The Civilities we every where receive give us the strongest Impressions of the French Politeness. It seems to be a Point settled here universally that Strangers are to be treated with Respect, and one has just the same Deference shewn one here by being a Stranger as in England by being a Lady. The Custom House Officers at Port St. Denis, as we enter’d Paris, were about to seize 2 Doz. of excellent Bourdeaux Wine given us at Boulogne, and which we brought with us; but as soon as they found we were Strangers, it was immediately remitted on that Account. At the Church of Notre Dame, when we went to see a magnificent Illumination with Figures &c. for the deceas’d Dauphiness, we found an immense Croud who were kept out by Guards; but the Officer being told that we were Strangers from England, he immediately admitted us, accompanied and show’d us every thing. Why don’t we practise this Urbanity to Frenchmen? Why should they be allow’d to out-do us in any thing?
Here is a taste Franklin’s Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind. We talked about this letter today in my Colonial America course.
23. In fine, A Nation well regulated is like a Polypus; take away a Limb, its Place is soon supply’d; cut it in two, and each deficient Part shall speedily grow out of the Part remaining. Thus if you have Room and Subsistence enough, as you may by dividing, make ten Polypes out of one, you may of one make ten Nations, equally populous and powerful; rather, increase a Nation ten fold in Numbers and Strength.
And since Detachments of English from Britain sent to America, will have their Places at Home so soon supply’d and increase so largely here; why should the Palatine Boors be suffered to swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together establish their Language and Manners to the Exclusion f ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by theEnglish, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.
24. Which leads me to add one Remark: That the Number of purely white People in the World is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth. I could wish their Numbers were increased. And while we are, as I may call it, Scouring our Planet, by clearing America of Woods, and so making this Side of our Globe reflect a brighter Light to the Eyes of Inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we in the Sight of Superior Beings, darken its People? why increase the Sons of Africa, by Planting them in America, where we have so fair an Opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely White and Red? But perhaps I am partial to the Compexion of my Country, for such Kind of Partiality is natural to Mankind.
Read the entire document here.
I couldn’t resist this piece at History Today. The author is Alexander Lee, a fellow in the Centre for the Study of Renaissance at the University of Warwick. Here is a taste of his “A History of Pizza“:
Pizza is the world’s favourite fast food. We eat it everywhere – at home, in restaurants, on street corners. Some three billion pizzas are sold each year in the United States alone, an average of 46 slices per person. But the story of how the humble pizza came to enjoy such global dominance reveals much about the history of migration, economics and technological change.
People have been eating pizza, in one form or another, for centuries. As far back as antiquity, pieces of flatbread, topped with savouries, served as a simple and tasty meal for those who could not afford plates, or who were on the go. These early pizzas appear in Virgil’s Aeneid. Shortly after arriving in Latium, Aeneas and his crew sat down beneath a tree and laid out ‘thin wheaten cakes as platters for their meal’. They then scattered them with mushrooms and herbs they had found in the woods and guzzled them down, crust and all, prompting Aeneas’ son Ascanius to exclaim: “Look! We’ve even eaten our plates!”
But it was in late 18th-century Naples that the pizza as we now know it came into being.
Read the rest here.
Richard Grimes teaches history at La Roche College. This interview is based on his new book, The Western Delaware Indian Nation, 1730–1795: Warriors and Diplomats (Lehigh University Press, 2017).
JF: What led you to write The Western Delaware Indian Nation?
RG: My study of the western Delawares came about when I read Michael N. McConnell, A Country Between: The Upper Ohio Valley and Its Peoples, 1724-1774. He mentions that during the eighteenth century, the three divisions or phratries (Turtle, Turkey, Wolf) of Delawares came together in an ethnic sense. McConnell only hinted on this but did not elaborate. This planted the seeds of a potential doctoral dissertation for me as a student and teacher at West Virginia University. However, I wanted to explore this further with regard to a new social order and cultural identity of the people who became the western Delawares of the Ohio Country. I wanted to examine whether they became a distinct nation of Indians.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Western Delaware Indian Nation?
RG: The main argument of my book centers on how certain bands of eastern Delawares migrated west across the Alleghenies throughout the first half of the eighteenth century and re-invented themselves as a people in the Ohio west. I focus on how Delaware people altered their society and developed a political structure to meet the challenges of the Ohio Country with its imperial struggles between France and England and an eventual emerging American nation.
JF: Why do we need to read The Western Delaware Indian Nation?
RG: I think my book offers a different perspective on how American Indians took initiatives to survive in a changing world. The Delawares were not helpless victims but proactive in their response to a European invasion and in determining their own historical trajectory. They also adapted to a changed world. As an example I demonstrate that the western Delawares developed a central governing council to put them on a diplomatic footing with the British and French and later with the United States.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
RG: I always loved history. As a young child, I read history books, Classics Illustrated comics, and was a big fan of Hollywood films that dealt with historical epics such as Errol Flynn in The Sea Hawk, The Charge of the Light Brigade, and They Died With Their Boots On and John Wayne in The Searchers and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. But I did not enter college until the age of 35–when I decided to change careers and learn to study , research, and write history. I was deeply inspired by my professors at the University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, and West Virginia University. I did not enter a classroom as a teacher until the age of 44. I had a lot of catching up to do.
JF: What is your next project?
RG: I have two things in mind. I would like to continue my studies involving Native Americans in colonial America. I am interested in American Indian relationships with George Washington and to explore how these early experiences shaped his American Indian policies as president.
I have also written articles on the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers of the American West. My Master’s thesis focused on the Cheyennes, so I will eventually focus my research and writing on the Cheyenne Indians of the Great Plains. I plan to do a scholarly study of the Dog Soldiers– I am very excited to begin this.
JF: Thanks, Richard!
Robert Darnton, Emeritus Harvard University librarian and renowned historian of the French Enlightenment, delivered a lecture on the history of communication before a large crowd at the American Historical Association. Only a handful of days after fears of a global collapse (Y2K) subsided, Darnton historicized our own information age and argued that “communication systems” have always shaped events. Darnton described the growing print industry of the eighteenth century, as well as the oral news networks at work in the city of lights, mobilizing le peuple, along with would-be French revolutionary politicians, to revolution. Other historians picked up where Darnton left off, examining the ways that French radical and conservative news outlets shaped the revolutionary experience itself. In short, information networks formed and imagined Revolution. The series we’ve put together here at AoR, seeks to explore the information age of the Age of Revolutions, examining the ways that information traveled and made revolution thinkable.
In many ways, this series covers fairly well-trodden ground, but addresses a very real contemporary issue. Seventeen years later, Darnton’s words continue to ring true — the future and the present are constantly battled over in the media. Our contemporary political world also begs scholars to continue to think about information networks and media politics. For example, eighteenth-century readers shared information in different ways, and any news that challenged one’s political position was called into question. “Fake news” is hardly a new opprobrium.
Read the entire introduction here.
Here is the lineup of posts:
September 6, 2017:
Alyssa Zuercher Reichardt, “Information, Empire, and Roads to Revolution”
September 11, 2017:
Joseph M. Adelman, “Meer Mechanics” No More: How Printers Shaped Information in the Revolutionary Age”
September 13, 2017:
Rob Taber, “Rumor and Report in Affiches Améciaines: Saint-Domingue’s American Revolution”
September 18, 2017:
Jordan Taylor, “Information and Ideology in Henri-Antoine Mézière’s Canadian Age of Revolutions”
September 20, 2017:
James Alexander Dun, “Le Cap to Carlisle: News of the Early Haitian Revolution in the United States”
September 25, 2017:
Melanie Conroy, “Visualizing Social Networks: Palladio and the Encyclopédistes, Part I”
September 27, 2017:
Melanie Conroy, “Visualizing Social Networks: Palladio and the Encyclopédistes, Part II”
September 29, 2017:
Information Networks in the Age of Revolutions Bibliography
Yesterday I read Sarah Grossman‘s interesting post at Process blog about the Smithsonian Meteorological Project (1849-1870). According to Grossman, the project “was the first weather data collection effort in the United States that brought together a national coalition of volunteer observers based around the pursuit of citizen science.”
Learn more here.
Grossman’s piece reminded me of what I said about the weather in my first book. While I was working on The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America I had to make a decision about what to do with the many, many references to the weather in Fithian’s diaries. Anyone who reads early American diaries knows that it was a common practice to say something about the weather at the beginning of each entry. Sometimes a reference to the weather (“clear” or “cold”) is the only thing mentioned in a given diary entry.
One option was to just ignore these references and treat them as unimportant trivia. But the more I read the diary the more I became convinced that I could not do this. Fithian’s references to the weather told me something about his world and the way understood his place within it.
This is what eventually made it into the book:
As Philip moved through the agricultural seasons his thoughts were often preoccupied with the weather. This was yet another sign of his intimate knowledge of the Cohansey landscape he called home. It is common for people to begin their farm diaries with references to current weather conditions. It is even more common for historians who study diaries to ignore these references, skimming over such apparently unimportant jottings on their way to the “real lives” of their subjects. This is unfortunate for it misses a vital dimension of what actually defined “real life” in places such as eighteenth-century Cohansey. Philip obsessed about the weather. He did not start his journal entries with notes on the weather because such remarks represented proper form or provided an adequate preamble to the day’s more important events. Philip wrote about the weather because his family and neighbors were at its mercy: “We know not what a Day may bring forth.” The weather, more than anything else, provides our best insight into the limits of an eighteenth-century agricultural life. No degree of human initiative could tame it. Few technological improvements could ease the anxiety that it brought to farmers.
When winter refused to yield to spring, the cold weather could lay waste to the Fithian’s orchard. Philip described consecutive days of frost in late April 1766 and thought they would certainly “kill all our peaches.” The summer’s tempests “of rain, wind and thunder,” arriving to Cohansey from the southwest, wreaked havoc on the Fithian’s fields, “blowing down the Flax, Wheat, & Corn very much.” At other times the rain inundated the fields to such an extent that Philip was able to “track an Ox or a Cow” across them. Cohansey farmers never watched the weather more closely than during the harvest season. Philip often devoted an entire journal entry to an hour-by-hour chronicling of a particular day’s weather patterns: ‘cloudy this morning”; about nine or ten o’clock it broke away so that the sun shone”; about noon it rained again in showers”; at 3’oclock there came a thunder gust from the west, and rained excessively hard”; a while in the evening it cleared very pleasant.” The unpredictable weather during the 1766 harvest season brought great anxiety to Cohansey farmers. When the rains came as consistently as they did during this particular summer, the Fithians were given only a small window of time to harvest their crops. Philip had never seen Cohansey farmers so apprehensive. “From this time to next Wednesday,” he wrote, “will be the most hurrying and engaging time for harvest Men that perhaps ever was known; on account of the later rains.”
While these concerns were certainly real, they were made less frightening by the power of the Presbyterian God. During times like the summer of 1766, Philip placed his hope for a successful harvest in the hands of a God who knew what was best for the farmers of Cohansey and worked all things together for the good of those who loved Him. During times of uncertainty Philip did not turn to superstitions or the wisdom of man-made almanacs but instead did his best to rest in God’s care for his family. In 1766 the God who controlled the weather looked favorably on the people of Cohansey. “When the descending rains seemed to threaten us with entire desolation,” Philip reflected, “God is pleased to withhold the Showers.” Though God could have chosen not to save the Cohansey harvest, this time around He elected to answer the prayers of His people. The only response was thankfulness, a virtue that was not lost on any of God’s creation in Cohansey. Even the “beasts & birds,” Philip proclaimed with appreciation, “express a sense of their joy and gratitude, for the plentiful provision, by their chearfulness and merryment.”
At other times, however, unfavorable weather patterns could be interpreted as signs of God’s judgment. In the summer of 1769 Coahsney suffered through a particularly difficult drought…
If you have read this far, you can find out what happened on p.31. 🙂
Michael Rapport is Professor of History at the University of Glasgow in Scotland and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. This interview is based on his new book, The Unruly City: Paris, London and New York in the Age of Revolution (Basic Books, 2017).
JF: What led you to write The Unruly City?
MR: I love walking – in the Scottish Highlands, in countryside and along coastline, but also in cities. When you walk through a city with a long past, like Paris, London and New York (it has been pointed out that New York is older than Saint Petersburg or Versailles) you get a strong sense of the topography, which is often in itself the physical footprint of the past, no matter how much building and reconstruction has taken place over the decades. And of course you can come across gems among the buildings and spaces – sometimes an entire street or neighbourhood – that bears an historic character. All of this sparked my curiosity: what were these cities like two-and-a-half centuries ago? And how did their citizens experience the upheavals and the fight for democracy in my own historical period, the age of the American and French Revolutions? How were the buildings and the cityscape marked by these struggles? I chose to write about Paris because it was the beating heart of revolutionary politics in France; New York because I wanted to explore the vicissitudes of revolution, war, occupation and reconstruction (after the fire in 1776)…and because of all American cities I probably know it the best; and London because it avoided revolution, so took an alternative political path. These are also three cities that I love.
JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Unruly City?
MR: I start from an apparently obvious point, namely that revolutions take place in a physical space, that they of course erupt over ideology and culture, political power and social change, but that they are also in a very real sense struggles for the strategic and symbolic control of key places and spaces within the cityscape. How revolutionaries, radicals and their opponents then adapted, embellished and used the buildings, streets and other sites in the city tells us a lot about the revolutionary process itself.
JF: Why do we need to read The Unruly City?
MR: Firstly, and foremost, I hope, out of pure curiosity: I cannot emphasise enough that this is a book that I wrote primarily to be enjoyed. Secondly, I hope that readers will share in my own pleasure in walking the city. While this is not a guidebook to Paris, London and New York, it does gently tell readers (either in the text itself or in the endnotes) how they can find each new site where the action unfurls. Thirdly, the story of the American and French Revolutions, and of the British democratic movement in the same years, reminds us that many of the rights and freedoms that we enjoy were fought for in the past – and that they are still a matter of contest in many parts of the world today. Finally, many of the streets, buildings and spaces described in the book still exist today, or their imprint does. Although their association with the tumultuous events of the revolutionary epoch may now often be forgotten, or overlaid by other, more recent developments, they are – or could be – sites of memory, places that connect us directly with the eighteenth-century struggle for democracy.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
MR: This will take some space to answer…because I am primarily a European historian. So to begin with ‘when’, we are all, in different ways, students of history throughout our lives. I’ve been interested in the past for as long as I can remember. My father, George Rapport – who is, amongst other things, a keen historian – always encouraged my interests in history and, for a few years, he lived in Belgium, a cycle-ride from the battlefield of Waterloo. As my interests developed – and because I have both Swedish and Russian heritage – I was drawn to European history. Moreover, although I was born in the United States (in Bronxville, New York) I have lived almost all my life in Europe, particularly France, England and, for the most part, Scotland, so my identity is probably best described as transatlantic. I’ve always loved the creative and intellectual challenges of writing – short stories, an historical novel, and, above all, history – and in my late teens was drawn to a career in journalism. But at school I also had a truly inspiring history teacher – Jeremy Barker – who was a zealous devotee of European history, and particularly modern France and the French Revolution. At the same time, my mother and stepfather Mike moved to Paris, so historical passion aligned with location: I had found my period, and my place, namely revolutionary France. My mother Anita was always there to remind me that much of history was social history, so the discovery of ‘how people lived’, has become a mantra. So I’ve always been absorbed, one way or another, in pursuing the past. That’s the answer to ‘when’.
That leaves the answer to ‘why’: despite my focus on Europe, my American origins have always been in the background – and they were (and still are) regularly foregrounded by frequent return trips to the US. When we were boys, my brother Allan and I travelled with my father around sites of the American Revolution. We visited Civil War sites, too: since my father is an alumnus of the Virginia Military Institute, it could not have been otherwise. My father also wrote a novel about the Fetterman Massacre, during which time my stepmother, Jane, treated us to a trip to Montana and Wyoming as part of the research. So I’ve had grounding in American history since at least my early teens. As an undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, I won the Class Medal in the sophomore survey course on American History and then went on the study, as part of my Honours programme, the social history of colonial America under Alan Day, who had pursued his doctorate under none other than Jack P. Greene. It also so happened that Helen, a Scottish historian (and, it should be said, a specialist in Scottish urban history) and the woman who became my wife, was in the same seminar group, so (as they say) we were firing on all cylinders. And though I went on to pursue doctoral work at Bristol University with Professor Bill Doyle on the French Revolution, my focus has always been on the revolution in a wider, international context. I rapidly discovered that, in order to understand the transnational dimension of the French Revolution – its origins, course and legacy – one must also understand, amongst other dimensions, the Atlantic perspective. So I find myself pulled, repeatedly, back to the young American Republic and the Americas.
JF: What is your next project?
MR: Rather alarmingly, there are four irons heating up in the furnace. Firstly, in writing The Unruly City, I came across (rather belatedly) a series of theoretical approaches to space and place that has exercised some historians and cultural geographers, namely the ‘spatial turn’, which engages with the different ways in which space, place and location affected human behaviour. So I am writing a book on revolutionary Paris which deploys the hardware in this arsenal. Secondly, I am working on a book for Cambridge University Press, A Concise History of Europe. Thirdly I’m editing The Oxford Handbook to Europe in the Long Nineteenth Century, 1789-1914 and, fourthly, I have edited, with my excellent friend and colleague Ben Marsh of Kent University (and an American historian to boot), a volume on Teaching and Understanding the Age of Revolutions, a collection of essays published by the University of Wisconsin Press by leading and up-and-coming historians on a variety of cutting-edge, innovative approaches to teaching and learning about the many different aspects of the ‘age of revolution’ in the Atlantic world.
JF: Thanks, Michael. You are a busy man!
Jennifer Van Horn is Assistant Professor of Art History and History at the University of Delaware. This interview is based on her new book, The Power of Objects in Eighteenth-Century British America (The University of North Carolina Press, 2017).
JF: What led you to write The Power of Objects in Eighteenth-Century British America?
JVH: The genesis of this book came from my surprise at the difference between two portraits. I was looking at two paintings of early American women completed by the same artist (John Wollaston) in two different places: New York City and Charleston, South Carolina. I was intrigued by why Wollaston, a British painter who toured the American colonies, painted such radically dissimilar portraits of these women (different poses, different costumes, different sized canvases). Both sitters were elite women who wanted to signal their politeness through their portraits so what led them to do so in very different ways? This question got me thinking about the uses that elite residents of port cities had for objects of many sorts (portraits, dressing tables, gravestones). Eventually I concluded that the similarities between objects made in specific port cities were visual bonds that allowed colonists to cohere into communities. By assembling networks of similar objects early Americans created civil spaces at the margins of empire. It was through their relationships with artifacts that Americans constructed a nation.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Power of Objects in Eighteenth-Century British America?
JVH: Artifacts were key players in forming Anglo-American communities in early America and eventually of citizenship. Consumers in port cities assembled networks of objects (from portraits and city views to gravestones, dressing furniture, and prosthetic devices) not simply as markers of status or political identification, but as active agents to bind themselves together and to distance themselves from Native Americans and African Americans.
JF: Why do we need to read The Power of Objects in Eighteenth-Century British America?
JVH: On the whole, in history we don’t talk about objects well. Historians tend to use material or visual culture (artifacts or art works) to illustrate the arguments that they have already figured out using documentary evidence. But if you read this book you will see that when we take objects seriously and use them as evidence (in tandem with documentary sources, but not subsidiary to them) objects have a lot to tell us about people in the past. Take Gouverneur Morris’s wooden leg, for example. Morris’s wooden leg—donned after a brutal carriage accident—is the only lower limb prosthesis to survive from early American and it contains many stories: fears over men’s virility in the early republic, Americans’ positioning of themselves as virtuous through physical props, concern over material things’ power over people, and, finally, how Morris could stand in for George Washington as a model for the most famous sculpture of the first president. It can be hard work to study material artifacts; it takes patience and training (just like learning to draw evidence from different types of documents), but the pay-off is great.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
JVH: I fell in love with the artifacts made and used in early America in graduate school. Getting a master’s degree in the Winterthur Program at the University of Delaware (WPEAC) and having the chance to explore the unbelievable collections at Winterthur Museum sold me on material culture and the study of the past. Material artifacts are like time capsules that we can open in the present. The people who made them and who used them left their hopes and fears, their opinions and world views, in plain sight just waiting for someone to come along and take the time to look closely. And I’m really pleased that some of the artifacts I first encountered in graduate school appear in the book. I have been thinking about them for a long time!
JF: What is your next project?
JVH: My next project examines the role enslaved African Americans played as producers, viewers, and destroyers of portraits in the eighteenth and nineteenth-century plantation South. The book recovers the actions of enslaved people on both sides of the canvas: as laborers who ground pigments in painters’ studios and as enslaved domestic workers who stared upon slave holders’ portraits and formed their own creative understandings of these artworks. In particular, looking at portraits that include representations of enslaved people illuminates how these likenesses functioned differently for various audiences, white and black; paintings allowed some viewers to re-assert slaves’ status as property and enabled others to affirm enslaved people’s humanity. Following the interrelationship between African Americans and art into the Civil War, I consider the importance portraiture held for freedmen and women who engaged in acts of iconoclasm—destroying and repurposing former masters’ paintings—and of patronage as they commissioned portraits themselves. Overall, the book uncovers enslaved people’s acts of artistic resistance.
JF: Thanks, Jennifer!
Zara 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 blog “Age of Revolutions” has published a very informative forum on the eighteenth-century meaning of the Second Amendment. Check out essays by Bryan Banks, Robert Churchill, Andrew Fagal, and Eliga Gould.
Here is a taste of Gould’s wrap-up piece: “Bordering on the Frivolous?: The Right to Bear Arms Yesterday and Today.”
As I read the stimulating essays in this forum by Robert Churchill, Andrew Fagal, and Noah Shusterman, my thoughts kept turning to the late Antonin Scalia’s opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the landmark case in which five of the Supreme Court’s nine justices affirmed an individual right to bear arms. In particular, one phrase stood out: “bordering on the frivolous.” For anyone who hasn’t read the opinion, this is how the famously combative justice dealt with the proposition “that only those arms in existence in the 18th century are protected by the Second Amendment.” “We do not interpret constitutional rights that way,” explained Scalia. Case closed.
But history is rarely so clear cut. As this forum reminds us, the right to bear arms during the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was quite different from what it is today. The most obvious difference was technological, which is the subject of Andrew Fagal’s excellent contribution. In 1791, the year that the Second Amendment was ratified — and a year before Joseph Gaston Chambers first pitched the idea of a repeating gun to the U.S. War Department — the typical firearm was a muzzle-loaded flintlock. When the bore was smooth, muskets could be loaded and discharged up to three times a minute, but they were notoriously inaccurate. Rifles had the opposite problem. Although projectiles fired from grooved bores could kill and maim across great distances, friction from the rifling made reloading a laborious, time-consuming process. No wonder that inventors and entrepreneurs saw such potential in guns like Chambers’ multi-barreled musket. It is also unsurprising, though, that their schemes repeatedly failed. For the Second Amendment’s framers, the idea of a firearm that could discharge twenty rounds a minute was just that: an idea.
Because of these limitations, eighteenth-century guns were most effective when fired collectively in mass volleys, something only a regular army or well-regulated militia could consistently do. Although John Locke did not have much to say about bearing arms, pro or con, this may be one reason why the English philosopher was so untroubled — as Robert Churchill perceptively observes — about the possibility that giving the people a right to change their government would allow malcontents to foment civil unrest. Having lived through both of England’s seventeenth-century revolutions, Locke had seen how vulnerable the Stuarts were to armed resistance. But in an era when guns were cumbersome to use, using them effectively required training and discipline that only a government body could provide. Even in New England, where armed citizens took the lead in resisting the king’s soldiers in 1775, the Minutemen who fought at Concord’s North Bridge and Bunker Hill were organized, trained and, often, equipped by town governments. The danger of a lone shooter making his own law was a danger that neither Locke nor the authors of the Second Amendment had to worry about. Only with the perfection of multi-chambered rifles and pistols, most famously by Samuel Colt during the 1830s and 1840s, did firearms become a truly lethal form of personal empowerment.
Read the entire post here.
Emma Hart is Professor of History at University of St. Andrews. This interview is based on the paperback release of her new book, Building Charleston: Town and Society in the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic World (University of Virginia Press, 2015).
JF: What led you to write Building Charleston?
EH: I often get asked this question as many Americans wonder how a British person ended up writing a book about Charleston. Like many first books, this started off as my PhD dissertation. I went to graduate school with the intention of researching the artisan economy in early American cities. My supervisor alerted me to the fact that both Charleston and Newport had received the least attention from historians. I decided to visit Charleston first, and never made it Newport. Coming from the UK, the combination of palmetto trees and Palladian architecture was really striking and, as I soon realized, symbolic of so many of the dissonances in Charleston’s long and eventful history. Even as I finished the PhD thesis, however, I realized that the people I was looking at were part of a larger group of white townspeople, who all used their labor, and that of their enslaved Africans, to accummulate wealth and property in the city. Building Charleston became a story about these men and women who were neither planters, enslaved field workers, nor plain folk, yet still made a major contribution to the character of colonial South Carolina. I also came to feel like a cheerleader for Charleston, which was often overlooked by historians as an important colonial city in favor of Boston, Philadelphia, and New York, even though it grew almost as fast as these northern towns.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Building Charleston?
EH: In the eighteenth century Charleston was not merely a vehicle of South Carolina’s plantation economy, but rather was a fully functioning participant in the creation of a British Atlantic urban world. Among other things the growing city fostered the emergence of a middling class of people, who strongly shaped urban culture, politics, and economics, in ways that made the place look very similar to contemporary cities in provincial Britain.
JF: Why do we need to read Building Charleston?
EH: I hope that readers will come away with a new outlook on how important towns were to British America’s plantation societies during the colonial era. Like Kingston, Jamaica, and Bridgetown, Barbados, Charleston was a dynamic city, whose economy brought wealth to a distinct sector of society. What is more, enslaved African people were often foundational to these urban wealth-creation activities. For example, enslaved carpenters and bricklayers were instrumental in the speculative building craze that gathered pace after Charleston’s major fire of 1740. Owned by white builders, such people saw none of the profits, however, which lined the pockets of their masters who used this wealth and property as the basis of a middling social status. Thus, the story of America’s entrepreneurial middle class starts in the eighteenth century, and is as much a southern story as it is a northern one. What is more, slavery was right there at the inception. The important role of urban society in shaping South Carolina society at this time also reminds us that we shouldn’t read the state’s archetypal antebellum southern character back to the eighteenth century as it wasn’t always so. There was a time in the eighteenth century that Charleston’s importance gave the region a much more urban quality, and townspeople even challenged the authority of the plantation elite.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
EH: I decided to become a historian when I was only 13 years old – I had a very dynamic history teacher at school who persuaded me pretty early on that my future lay in the past! When I got to university I started to do more eighteenth century history, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I liked the rambunctious nature of eighteenth century society, which is embodied in so many of William Hogarth’s pictures. When I got the opportunity to do a special topic on Revolutionary America, I knew I’d found my historical home – early America was not only more rowdy than Europe, it was also a society that grew incredibly quickly, and incorporated so many contradictions of slavery and freedom, success and failure, and violence and refinement. Once I’d decided to commit myself to an academic career by starting a PhD, there was no question about which field I’d study.
JF: What is your next project?
EH: I’m working on a history of marketing in early America, tentatively titled Trading Spaces: The Early Modern Marketplace and the Creation of the American Economy. The research continues my fascination with how humans interact with space and landscape in past societies. I’m trying to unearth the places, customs, and institutions that characterized ordinary peoples’ daily trading practices. American historians have usually portrayed “the market” as an ideological abstraction. However, the majority of early modern people encountered the market as a physical space entangled in local social and economic relationships. I think that it is only by investigating the early American market place on these terms can we grasp the foundational role of the colonial era in the long-term formation of an American market economy.
JF: Thanks, Emma!
Honor Sachs is Assistant Professor of History at Western Carolina University. This interview is based on her new book, Home Rule: Households, Manhood, and National Expansion on the Eighteenth-Century Kentucky Frontier (Yale University Press, 2015).
JF: What led you to write Home Rule?
|(Maryland State Highway Administration)|
I can’t resist these kinds of stories.
The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment is here for the low, low price of $451.00. From what I can tell, Mark Spencer has edited an amazing research tool for students of American history. It is now time for all of us to get our academic libraries to purchase a copy.
I contributed an essay on Philip Vickers Fithian to this volume. I may have written other entires, but I just can’t remember. I will have to wait for the “See Inside” feature on Amazon to find out.
Here is the description:
The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of the American Enlightenment is the first reference work on this key subject in early American history. With over 500 original essays on key American Enlightenment figures, it provides a comprehensive account to complement the intense scholarly activity that has recently centered on the European Enlightenment.
With substantial and original essays on the major American Enlightenment figures, including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, David Rittenhouse, Benjamin Rush, Jonathan Edwards and many others, this wide-ranging collection includes topical essays and entries on dozens of often-overlooked secondary figures.
It has long been known that Americans made their own contributions to the Enlightenment, most notably by putting Enlightenment ideas to work in defining the American Revolution, the United States Constitution, and the nature of the early American Republic. These volumes show that the American Enlightenment was more far reaching than even that story assumes. Presenting a fresh definition of the Enlightenment in America, this remarkable work confirms that the American Enlightenment constitutes the central framework for understanding the development of American history between c.1720 and c. 1820.
I really enjoyed engaging with Rivka Maizlish‘s recent post at U.S. Intellectual History, “Rethinking the Head-Heart Dichotomy in American History.” I especially appreciated the way she used Thomas Jefferson as a window into the way so-called “men of reason” in early America spent a lot of time wrestling with their passions. Drawing on the work of Nicole Eustace in Passion is the Gale, Maizlish urges historians to “unsettle their categories of reason, emotion, and Enlightenment.” Here is a taste:
As longtime readers of this blog know, these are issues that I used to think about a lot (and continue to think about, although not as much) when I was writing The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America. In that book I tried to explore the way Presbyterian evangelicals embraced the Enlightenment and how one particular Presbyterian (Fithian) tried to balance Presbyterian sobriety, evangelical passion, romantic love, homesickness, cosmopolitan ambitions, the pursuit of gentility and an “enlightened life.”
I finally made it to my Messiah College mailbox today after some time on vacation and was pleased to find a copy of Jonathan Yeager’s Early Evangelicalism: A Reader (Oxford, 2013). Yeager has put together a wonderful collection of eighteenth-century sources related to the rise of evangelicalism in the Atlantic world. Scholars who are teaching courses in American evangelicalism or religious history will find this book invaluable. It is the only book of its kind.
The book includes documents written by Isaac Watts, Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, Jonathan Dickinson, George Whitefield, John Wesley, Howell Harris, Charles Wesley, Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Finley, Hannah Heaton, Nathan Cole, William McCulloch, Sarah Pierpont Edwards, James Robe, Thomas Prince, Susanna Anthony, Thomas Gillespie, Philip Doddridge, John Cennick, David Brainerd, Benjamin Ingham, Joseph Bellamy, Hugh Kennedy, John Witherspoon, Jonathan Edwards, Sarah Prince Gill, John Maclaurin, Sarah Osborn, James Hervey, Esther Edwards Burr, Samuel Davies, Anne Steele, Eleazar Wheelock, Henry Venn, John Newton, William Romaine, John Erskine, Mary Fletcher, John William Fletcher, William Williams, Samson Occom, Isaac Backus, Phillis Wheatley, Samuel Hopkins, John Newton, John Ryland Jr., Henry Alline, Andrew Fuller, Charles Nisbet, Thomas Clarkson, Hannah More, Olaudah Equiano, Francis Asbury, Thomas Coke, William Carey, Samuel Hopkins, Timothy Dwight, Richard Allen, Charles Simeon, William Wilberforce, Lemuel Hanyes, and Jedidah Morse.
Yeager offers short introductions to each document and a more extensive introduction to the entire volume.
I am already thinking about how I will use this book. Yeager’s collection is so comprehensive that he might convince scholars to design entire courses around the book rather than trying to fit reader into already existing courses.