Johann Neem appointed co-editor of *The Journal of the Early Republic*

If you read The Way of Improvement Leads Home regularly you know the work of Johann Neem. Listen to our conversation about the meaning of college in Episode 54 of the podcast. Read our posts featuring Neem’s work here.

I am glad to see the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR) appoint Neem as the new co-editor of The Journal of the Early Republic.

Here is co-editor Andrew Shankman:

Dear SHEAR friends,

I’m writing to let you know about some changes at the JER. When David Waldstreicher and I formed our partnership as co-editors, David’s plan was to get things off to a good start and help me and the rest of our editorial team with his considerable experience as a journal editor.  David’s planned stint will be coming to an end on November 1 and he will be stepping down as Co-Editor.  David put his book on Phillis Wheatly on hold when SHEAR and the journal really needed him, and over the past three years I’ve benefitted enormously from seeing his process and editorial integrity up close.  Working with David, our editorial team has been able to maintain the high standards of excellent scholarship that we inherited from our predecessors.  David has been a leader in articulating a vision for the journal that ensures that it reflects the true diversity of the field while paying closer attention to the conversation between past and present historiographies.  Two examples especially stand out, which David saw through to publication: the recent forum “Africa in the Early Republic and the Early Republic in Africa” and the essay by Harvey R. Neptune, “Throwin’ Scholarly Shade: Eric Williams in the New Histories of Capitalism and Slavery,” which is one of the most downloaded pieces the JER has ever published.  Together, in their expansiveness of vision and geographical conception, as well as their engagement with conversation across scholarly generations, these two pieces exemplify what David has been all about as Co-Editor. I take great pleasure in having this opportunity to express my tremendous gratitude to David for generously volunteering his time and for his devotion to helping and mentoring the scholars who entrusted their work to the JER.

David’s departure provides us with the opportunity to welcome a new co-editor, and with great delight and excitement it’s my pleasure to announce that, with his appointment by President Greenberg and the SHEAR Advisory Council, Johann Neem will be joining the JER editorial team as co-editor with me beginning on January 1, 2021.  Johann is well known to many of us as a devoted and conscientious SHEAR citizen and member of the JER editorial board.  He is both a prolific scholar and a thoughtful public intellectual whose publications include Creating a Nation of Joiners: Democracy and Civil Society in Early National Massachusetts, Democracy’s Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America, and, as co-editor with Joanne B. Freeman, Jeffersonians in Power: The Rhetoric of Opposition Meets the Realities of Governing as well as What’s the Point of College: Seeking Purpose in an Age of Reform.  Johann reads widely, deeply, and thoughtfully and has for years provided those submitting to the JER some of the most valuable readers reports our authors have received.  The journal and its authors will benefit enormously from Johann’s erudition, kindness, and boundless intellectual curiosity and generosity, and it is a true pleasure to welcome him to our editorial team.

Andrew Shankman

Co-Editor, Journal of the Early Republic

Who are these members of SHEAR who “support the idea that white supremacists actually have a legitimate argument?” I don’t think we have met.

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Some of you who read this blog are familiar with the controversy going on in the Society for the History of the Early American Republic (SHEAR). You can get up to speed with these posts. We also interviewed Dan Feller in Episode 72 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

On July 24, 2020, SHEAR’s official website, The Panorama, published Johann Neem’s piece “And/Or: Reflections on SHEAR’s Plenary.”  Here is a taste of that post:

Instead of “and,” “or” was all over the plenary session on Jackson and the immediate Twitter response. The panel revolved around a paper offered by Daniel Feller, director of the Papers of Andrew Jackson, contesting both Trump’s claim to the Jacksonian legacy, as well as what Feller considers the “cartoon version” of Jackson offered by recent historians. When I first read Feller’s pre-circulated paper for the SHEAR plenary, I was intrigued. It felt important to assess Jackson, the founder of the Democratic party, the longtime inspiration for its egalitarian commitments, who has fallen from grace because of his racist ideas and actions, and is now Donald Trump’s favored president. It seemed like a good choice for a broad public discussion.

Unfortunately, Feller seemed to be in an “or” mode. And in response, Twitter exploded with “or.” “Or” is most useful to bring sharp distinctions into relief, to cut the past analytically in ways that make rendering judgment easier. I have often used “or” in my writings, especially when I want to draw attention to contrasts. “Or” is a powerful tool to divide or categorize, but it can hide complexity. Often, it lacks humility.

“And” was missing from the conversation. Maybe this reflects our current cultural mood. We desire certainty and want people to be on our team. Perhaps we seek perfection in our heroes and want our villains to be purely terrible. Perhaps the contradictions we find in people like Jackson reflect his failings. But maybe, just maybe, our unwillingness to understand the past in terms of “and” reflects a failing on our part too. As Emerson said, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

I am not defending Jackson. If anything, I must confess, and it is a bit embarrassing, but I kind of like the Whigs. The Whig party was, in our terms, more progressive on issues of gender and race. And Whigs’ vision of freedom emphasized cultivating human capabilities through collective institutions, from the family to civil society to the state.

But the Whigs were never just this, or else the left would have turned to the Whigs for their inspiration. They didn’t. To those who became Democrats, Jackson and his supporters offered a vision of egalitarian democracy that Whigs supposedly lacked. That is why left-leaning historians of labor and education have tended to side with the Democracy. The Democrats were the party of the working class who resisted the expansion of capitalism, historians argued. And the Democrats challenged the nativism, anti-Catholicism, and social control efforts of Whig philanthropy, including the Whigs’ vision of common schooling. Andyet Democrats were also the party most committed to upholding white supremacy.

There is nothing wrong with Feller wanting to defend Jackson and his legacy. At his best, Feller asked us to think seriously about historical context and to look beyond rhetoric to the specifics of Jacksonian policy.  But it was also true, as critics pointed out, that Feller’s paper and remarks did not engage meaningfully with the specific arguments made in recent scholarship critical about Jackson. The panel would have been stronger if these perspectives had been represented by including, for example, an expert in indigenous history. But Feller urged us to remember the Jackson who, in the Bank War, challenged an economic and political system favoring the few over the many. We historians must contend honestly with that Jackson too.

It can be hard to find the space and patience for “and” during these fraught times. With all that is happening in our country and around the world, there are days when I want to stake a position and hold it against all challengers. I want to know who’s with me. Sometimes I mistake this for solidarity. But maybe it’s my Whig sensibilities that remind me how fragile institutions like SHEAR are, and how much they depend on our collective will to sustain them over time. I think that doing so requires all of us—myself included—to be more open to “and.” And not just for the people we study; we among the living also contain multitudes. Do I contradict myself? I can’t help it. I have contradictory impulses. I only know so much. My intellect is limited. I make mistakes. I may need your forgiveness.

As historians, we have the opportunity to help one another and our students, readers, and listeners make sense of “and.” Because I have been coming to SHEAR for years, I know many of you, and I know that when we sit down to talk, we understand “and.” We are not “and” users or “or” users. We’re both.

I was glad to see The Panorama publish Neem’s post. The piece asks us to remember the historian’s task and it calls for honest and fair debate among those trained in the discipline.

But after I read Dawn Peterson’s and Laurel Clark Shire’s recent piece at Panorama, I wonder if Neem’s commitment to “AND” is really possible. Peterson and Shire were two of the historians Feller criticized in his plenary paper. They write:

On July 17, 2020, the Society for the History of the Early American Republic (SHEAR) held a plenary session online in lieu of the cancelled annual conference. The speaker was University of Tennessee professor Daniel Feller, the editor of Andrew Jackson’s papers. The plenary, based on a pre-circulated essay, was a debacle. By giving an apologist for slavery and Indian removal a large platform, SHEAR highlighted ongoing weaknesses both within the society and in the historical profession writ large regarding the histories of African American and Indigenous people, and of race and white supremacy more broadly.

The claim that Dan Feller is an “apologist for slavery and Indian removal” seems to be little more than a smear on the character of a fellow historian. There was nothing in Feller’s paper, the Q&A session that followed, or in my long podcast interview with Feller to suggest that he is an “apologist for slavery and Indian removal.”

Peterson and Shire continue:

Feller’s defensiveness was evident from the start. During the session, he excoriated journalists and historians for misrepresenting Jackson as a “hardcore racist” and the originator of “Indian genocide.” He dismissed scholarly interrogations of Jackson’s policies as being part of a politically motivated campaign to decry Donald Trump, who claims Jackson as a personal hero and inspiration. The essay demonstrated a stubborn refusal to engage scholarship by Indigenous and African American historians or even by other scholars of their histories. Instead, he misrepresented and caricatured recent work on Jackson—most of it by women historians—as he excused and defended Andrew Jackson’s policies. During the Q&A session, he refused to address Jackson’s slaveholding (lack of time, he said) and, at the end of the plenary, he even spoke aloud, and then repeated, a racist slur. Feller’s arguments were directly contradicted by respondent David Waldstreicher, which we and many others appreciate. Yet the speaker’s essay and its delivery, combined with the senior, all-white panel of respondents, indicated that SHEAR had failed to ensure that this panel would represent its own policies on diversity, equity, and inclusion. As we are two of the people whose scholarship Feller mocked, the editor of ThePanorama asked us if we would like to respond, and we do so here.

I have said this before, but the argument Feller made in his paper was well within the bounds of historical debate. I wish Feller would have been more hospitable to the voices of other scholars. Much of what he said was tainted by his use of a racial slur. Moreover, this session may not have been the best choice of panels to put forth as the face of the organization. (Feller acknowledges all of this in my podcast interview). But there was nothing about the content of the paper that merits the attacks he is receiving.

Feller was familiar with Peterson’s and Shire’s work. He cited them in the paper. Perhaps he should have engaged with them more because their work is important. So is the work of the scholars they cite in the footnotes of The Panorama piece. Personally, I have learned a lot from their scholarship and I have tried to use my platform to amplify their voices and arguments. In August 2016, I interviewed Shire as part of this blog’s Author’s Corner series. Many of the scholars mentioned in the footnotes have also appeared as part of this series. Julie Reed, the author of Serving the Nation: Cherokee Sovereignty and Social Welfare, 1800-1907, and a former colleague of Feller at the University of Tennessee, was our guest on Episode 46 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. In the end, Feller read Peterson’s and Shire’s work and found it wanting on several points. His differences were based on his reading of the sources.

Shire and Peterson write:

Andrew Jackson was not only a racist, but was also a person who made his career, his money, and his reputation on his steadfast commitment to racial slavery and genocide. He held some 150 people in bondage, separated kin on the auction block, and profited from the trade in human beings. He sent U.S. troops into sovereign Indian nations and ordered them to execute the residents of entire villages. He also advocated for and directed the forced eviction of thousands of Indigenous people from their lands, a removal that was carried out with violence and had terrible immediate and long-term human costs. Many respected historians of that policy note that if Indian removal had happened in the twentieth century we would recognize it as an “ethnic cleansing.”Historians also recognize that the eviction of Native peoples cleared the way for the expansion of slavery in the early republic, an economic boon for the white families of Jacksonian America, and one that expanded and perpetuated Black servitude. All of these things are historical truths acknowledged long before Trump occupied the White House.

I think Dan Feller would agree with everything in this paragraph.

These truths are not under dispute, not even by longstanding defenders of Jackson. Instead, Jackson’s apologists diminish their significance in light of what they consider to be Jackson’s other “accomplishments” in U.S. political and economic history. When historians write of Jackson as a white supremacist, defenders question the integrity of that research, arguing that it either ungenerously judges this historical figure by “presentist” standards or finding ways to undermine decolonizing methodologies or the documentary record writ large.

I am not sure anyone is trying to diminish Jackson’s racism. Also, one can still teach in a way that calls attention to Jackson’s political and economic policies without necessary calling them “accomplishments.” Do any of us really teach Jackson solely in terms of his views on slavery and Indian removal? If we say something in class about Jackson’s populism, appeal to immigrant workers in the North, his role in the Nullification Crisis, his “Kitchen Cabinet,” or his efforts to crush the National Bank, do we automatically “diminish the significance” of Jackson’s white supremacy, slavery, and treatment of  Indians?

Nicholas Guyatt is a historian for whom I have much respect, but I just don’t understand this tweet he posted in response to my podcast interview:

 

Did Jackson’s slaveholding and Indian removal play a “crucial role in creating the cotton belt?” Of course. I don’t think anyone would argue with the distinguished Cambridge professor on this point. But his tweet makes me wonder if Guyatt (and other critics of this so-called “triad”) has ever taught the U.S. survey course. What would a middle school or high school teacher say about this tweet as they try to cover all the stuff about Jackson included in their state social studies standards? What about an AP U.S. History teacher who needs to prepare students for the AP exam? As someone who graded these exams for seven years, I can attest to the fact that students will need to know things about the bank crisis, nullification crisis, and Jackson’s appeal in the North. Apart from the fact that it reduces Jackson’s life to merely one category of analysis, Guyatt’s attack on the “old triad” is impractical. It is disconnected from the work of American history teachers in the trenches.

Shire and Peterson write:

When a scholar makes racist comments, or tries to normalize white supremacy in the past, or displays clear sexism (or ableism, or homophobia), treating these comments as legitimate opinions to be debated makes it seem as if they are reasonable and must be engaged with. When people choose to respectfully debate racism it preserves “white comfort” at the expense of people of color and other marginalized groups. For a historian to claim that Indian removal and slavery were “overstated distractions” or “details we don’t have time for” was alienating and hostile to scholars of Indigenous and African American descent. It appeared that, with one exception, the goal of the panel assembled by SHEAR was to keep things “civil” as the speaker tacitly acknowledged the harms done to people of color as unfortunate, necessary evils along the way to American democracy. As Indigenous studies scholars have repeatedly argued, this call to “civility” stages white supremacy as both normal and legitimate and makes any refusal to support it beyond the pale of legitimate engagement or “civilization.”

Rather than supporting “both sides” approaches we urge SHEAR to no longer amplify histories that justify racism and violence and instead prioritize and emphasize the work of scholars committed to equity, particularly that of scholars of color. Giving historians who seek to defend white supremacy platforms equal to (or, often times, even greater than) those who highlight the individual and collective resilience of those targeted by the colonial state supports the idea that white supremacists actually have a legitimate argument. If SHEAR, for example, was committed to exploring Donald Trump’s fascination with Jackson—as was the stated intention—then why not create a plenary session with scholars who could speak to that in the context of both men’s devastating policies toward Black and Indigenous communities and the political mobilizations that arose and strengthened as a result?

Again, this seems unfair. It implies that Feller said that Indian Removal and slavery were “overstated distractions” and “details we don’t have time for.” Feller never said any of this. Peterson and Shire ask SHEAR to reject a “both sides” approach that gives voice to the work of historians who “amplify histories that justify racism and violence.” Who are these members of SHEAR? Are there really members of this esteemed organization of early Americanists who “support the idea that white supremacists actually have a legitimate argument?” Is SHEAR going to build its case for moral purity on such a straw man?

One final word. I have received several responses to my podcast interview with Feller. Most of them have accused me of not criticizing Feller or going too easy on him. Guilty as charged!! Anyone who wants to see how scholars are criticizing Feller can read Twitter and the official statements from SHEAR. My goal in the podcast was to let Feller tell his side of the story. That, after all, is what historians do. We try to listen to multiple perspectives of a particular event and draw our own conclusions. I hope Shire and Peterson will listen to that interview.

Was Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal policy genocidal?

Indian Removal

Some of you have been following the Dan Feller controversy at SHEAR. Get up to speed with Episode 72 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. You can also read my posts on this controversy here.

After Feller delivered his paper “Andrew Jackson in the Age of Trump,” Feller was criticized for saying that the word “genocide” should not be used to describe Jackson’s policy of Indian removal. Over at The Panorama, the blog of The Journal of the Early Republic (SHEAR’s official academic journal), University of Oregon historian Jeffrey Ostler provides a thoughtful discussion of this issue.

Here is a taste of his piece “Was Indian Removal Genocidal?”:

In his paper, “Andrew Jackson in the Age of Trump,” the centerpiece of the much-discussed SHEAR2020 plenary session, Daniel Feller dismissed the perspective that Andrew Jackson’s “Indian removal policy was deliberately vicious and inhuman, if not overtly genocidal.” Several historians, commenting on Twitter, pushed back against Feller’s contention, claiming that Indian removal was indeed a genocidal policy. Interestingly, however, most recent scholarship on Indian removal, while supporting the view that the policy was vicious and inhuman, has not addressed the question of genocide. Historians have indicted the policy as “ethnic cleansing,” a serious allegation since ethnic cleansing is a crime against humanity under current international law. They have also called for replacing “removal” with terms like “expulsion” and “deportation” on the theory that these terms more accurately convey the coerciveness of the policy. But specialists have not argued that the policy was genocidal. Was it?

Addressing this question requires considering the intent of Indian removal and its consequences. The stated intention of the policy was the opposite of genocide—to save Native people from an otherwise inevitable extinction. Speaking before Congress, President Jackson asserted that instead of “utter annihilation” should Indians remain in the East, removal “kindly offers . . . a new home.”2 To the extent that U.S. presidents are capable of inflicting catastrophic destruction while claiming to be benevolent, however, we should be cautious about accepting Jackson’s claims at face value. A more realistic assessment of the policy’s intentions requires an evaluation of its consequences and Jackson’s response to these consequences.

Read the rest here.

Episode 72: Andrew Jackson, Donald Trump, and the Upending of SHEAR

Podcast

In this episode we talk with Daniel Feller, the editor of The Papers of Andrew Jackson at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. We discuss his work as a documentary editor, the uses of Andrew Jackson in the age of Trump, and a controversial paper he recently delivered at the annual meeting of the Society for the Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR).

You can also listen at your favorite podcatcher, including Apple Podcasts.

*The New York Times* covers the “clash of the historians” at SHEAR

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Jennifer Schuessler has written a fair report on what happened last weekend during (and following) the Society for Historians of the Early Republic (SHEAR) ZOOM panel titled “Andrew Jackson in the Age of Trump.”

Schuessler quotes from the second blog post I wrote about the session and its aftermath. (I did not speak with her). I also invite you to read my initial response to the panel here. I am returning to the topic now because my message boxes are starting to fill again.

Anyone who has followed the SHEAR controversy will be familiar with much of Schuessler’s piece, but she has also done some additional reporting, including an interview with Dan Feller.

Here is a taste:

In an interview, Mr. Feller, 69, a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, said it wasn’t the historian’s job to defend or condemn. What he questioned, he said, was the insistence on seeing Jackson purely as someone “who just wanted to kill everybody,” as well as what he sees as a politicized approach to writing history.

“The point in the paper is not that Andrew Jackson is a good guy or a bad guy,” Mr. Feller, who called himself a lifelong Democrat, said. “But because both sides have identified him with Trump, for opposite reasons, we are now reading Jackson through the lens of Trump.”

And he was unapologetic about the panel, which he noted had been approved by the society’s programming committee and Mr. Egerton last fall, as one of 39 at a planned conference. (The others have been postponed until next summer.) The paper had been circulated weeks in advance, he said, adding that he had received no criticism before the panel.

As for his use of the phrase “redcoats and redskins,” he said it was a reference to a common phrase in older scholarship, and had “implied quotation marks” around it. “I have never volitionally used the word ‘redskin’ in my life, period,” he said.

Read the entire piece here.

After reading Schuessler’s piece, re-reading Feller’s paper (including a close reading of the footnotes), and listening to the Q&A for the third time, I honestly don’t see why what happened at this session merited the removal of the SHEAR president and such a backlash.

  1. I did not see Feller trying to defend Jackson, as some have accused him of doing. It seemed like he was trying to understand him, which is what historians are supposed to do. As Feller writes, “The point in the paper is not that Andrew Jackson is a good guy or a bad guy….”
  2. For example, Jackson was indeed a white supremacist. But isn’t it possible that Jackson understood the status of Lyncoya differently than he did his Black slaves? Is it wrong for a historian to suggest this kind of complexity? If such nuance existed in Jackson’s mind, then shouldn’t the historian call attention to it? Or are such arguments now out of bounds?
  3. If Feller doesn’t believe that Jackson’s Indian Removal was “genocide,” should such a view result in a public condemnation by the SHEAR Advisory Council, the SHEAR Nominating Committee, or the SHEAR Program Committee? Isn’t this a matter of interpretation?
  4. If Feller argues that Jackson’s use of the word “pet” to describe Lyncoya is more complicated than what a few younger scholars have suggested, does that merit the kind of trash talking directed at him on Twitter and the public shaming of the man? I imagine that the public shaming will be a lot worse now that The New York Times has covered this.
  5. Was Feller dismissive of younger scholars and women scholars? Well, he was certainly hard on them. But he also disagreed with their interpretations. It appears that he read the work of these scholars and found them wanting. Where then do we draw the line between “disagree” and “dismiss?” If Feller had disagreed with these scholars more politely would that have been okay? Or is Feller being condemned simply because he disagrees with female and junior scholars? If the latter is the case, then I see this as a problem. If we are trying to find out what is true about Andrew Jackson, and the leading authority on the subject has a different opinion than junior scholars, shouldn’t his views be taken seriously?
  6. Of course it is also essential for senior scholars to treat other people–especially junior members of the field– fairly and respectfully. If members of SHEAR feel marginalized we should take their voices seriously and listen. As a white male, I have learned a lot of hard lessons on this front, especially in my own academic institution. Indeed, SHEAR has always been an old boys network. This needs to change and it is changing. Feller was a lot harder on younger scholars than I would have been, but I am not sure that this rises to the level of demonizing him and ousting the organization’s president.
  7. In my opinion, the entire point of historical scholarship is to make an argument based on the rigorous reading of the evidence. Historians will disagree on how to read such evidence. Sometimes newer scholars will challenge long-established scholarly orthodoxy and in the process give us a better understanding of what happened in the past. But just because an argument is new doesn’t mean we have to automatically accept it. Of course many who believe that scholarship should always be progressing onward and upward, leaving all older interpretations behind in a manner that C.S. Lewis described as “chronological snobbery,” will disagree with me here. And that’s OK. But let’s debate and exchange ideas instead of turning out the mob. As Johann Neem wrote yesterday, we need more and and a little less or.
  8. Of course any such debate must take place with charity and a sense of intellectual hospitality. This is a lesson for Feller, Twitterstorians, the SHEAR leadership, and all of us in the academic profession.
  9. Feller told Jennifer Schuessler that the use of a racial slur at the end of the Q&A was meant with “implied quotation marks.” This is what it sounded like to me as well. Those final couple of minutes were very confusing, but I will once again refer to the last paragraph of Andy Shankman’s response to the plenary session. It seems that both Feller and Harry Watson were familiar with this phrase and were using it in their discussion of the “slaughtering” of British soldiers (“redcoats”) at the Battle of New Orleans. Feller was trying to make a point about Jackson as a general in the War of 1812. He only used this phrase because he thought one of the panelists had said it earlier.

As some of you know, I have also written on Trump’s use of Jackson, particularly in the context of white evangelical support for Trump in 2016.

This then leads me to the quotation that Schuessler pulled from the blog:

The SHEAR debacle has very little to do with history and a whole lot to do about politics. This is why many Americans–including the thousands of people I engage with on a daily basis– don’t trust us and our scholarship.

On the first sentence of the quote:

As I noted above, it seems as if SHEAR has decided that certain approaches to historical scholarship are unacceptable. Current president Amy Greenberg is quoted in the piece. She says that Feller’s paper does not representative SHEAR’s “standards of scholarship.” I am surprised by this. I thought Feller’s paper was an excellent piece of scholarship. Of course it is SHEAR’s prerogative to draw its own boundaries, but this seems like political censorship to me.

A quick word about my use of “political” here.  All historical scholarship is political. I will be the first to argue that our social and cultural location in the present shapes how we view the past.  As David Novick reminded us several decades ago, “objectivity” is a “noble dream.”

But when I said that this was all “about politics” I was talking about SHEAR as a professional organization. In any professional organization, those in power decide what arguments are acceptable and unacceptable. Since every member of the Advisory Board, Nominating Board, and Program Committee agreed on the decision to condemn Feller and oust Doug Egerton, and I have heard privately from dozens of SHEAR members who disagree with one or both of these decisions, it tells me that this was a political power play, whether the leadership of SHEAR understands it that way or not.

CORRECTION (July 28, 2020): It has come to my attention that the Advisory Council of SHEAR never took a position on condemning Feller and has not done so.  Moreover, the Ex Officio (and voting) members of the Advisory Council did not sign the letter calling for Egerton’s ouster. This latter point is explained in a statement from current SHEAR president Amy Greenberg).

And now on to the last line of the quote.

I have spent much of my career trying to bridge the gap between the work of professional historians and the public. I spend a lot of time talking to history teachers. I also train 7-12th grade history teachers.

I also speak and write to evangelical Christians, a group with a long history of anti-intellectualism that desperately needs to think more deeply about American history as it relates to race, gender, and the relationship between church and state. (For example, if you read this blog, you know I have been working hard to teach my audience that systemic racism is a real thing). The number of negative messages I received from SHEAR members and other scholars this week pales in comparison to the number of e-mails I get each week from those who attack me from the Right or question my religious faith.

When I started this blog I made a commitment to entering the fray. As I wrote at The Panorama in late 2019, this kind of work is not for the faint of heart. I’d like to think I have remained consistent in my convictions throughout it all. Or at least I have tried.

I got into this mess (or as Frank Cogliano and David Silkenat called it “SHEAR MADNESS“) because at least ten of my readers asked me to comment and help them make sense of what was going on. They watched it all unfold on Twitter and were left with many questions about Andrew Jackson, Trump’s use of Jackson, slavery, public discourse, and the nature of the historical profession. Many of my readers love history and think it is important, but they come from all political stripes. A lot of them–liberals and conservatives– don’t trust academics because they seem to sing only one political note.

Finally, let’s put things in perspective. Let’s remember that while SHEAR is cleaning house and marking boundaries, there are millions of people deciding right now whether they will pull a lever for Donald Trump in November. They are listening to the very bad historical arguments about “Making America Great Again” emanating every day from their car radios and computer screens. They are having history-based debates with their families and friends. They are trying to make sense of the American founding and how it relates to our current political moment. They want to know what to say at a town hall meeting devoted to tearing down a monument or renaming a school. They are trying to use history to build community in the places where they live, work, and have their being.

There are K-12 teachers who need help trying to figure out what to do with the 1619 Project, how to talk to parents about what should and should not be happening in a history classroom, or how to start a conversation with students about race in America. Some are just trying to defend the study of history against school boards intent on giving it short shrift in the curriculum.

There are parents asking about what kind of materials to use as they try to teach history to kids who may not be going back to school in the Fall due to COVID-19. They want to know if there are one or two books they can read that will help them.

While some historians are on Twitter bashing Dan Feller, there are history professors standing face-to-face with white supremacists at Civil War battle sites trying to convince them the war was about slavery. Others are fighting for their professional lives because their administrations are cutting tenured faculty.

I know these people exist because they have reached-out to me (or I have reached-out to them) in one way or another over the course of the last few months. As an educator–both in the classroom, the church, and online–I have worked hard to build their trust.

I hope those who remain in SHEAR will strive to develop a professional society that celebrates diversity, lifts up the voices of  junior scholars and graduate students, respects the work of seasoned members of the profession, embraces honest debate and conversation, and tries to reach as many people as possible with good early American history.

 

When an organization of historians (SHEAR) abandons historical perspective

Congressional Pugilists Painting; Congressional Pugilists Art Print for sale

“I respect your work, but I disagree with what you wrote about the SHEAR plenary session.”

I have received several e-mails and tweets of this nature over the past 48 hours. (Here I am writing to the folks who actually wanted to have a conversation about this).

So now let me give this a try with the SHEAR advisory and nominating committee:

“I respect your work, but I disagree about the way you have handled this entire Dan Feller mess.”

Let me begin by saying that I am not progressive by temperament. For example, when it comes to monuments, I prefer to take a little time to think about which ones should go and which ones should stay. I would rather see monuments removed through official channels after conversations with historians and other experts. These conversations should take a little time.

So needless to say, I was really surprised how quickly SHEAR moved to remove Douglas Egerton from the presidency.  Egerton, one of our best historians of the African American experience in the early republic, admitted that he made some mistakes with this “plenary.” But were these mistakes enough to oust him from office in less than 72 hours?

SHEAR is an organization of historians. Where was the prudence that we value in our work as historians? Where was the detached perspective that historians bring to the human experience? (I admit that I was probably guilty of this as well. As I have told many of you privately in our e-mail exchanges, I stand by my original piece but I might have changed my tone in a few places). When did we start to treat Twitter as kind of political poll?

The SHEAR debacle has very little to do with history and a whole lot to do about politics. This is why many Americans–including the thousands of people I engage with on a daily basis– don’t trust us and our scholarship.

SHEAR calls for its president to resign (and some thoughts on today’s Twitter mob)

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There are now multiple calls for historian Doug Egerton to resign as president of The Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR)By the time you read this he may already be gone.

Here is a July 19, 2020 letter from the voting members of the SHEAR Advisory Council:

The digital plenary on Friday, July 17, 2020, violated the ethical norms, academic standards, and established procedures of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. The SHEAR Advisory Council deeply regrets and sincerely apologizes for these failures.

These failures included the president’s lack of full consultation with relevant elected and appointed committees during the planning of the session and neglect of procedures that encourage a diverse set of participants at all SHEAR panels.

We are therefore recommending that Douglas Egerton resign as President and step down from the Executive Committee, and that President-Elect Amy Greenberg step in as President. In consultation with the Nominations Committee, the remaining members of the Executive Committee should then proceed immediately with this year’s elections.

We also wish to strongly endorse and co-sign a letter sent to SHEAR leadership and signed by a group of concerned SHEAR members (see below). It represents the outpouring of communications we have received over the weekend. SHEAR is the collective creation of its members and we are grateful for the letter writers who created this statement.

Although this moment is difficult, this incident has served to strengthen our resolve to foreground diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism as core tenets of our professional work and to build an organization that properly reflects the diversity that is a hallmark of 21st century historical research. New leadership is essential to move SHEAR forward and we invite our membership to participate actively in this process. In the meantime, the Council will meet with the remaining members of the Executive Committee to discuss further steps.

Sincerely,

Susan Branson, 2018-2020                            

Kevin Butterfield, 2020-2022                         

Jonathan Earle, 2018-2020                            

Nicole Eustace, 2018-2020                            

Leslie Harris, 2020-2022                                 

Ronald Angelo Johnson, 2020-2022              

Jessica Lepler, 2019-2021                              

Caleb McDaniel, 2019-2021                           

Margot Minardi, 2020-2022                             

Amanda B. Moniz, 2018-2020                        

Sarah J. Purcell, 2019-2021                           

Daniel Richter, 2020-2022                              

Tamara Plakins Thornton, 2019-2021            

Attached to this letter on the H-Net e-mail list (where I saw it) was a July 17 letter. It reads:

We are writing as long time members of and boosters for the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic to express our outrage at the plenary panel on Friday, July 17.

The online plenary offered an opportunity to showcase the broad and diverse membership that SHEAR has been working to cultivate, and which President Doug Egerton referenced in his opening remarks. Unfortunately, the panel provided just the opposite. The collection of scholars who were part of the panel featured a lack of intellectual diversity, a lack of career stage diversity, and most importantly, a lack of racial and ethnic diversity. Indeed, the panel did not even follow SHEAR’s own guidelines for panels, which advise that “the best panels have a mix of presenters—by gender, graduate students and professors of different ranks, racial diversity, people from a range  of institutions, non-academic presenters, people who haven’t appeared on a SHEAR program before or in a while, and people who don’t all live within the city limits of one university town.”

The result of this lack of diversity, which surely could have been anticipated, was evident immediately as none of the panelists could speak to the most pressing issues raised by the paper in question, such as Indigenous dispossession, monuments, and the role of junior, independent, and contingent scholars in engaging with the public. The narrowness of the discussion, combined with the dismissiveness of journalists and their work, does a disservice to historians who are working hard to reach audiences outside of universities and work with public-facing partners.

Moreover, the panel offered the opportunity to showcase much of the new and exciting work being produced by SHEAR members, and instead featured a paper that caricatured this scholarship rather than offering a fair critique. This is the antithesis of the scholarly engagement and intergenerational mentorship that SHEAR prides itself on providing at its annual conferences, and it works against longstanding efforts to welcome various voices into our organization.

Most egregiously, a panelist repeatedly referred to Native peoples with a racial slur. No panel participants stopped the use of this word nor did they say anything in response to this racist and offensive language. We hope that SHEAR will issue a public acknowledgement and condemnation of this language immediately and will work to repair the significant damage this behavior has done to the SHEAR community and to others who observed the session. The health of this organization depends on it.

Signed,

Whitney Martinko

Rachel Sheldon

Kelly Kennington

Joseph M. Adelman

Seth Rockman

Bronwen Everill

Adam Malka

Ryan Quintana

Hilary Green

Michael Blaakman 

Emily Conroy-Krutz

M. Scott Heerman

Adam Pratt

Zara Anishanslin

Richard Bell 

Cassandra Good

Ben Wright

Derek Litvak

Kristen Epps

Honor Sachs

Paul J. Polgar

Christina Snyder

Jacob F. Lee

Nathaniel C. Green

Mandy L. Cooper

John P. Bowes

Gautham Rao

Julia Lewandoski

Dael A. Norwood

Elizabeth Ellis

Rachel Walker

Lori J. Daggar

Emilie Connolly

Andrew Shankman

Kevin Kenny

Daniel Diez Couch

Al Zuercher Reichardt

As most of you know, I wrote a post in support of the session in question. You can read it here. I was critical of the use of an ethnic slur during the Q&A, I thought there should have been more diversity on the panel, and I was critical of Feller’s claims that other scholars were incompetent. But that was not enough for many folks on Twitter.

I appreciate some of the push-back on Twitter and I also want to thank all of you who have e-mailed and messaged today with support. I still stand by what I wrote and I am saddened to see SHEAR make this move. I have heard today from people on the left, right, and center who supported the post. I can assure you that what you have seen on Twitter over the last 48 hours does not represent all SHEAR members or all members of the historical profession.

A few final thoughts:

I realized today just how tyrannical the Twitter mob can be. Over the course of the day I have seen tweets that have mocked my integrity as a historian and human being. The college where I work and have devoted 18 years of my career has been attacked. My intellect was questioned and my politics misrepresented. Some of the folks doing the damage were people with whom I thought I had a friendly acquaintance.

Twitter is a rough and nasty place and I realized today that it is not good for my soul. I guess the silver lining in all of this is that I had the chance to look in the mirror today. I saw a lot of myself in the tweets–the anger and vitriol I level against those with whom I disagree. I realized my own potential for using a reasonably large number of Twitter followers to summon the mob, cast judgment, squelch opinion, and monitor boundaries. It was not a pleasant sight. So, for the moment, I think I need to take a break from looking at Twitter.

As I noted in my post, I have been a fellow-traveler with SHEAR for over two decades. I have always enjoyed the meetings I have attended. So I am sorry it all turned-out this way.

And now for some logistical issues for those of you read the blog and could care less about SHEAR or these academic squabbles. (In other words, most of my readers). I will continue in my commitment to use social media to reach the general public who are interested in content at the intersection of American history, religion, and politics. My posts here on The Way of Improvement Leads Home will still go to Twitter, and I will continue to write what I believe is true. But for the time being, I will not be interacting or answering messages via Twitter. If you want to reach out to me, please do it by e-mail. The same goes for my public page on Facebook. I deleted both apps from my phone.

 

Thoughts on Daniel Feller’s plenary address at SHEAR 2020

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I finally got around to watching Daniel Feller‘s lecture on Andrew Jackson in the age of Trump at this year’s virtual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. You can watch it here and decide what you think about it. (You can also watch it here). Several of you have now asked me to comment.

Historians on Twitter are very upset about the session. There seem to be four related criticisms. First, many are angry because Feller failed to say more about Jackson’s racism, especially as related to Indian removal. One key issue was Feller’s refusal to describe the Indian removal as “genocide.” Second, some are angry that SHEAR did not invite younger scholars–especially those who study race and Native American history–to participate in the session. Such scholars, they argue, would have brought more complexity and diversity to this scholarly debate. Third, Feller took some shots at other historians. Fourth, Feller used a racial slur during the Q&A session.

You can read their takes at #SHEAR2020.

The participants were:

Daniel Feller, Director of The Papers of Andrew Jackson at the University of Tennessee

David Waldstreicher, City University of New York

Jeanne Heidler, U.S. Air Force Academy

David Heidler, U.S. Air Force Academy

Harry Watson, University of North Carolina

Jessica Lepler, University of New Hampshire

Thoughts:

  • I loved the session. Feller made a forceful argument. I thought the session was a model of what good academic debate should look like. As someone who has been teaching Andrew Jackson at the survey and upper-division level for twenty years, and also wrote about Trump’s use of Jackson in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, I learned a great deal from Feller’s paper. The commentators made me think in different ways about Jackson and his comparison to Donald Trump. I want to thank SHEAR for hosting it.
  • On Feller’s use of the racial slur that was formerly associated with Washington’s NFL team, I agree with Journal of the Early Republic editor Andrew Shankman’s take. Shankman writes: “We all encounter this language in our sources.  We all struggle with how to bring students and colleagues to this work without normalizing and prolonging categories and terms that have justified, and continue to justify, violence and contempt, and that seek to deny full and equal membership in a loving community.  In my view, knowing that many people feel pain when they hear words that force them to recall wrongs done to them and those they cherish, and to recall them not at a time of their own choosing, is reason never to use such words.” I will leave it there.
  • There are several historians who offered useful criticism of Feller on Twitter. This is good. For example, I learned a lot from Becky Goetz’s long twitter thread and I jotted down a few titles for future reading. This is historical twitter at its best. (Although I also felt that Goetz was asking Feller to do a lot in a short paper).
  • On the other hand,  if you want to see how the historical profession deals with legitimate scholars who have dissenting views, read the tweets at #SHEAR2020. It’s not pretty.
  • There are some historians who attack SHEAR for simply allowing Feller to speak. They are calling his lecture a “disaster” and a “debacle.” Let’s remember that Feller is no slouch. He has spent his entire life studying Andrew Jackson. But some seem to suggest that his views are so out of bounds that they do not belong in the Society of Historians of the Early American Republic. Others are “disappointed” in SHEAR. Disappointed? I wish there were more sessions like this. I thought it raised some great questions about historical method and how to balance the usefulness of the past with the notion that the past is a “foreign country.” (I actually wrote about this earlier today). I might use this in class.
  • Some historians on Twitter are saying that Feller does not give credit to younger scholars working on Jackson, race, and Indian removal. This is true. SHEAR should have brought some of these younger scholars into the conversation. This was a failure on their part. It is possible that Feller has read the scholarship of younger academics and simply does not find it compelling. There is nothing wrong with this. But let’s have some of these other scholars present to debate.
  • Many historians are questioning whether or not they will continue their membership in SHEAR because Feller was permitted to speak. If I were a member of SHEAR (I let my membership lapse years ago, but still occasionally attend the conference and write for the Panorama when asked) I would consider dropping my membership based on how Feller was treated by some SHEAR members on Twitter. (For the record, I have never met or corresponded with Feller). Of course we should feel free to disagree with Feller and express that on social media. I didn’t agree with some things he said either. But this cancel culture has to stop. Feller is no David Barton or Howard Zinn–writers who use the past for the sole purpose of promoting political agendas.
  • As I mentioned above, only about one-third of Feller’s presentation dealt with Indian removal. I know that race is an important topic right now, and it deserves the attention it is getting in the wake of the George Floyd murder and the ongoing discussion on monuments, but there are other categories of analysis. Feller made this point during the Q&A and I think he is correct. I appreciated Feller’s attempt to situate Jackson’s Indian removal policy within his entire presidency and point out that this moment was not the only thing that defined him. Also, this paper was about Trump’s use of Jackson. It was not a scholarly paper on Indian removal. The argument that more scholars of native American history should have been invited is fair, but it only goes so far since Feller’s paper was not devoted exclusively to Indian removal.
  • Feller’s criticism of Joyce Chaplin went too far when he suggested that she was incompetent. It also seemed to be a shot at “cosmopolitan” Cambridge from the Knoxville backcountry–a very Jacksonian move. On the other hand, if the editor of the Papers of Andrew Jackson criticizes a historian who is not a Jackson scholar we should probably not dismiss such criticism out of hand.
  • Historian Doug Egerton, the president of SHEAR, responded to the criticism of the panel with this letter. I thought it was a fair letter.

 

Early American Historians on the Opinion Page

Yoni

Yoni Appelbaum, Senior Editor at The Atlantic

Yesterday I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts to participate in a session at the annual meeting of the Society for the History of the Early American Republic devoted to historical writing for popular venues.  The session was titled “Early America on the Opinion Page: Writing Historically-Minded Pieces for Contemporary Audiences.”  (Thanks to Caitlin Fitz of Northwestern University for organizing the event).

I was honored to sit on a roundtable with the following historians:

Jill Lepore (Harvard University and The New Yorker)

Yoni Appelbaum (Senior Editor at The Atlantic)

Erica Armstrong Dunbar (Rutgers University and National Book Award finalist)

Gautham Rao (American University)

Lepore, who chaired the session, asked each participant to send her the first few paragraphs of a recent op-ed piece.  She pasted these excerpts into a document and distributed it to the standing-room only crowd.   I chose a piece I wrote last year for The Atlantic. Each member of the roundtable took fifteen minutes to talk about the history behind the piece and offer insights into their own experiences with op-ed and other forms of public writing.

Many of the participants talked about the risks involved in writing for the public in a social media age.  Several of the panelists have received death threats for their public writing. I talked about the difficulty in bringing complexity and nuance to opinion pieces.  My favorite response came from Appelbaum, who encouraged the audience to find a community of friends and family who love and affirm their work in the midst of the inevitable criticism that comes when we write for the public. It was the first time I have ever heard the word “love” invoked in this way at a secular academic history conference.

Lepore and Rao had a really interesting exchange about book reviewing in popular venues.  Rao (a fellow Mets fan by the way!) lamented the fact that magazines and newspapers often choose non-academics or non-historians to review important history books.  Lepore disagreed.  She thought it was a very good idea that non-academics and non-historians reviewed these books because such reviewers are free from the politics of the academy and the historical profession.

Rao responded to the exchange on Twitter:

Lepore ended the session with some advice of her own:

1. “Drive Responsibly”:  Bring your best work and your deep commitment to civic responsibility to the public sphere.  If you don’t write well or make weak arguments you weaken all of our reputations as historians.

2. “Be brave, but don’t be shi..y”

3. “Delight your reader”

And then there was moment.

My Favorite Moment From the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Society of the History of the Early American Republic (SHEAR)

Yesterday I was part of a panel of early American historians who write op-eds and other public pieces for public consumption.  The panel included Jill Lepore, Erica Dunbar, Yoni Appelbaum, and Grantham Rao. I will blog about this panel later today, but I thought I would share an exchange that occurred during the session:

Me (during my presentation):  “I am an evangelical Christian.”  (This was relevant because I was talking about an op-ed I wrote about Trump in The Atlantic).

Audience member during Q&A, speaking to the standing-only crowd: “I think it is worth noting here that we have a real live evangelical in our midst.”

Me:  “Yes–and after the session I will be outside in a cage so you can all examine me more fully.”  (Yes, I can get a bit snarky).

Audience: Awkward laughter.

Jill Lepore (addressing the aforementioned audience member): I’m gonna stop you right there. This is not a session about John or his faith, it is about writing op-eds for public audiences.

Thanks, Jill.

I also appreciate all of the evangelicals and people of other Christian faiths who came up to me after the session and offered words of encouragement for my work.

More later.

SHEAR 2019

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On July 17, 2019 I will be in Cambridge, Massachusetts to attend the annual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic.  You can check out the program here.

I will be part of a roundtable titled “Early American History on the Opinion Page: Writing Historically-Minded Pieces for Contemporary Media.”  Jill Lepore (Harvard) will be presiding and my fellow panelists are Yoni Appelbaum (The Atlantic), Erica Armstrong Dunbar (Rutgers), and Gautham Rao (American University).

Here are a few other panels that caught my eye:

  • A “Presidential Plenary” on the United States in the wake of revolution that includes Annette Gordon-Reed, Frank Cogliano, Sarah Pearsall, Kathleen DuVal, and Rob Parkinson
  • A session on Federalist New York that includes a paper on Angelical (Schuyler) Church by Tom Cutterham
  • A session on religious disestablishment that features Jonathan Den Hartog, Brian Franklin, Rebecca Brenner, Elise Neal, and Johann Neem.
  • A session on the scholarship of the late Jan Lewis that includes talks by Carolyn Eastman, Peter Onuf, David Waldstreicher, and Nicole Eustace.
  • A session on “singular careers” in the new nation that includes papers by Seth Perry on Lorenzo Dow’s “eccentricity,” Steve Bullock on Parson Weems, and Jennifer Brady on “dramatic reading.”
  • A session on Joanne Freeman’s new book The Field of Blood.
  • A session on teaching “major topics to non-history students.”
  • A roundtable on politics in the 1790s that includes Rosemarie Zagarri, Sara Georgini, and Barbara Oberg.
  • A session on “telling the republic’s founding story in its moments of peril” that includes Seth Cotlar, Rob Parkinson, Honor Sachs, and Serena Zabin.
  • A session titled “Religiously Remembering the American Revolution” featuring Kate Carte, Tara Strauch, Adam Jortner, and J.L. Tomlin.

See you in Boston!

I’m Headed to SHEAR This Year!

SHEAR logo

That is the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic.  It will be good to go back.  I haven’t been to SHEAR in close to a decade!  Here is my panel.  Thanks to Caitlin Fitz for the invite.

Roundtable: Early America on the Opinion Page – Writing Historically-Minded Pieces for Contemporary Media 

Chair:
Jill Lepore,  Harvard University/The New Yorker

Comments:
(Audience)

Panelists:

Yoni Appelbaum, The Atlantic

Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Rutgers University

John Fea, Messiah College

Gautham Rao, American University 

See you in Boston in July!

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

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

Here is a taste:

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

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

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

Read the entire interview here.

Andrew Shankman and David Walstreicher Take the Helm at the *Journal of the Early Republic*

JERMark Cheathem reports at “The Republic Blog”:

We are pleased to introduce the new co-editors of the Journal of the Early Republic, following the excellent leadership of retiring editor, Cathy KellyAndrew Shankman of Rutgers University-Camden and David Waldstreicher of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York will assume the editorship of the journal at the conclusion of SHEAR’s annual meeting in July 2018.

Andrew Shankman is a historian of the American Revolution and founding era, and author of Original Intents: Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and the American Founding (2017) and Crucible of American Democracy: The Struggle to Fuse Egalitarianism and Capitalism in Jeffersonian Pennsylvania (2004). He edited Anglicizing America: Empire, Revolution, Republic (2015) and The World of the Revolutionary American Republic: Land, Labor and the Conflict for a Continent (2014).

David Waldstreicher is a historian of early and nineteenth-century America, and author of Slavery’s Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification (2009); Runaway America: Benjamin Franklin, Slavery and the American Revolution (2004); and In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism, 1776-1820 (1997). As editor, his books include A Companion to John Adams and John Quincy Adams (2013), A Companion to Benjamin Franklin (2011), and The Struggle Against Slavery: A History in Documents (2001). He also served as co-editor of the Journal of the Early Republic from 2013 to 2014.

Read the rest here.

 

Jane Kamensky Talks John Singleton Copley

KamenskyCheck out Mark Cheathem‘s interview with Harvard historian Jane Kamensky.  She talks about her award-winning book A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley.

Here is a taste:

For those who haven’t read your book, would you please provide a synopsis?

Jane Kamensky (JK): A Revolution in Color tells an off-kilter story of British America in the age of the American Revolution through the biography of the New England-born painter John Singleton Copley. Born on the eve of King George’s War, Copley came of age in a thoroughly British Boston, with streets named Queen and King, and book stores and coffee houses touting the latest news from London. He identified thoroughly with an imperial imaginary, dreaming of a world in color an ocean away. When Boston grew heated over taxes in the 1760s, he identified as a Son of British Liberty, and hoped for a return of the status quo ante. He painted men and women on all sides of the conflict–Paul Revere and Thomas Gage, Samuel Adams and Francis Bernard–who doubtless gave him an earful while they sat for their portraits. But when shouting turned to shooting, he, like Melville’s Bartleby, simply preferred not to. Copley’s life and work make visible, literally visible, the viewpoints of that large group of early Americans whose preferred side in Britain’s American War was neither. As Yeats would say of another revolutionary conflict more than a century later, he thought “the worst [were] full of passionate intensity.” He himself lacked political conviction, focusing his own intensity on art and family strategy rather than matters of nation or party. His rise and fall show both the terrors of revolutionary fervor, and the costs of passivity in an age where people insisted on forging their own destinies. Like the Revolution itself, it’s a very ambivalent story.

I would venture to say that many Americans have never heard of John Singleton Copley. What led you to choose him as the subject for this book?

JK: If they haven’t heard of Copley, they’ve seen his work. His Paul Revere is surely the second most famous face of revolutionary America, and we see a version of it every time we hoist a bottle of Sam Adams lager. And of course, Bostonians know Copley as written into the very landscape of the city: Copley Square, the Fairmont Copley Hotel, Copley T station. But the irony is, Copley’s life doesn’t support his use in contemporary culture, which follows a kind of New England nationalism. That gap was interesting to me. Plus, the evidence is very rich: in addition to his dazzling painted work, Copley and his kin left hundreds of letters, which is true for very few artists. Those letters allowed a muddled, middling character to emerge from the swirl of events in the age of revolution. Like a Copley portrait, he’s a well mottled character. We have too few of those in the literature of revolutionary heroes and villains.

Read the rest at The Republic Blog

 

How NOT To Write Your Second Book

how-not-to-write-your-second-book-logoThe Junto blog is running a series of posts on this topic featuring some excellent historians. The posts stem from a roundtable presented at the 2017 meeting of the Society for the History of the Early Republic.  It was organized by Emily Controy-Krutz and Jessica Lepler.

Here is a taste of the Conroy-Krutz and Lepler’s introduction to the series:

How do you start a new book that’s on a wildly different topic from your last book? Or written in a different style? And how do you write a book while teaching new preps and serving on committees? What if you’re also raising kids and caring for aging family members? If a book could be articles, shouldit be articles? In a packed conference room on a hot Saturday in July, five incredibly generous, funny, and thoughtful scholars shared their tips and tricks for “How Not to Write Your Second Book,” and the laughter and nods around the room suggested that the comments, questions, and conversation spoke to concerns that are widely shared among mid-career scholars and that had sparked the creation of the SHEAR Second-Book Writers’ Workshop (2BWW).

Read the entire roundtable here.

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

Miranda

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

Here is the announcement from the SHEAR website:

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

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

See you in New Haven this July!

Joanne B. Freeman and Brian Murphy

SHEAR Has a Blog!

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

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

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

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

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

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