The Author’s Corner with Joseph Adelman

AdelmanJoseph Adelman is Associate Professor of History at Framingham State University in Framingham, Massachusetts.  This interview is base don his new book, Revolutionary Networks: The Business and Politics of Printing the News, 1763-1789 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019.

JF; What led you to write Revolutionary Networks?

JAThe book sits at the confluence of life and professional experiences that have shaped my thinking for several decades. I’ve long been interested in the American Revolution and in particular the politics of rebellion—how and why the “thirteen colonies” (and only those) decided to form a new nation. Second, between college and graduate school I worked for two years as the communications director for a New York state assemblyman. The work fascinated me, but because I was leaning towards becoming a historian, I often found myself stepping back from my day-to-day responsibilities to think about how various processes and structures of both politics and the media interacted and influenced what happened. So when I came to considering a research topic, I wanted to apply the questions I have about contemporary media to understand how the business of media intersected with politics during the era of the Revolution.

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

JADuring the American Revolution, printers—artisans who worked with their hands at the press and also engaged in intellectual labor of editing and publishing—shaped political debate through the business practices of their trade. From the networks that printers developed across the colonies and around the Atlantic world to individual editorial decisions made in a single printing office, Revolutionary Networks shows how printers navigated a wide range of political and commercial environments to attempt to run successful businesses and also make an impact on the content of political debate.

JF: Why do we need to read Revolutionary Networks?

JAWe often assume that the news media were important during the American Revolution, and in fact many historians who have produced great scholarship on the Revolution require that to be true in order for their arguments to work. But very few have asked how the process of news creation worked—Revolutionary Networks fills that gap. It may seem like a narrow point at first, but what the book tries to document at a really close-in level is that those details matter a great deal. It changes our understanding of the politics surrounding the American Revolution that these artisans were making choices every day about what news to publish, where to situate it in context with other stories, whether to revise or amend the text they received, and so on. What appears on the surface to be a clear articulation of a political position instead is the result of a decisions and negotiations that focused not only on the beliefs of a text’s author but also—and in fact often more so—on the political perspective and business interests of the printer/editor who published the material.

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

JAI’ve been fascinated by history in general and the American Revolution in particular since I was in elementary school—as memory has it, my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Deuel, gave me a book about the Revolution and it was off to the races. But I decided I wanted to pursue a career as a historian around my sophomore year in college as I immersed myself in scholarly readings. I talked about it with a few of my professors, who cautioned me that it was a difficult path in some ways but offered lots of flexibility (this was around 2000, well before the academic jobs crisis, and came from a privileged undergraduate institution). After the two years with the New York State legislature, I knew I wanted to get a Ph.D. to answer the call to write and teach about the past.

JF: What is your next project?

JAOne of the key institutions that made the printing trade function was the Post Office, and the key player in that entity was Benjamin Franklin. I’ve wanted to do a project that focuses a bit more on Franklin and I’m fascinated by the contradictions in the Post Office’s development—people saw it as a government institution but it has always functioned in many ways as a profit-seeking business. So I’m now writing a history of the post office in early America and the Atlantic world.

JF: Thanks, Joe!

The Author’s Corner with Brook Poston

james monroe a republican championBrook Poston is Associate Professor of History at Steven F. Austin State University. This interview is based on his new book, James Monroe, A Republican Champion (University Press of Florida, 2019).

JF: What led  you to write James Monroe?

BP: Monroe was right in the thick of every major event during the first half century of American history, yet he is probably the least well known of the major American founders. Also, because his career began during the Revolutionary era and ended in 1825, the study of his life offers a window into two different generations of American political figures. I also liked that Monroe wanted to be remembered alongside the Washington, Jefferson, and Madison but was never quite able to match their accomplishments. It makes him a little more relatable, more human.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of James Monroe?

BP: Monroe attempted to craft a legacy for himself as a champion of an American style of republicanism (dedicated to the protection of liberty) by helping to secure it within the United States and spread it overseas. Monroe tried to secure republicanism at home by purchasing Louisiana, fighting the British during the War of 1812, and acquiring Florida, but his true passion was spreading republican ideals abroad which he tried to do during both the French and Latin American revolutions, culminating with his famous Monroe Doctrine which he hoped would secure his own legacy as a champion of republicanism.

JF: Why should we read James Monroe?

BP: This work changes our understanding of Monroe and his era in some important ways. Because of his experience during the American Revolution and his subsequent apprenticeship to Thomas Jefferson, Monroe came to believe that the creation and hopeful spread of American republicanism was arguably the most important cause in human history. This mindset helps explain Monroe’s position on the French Revolution, which he saw as analogous to the American Revolution. As the American minister to France during the 1790s Monroe tried to build a lasting alliance between the two nations in defense of republicanism. When the Federalists rejected the French Revolution and President Washington dismissed Monroe as his minister in Paris, Monroe saw it as a major defeat for the republican movement. After Jefferson’s election in 1800, Monroe shifted his focus to securing his own political career and republicanism at home. This helped guide his decision making as he purchased the Louisiana territory, negotiated the Monroe-Pinkney Treaty, and helped fight the British during the War of 1812. Nevertheless, the memory of the lost opportunity in France stuck with Monroe as that country drifted away from republicanism under Napoleon. By the time Monroe reached the nation’s highest office in 1817, republican revolutions were breaking out all over Latin America and Monroe saw it as a chance to correct the mistakes the U.S. made during the French Revolution. Monroe therefore saw his doctrine not primarily as a tool to promote American hegemony in the western hemisphere but as part of the ongoing battle between republicanism and monarchy.

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

BP: Like many college history majors I decided to go to law school after undergrad. I enjoyed certain aspects of the law but I was unsure about a legal career as I finished up my time at the University of Kansas. Luckily a KU law professor named Michael Hoeflich convinced me that it wasn’t crazy to want to get a PhD in history after I graduated from law school. A year of practicing law drove home the fact that I didn’t want to be a lawyer for the rest of my life and I ended up going back to history and finding a new, and far more satisfying, career.

JF: What is your next project?

BP: I plan to write another Monroe book, this time on his relationships with Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, the Adams’s, and Jackson. This project will look at Monroe’s interactions with these men through the lens of the rise, fall, and rebirth of American political parties.

JF: Thanks, Brook!

Revolutionary-Era Political Satirists Make Saturday Night Live Look Tame

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Over at History New Network, Andrew Wehrman, a historian at Central Michigan University, discusses the role of political satire in the 1760s and 1770s.

Here is a taste:

The cartoon-like representations of Donald Trump and his advisors Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and perhaps especially Steve Bannon on Saturday Night live point to a crisis of constitutional authority perhaps not seen in American popular culture since America’s first constitutional crisis during the tense decade prior to the American Revolution. Americans have developed a familiarity with the President’s advisors — their characters, agendas, and foibles — similar to the way in which Americans made sense of Great Britain’s policies prior to the Revolution. Saturday Night Live’s depictions of Trump’s narcissistic know-nothingness, Sean Spicer’s weaponized podium, Conway’s “alternative facts,” Ivanka Trump’s complicity, Jared Kushner’s speechless power-grab, and, of course, Steve Bannon’s ominously skeletal grim reaper, harken back to early fears that constitutional checks and balances do not protect a nation from nefarious advisors, ministers, family members, and interlopers.

While the policies, issues, and people differ greatly, these representations echo with the ways in which political satirists in the 1760s and 1770s warned colonial Americans of an impending constitutional crisis. Just as Americans point at Steve Bannon’s influence for the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement or the “Travel Ban,” colonials did not initially rail against King George directly, but rather his ministers, especially the dark, sinister, and now largely forgotten Earl of Bute.

Read the rest here.

 

The Author’s Corner with Michael Rapport

the-unruly-city.jpgMichael 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!

Some Historical Perspective on the “Right to Bear Arms”

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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.[1]  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.

Do You Know About the Adverts 250 Project?

hebberd

Carl Robert Keyes of Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts is running a very impressive project on advertising in eighteenth-century America called The Adverts 250 Project.

Here is what it is all about:

The Adverts 250 Project explores the history of advertising in eighteenth-century America.  It features a daily image of an advertisement published in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago that week.  Brief commentary accompanies each advertisement.

Daily updates are supplemented with longer posts that analyze individual advertisements in greater detail, highlight other marketing items from the period, or examine issues related to research and accessibility of historical sources.

In other words, Keyes posts an ad from a historical newspaper and places it in historical context.  For example, today Keyes posted an ad from the January 17, 1766 issue of the New London Gazette from a man named Robert Hebbard who no longer wants to be responsible for his runaway wife.

The ad reads:

“Whereas my Wife Joanna Hebbard, hath for some time past Eloped from me, and gone into some Parts of the Colony of Connecticut; There are therefore to warn and forbid all Persons whatsoever trusting, trading, ordealing with the said Joanna; hereby declaring that I will never pay any such Debt contracted by her. –Robert Hebbard.

Read Keyes’s analysis of this ad here.

Read the Revolution

By Megan Piette

The Museum of the American Revolution is offering an exciting new twist on digital history. Through a free bi-weekly email, Read the Revolution sends its subscribers excerpts from highlighted books on the American Revolution. Featuring a variety of genres and levels of reading, Read the Revolution pulls thought-provoking sections from books such as George Washington’s Secret Six, Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation, and Memoir of a Revolutionary Soldier, and discusses a range of topics from “The American Mind” to “A War of Personal Liberation” and “Taking Charge”. Here is a taste of the latest excerpt from Glatthaar and Martin’s Forgotten Allies: The Oneida Indians and the American Revolution:

“Full-scale rebellion pulled the Oneidas in various directions. Most felt at least a pragmatic attachment to the position of the [British] superintendent, who distributed goods to them, advised them, and communicated for them with the powerful king of England. As a counterweight of major proportions, [missionary Samuel] Kirkland had won the hearts of many Oneidas during his nine years among them. Everyone knew he favored the patriotic cause.”

Potters Tavern Will Open to the Public

In chapter six of The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America I wrote about the revolutionary Presbyterians from Cumberland County, New Jersey who congregated at Potter’s Tavern in Bridgeton. These young patriots published The Plain Dealer, a series of essays on topics related to politics, morals, and social life in rural southern New Jersey.  The Plain Dealer was only available in the tavern and, as I argued, was part of a rural “public sphere” whose participants were influential in precipitating political resistance to the Crown in this region.

I had the chance to tour Potter’s Tavern during my research for the book, so I was glad to hear that the Cumberland County Historical Society will be opening it to visitors during July.  Here is the announcement:

Devotees of Revolutionary era New Jersey history will be happy to learn that one spot sacred to both patriotic history and the history of free speech and press, Potter’s Tavern in Bridgeton, will be open on the Fourth of July and on every Sunday afternoon for the rest of the month.
Located in what was then called Cohansey Bridge, Potter’s Tavern was a popular meeting place just before the Revolution due to its proximity to the Cumberland County Courthouse. For several months between December 1775 and February 1776, Matthew Potter posted a manuscript newspaper called The Plain Dealer at his Tavern. Although it voiced opinions pro and con the British, it is remembered as a patriotic voice against Crown rule, making the tavern keeper a hero of the Revolution. Some of the leading citizens who wrote articles included Dr. Jonathan Elmer, Dr. Lewis Howell, Richard Howell and Joseph Bloomfield. The latter two eventually became governors of the State of New Jersey.
This original 18th-century frame structure, carefully restored at its original site on the Broad Street hill facing the Courthouse, is listed on the National Register and owned and operated by the Cumberland County Historical Society. July opening hours (1-4 PM) will be staffed largely by Society volunteers. Contact and other information can be found at www.cchistsoc.org

Revolutionary-Era Stone Wall Discovered in New York City

Workers in New York City have unearthed another remnant of the 18th century.  This time it is a six-foot wall from a building that probably belonged to the Van Cortlandts or the Van Tienhovens.  Here is a taste of the story from DNAinfo.com:

The 6-foot-long wall, found seven feet under the ground in front of 40 Fulton St., was likely part of an 18th-century building that may have belonged to the Van Cortlandts or the Van Tienhovens, two influential early New York families who both owned property in the area, according to Alyssa Loorya, the archaeologist who is documenting the find.

The wall was later buried in landfill when Fulton Street was extended toward the East River.

The discovery of the wall follows several major finds last year in front of 40 Fulton St., near the corner of Pearl Street, including two wells and more than 5,000 artifacts from the turn of the 19th century, from a bone toothbrush to a copper half-penny.

“It’s rare to see so many [preserved] structures in one area of Lower Manhattan,” Loorya said Tuesday. “Despite all the utility interference, there are these remnants that are coming together. It gives us a snapshot of what the area looked like.”

Loorya first spotted a piece of the fieldstone and sandstone wall on Monday, as she monitored the Department of Design and Construction’s excavation of the area to install new water mains.

The 18th-century stones had a different texture and shape from the surrounding rubble, and after some careful digging, the entire 6-foot-long section was exposed. The wall is nearly 3 feet thick and 3 feet tall, though it was likely much taller originally, Loorya said.

How To Get Rid of Your Minister–American Revolution-Style

Over at Boston 1775, J.L. Bell is in the midst of a short series of posts on how, in April 1775, the patriot majority in the town of Groton, MA tried to get rid of their loyalist minister, Samuel Dana, and replace him with a more patriot-friendly clegyman.  Here is a taste:

According to historian Caleb Butler, local tradition held that at some point, probably after war began at Lexington and Concord, “the inhabitants were so enraged, that they shot bullets into Mr. Dana’s house, to the great danger of his life and the lives of his family.” Nevertheless, the minister didn’t leave town and seek the protection of the British army in Boston. 

I have never heard of another case where the local patriots fired bullets into the home of a Loyalist minister, but we do know that many of these pro-British ministers, especially in 1775 and 1776, were often driven out of their parishes by force and intimidation.

Get the entire story here.

Hitting the Colonial and Revolutionary Road

Ever since I read Douglas Brinkley’s The Majic Bus, An American Odyssey, I have wanted to the hit the historical road–preferably the colonial and revolutionary America road–with some of my college students or perhaps some Messiah College alumni.

At Messiah College our students have the option of taking a “cross-cultural” course in which they spend three weeks in another country or culture, but I am imagining that an extended trip back to the culture of eighteenth-century America would not meet the parameters for this course. (Although I am certainly willing to try to make the pitch!)

I was reminded of this longstanding entry on my so-called “bucket list” after reading Jim Cullen’s field trip to Massachusetts with his high school students.  They are visiting the Salem Witch Museum, the Salem Custom House (featured in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter), Lexington and Concord, Walden Pond, Faneuil Hall, Bunker Hill, and the site of the Boston Massacre.  What a great trip.

I could imagine an east coast tour with students during May that would hit as many colonial and revolutionary-era sites as possible–from Boston to Charleston.  In addition to the traditional stops such as the Boston Freedom Trail or historical Philadelphia we could also hit less popular places such as the site of the Greenwich Tea Burning (Greenwich, NJ), the Ephrata Cloister (Ephrata, PA), or the Brandywine Battlefield. We would have lectures and readings along the way. 

Who’s with me?

Such a trip would probably be expensive and filled with logistical hurdles, but it would also be a life-changing educational experience for students. I am sure it would be a highlight of my professional career as well.

Have you ever taken or led such an American history trip?  If so, I would like to hear from you. Feel free to share in the comments section.