brokers who run the economy.
Even before the financial crisis, courses in “the history of capitalism” — as the new discipline bills itself — began proliferating on campuses, along with dissertations on once deeply unsexy topics like insurance, banking and regulation. The events of 2008 and their long aftermath have given urgency to the scholarly realization that it really is the economy, stupid. 
I would also add the very good work (in addition to Moreton) of American religious historians on this front.  Darren Dochuk’s From Bible Belt to Sunbelt and his current work on evangelicalism and oil comes to mind.  So does Darren Grem’s work on Chick-fil-A.

"The Making of the English Working Class" Turns 50

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

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

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