Big History: Weighing the Benefits and Drawbacks of a Comparative Project

Casey Schmitt is a PhD candidate in History at the College of William & Mary, where she is writing a dissertation on the Iberian roots of seventeenth-century Anglo-American slave law. This is her second guest post, following her first on the value of storytelling and the use of audiobook primary sources in the classroom here.

barbadosmapA little over a year ago, I switched research interests from the study of eighteenth-century contraband trade between Jamaica and Cartagena de Indias to a comparative study of the codification of slave law in the greater Caribbean. Admittedly not too drastic of a change, I was nonetheless daunted by moving from a historiography containing a select number of significant works to a field where innumerable scholars have dedicated entire careers. Like any graduate student, I began working through the library stacks here at the College of William and Mary, seeking answers to what I thought would be easy questions: Were the legal regimes of European slave societies shaped by their interactions with other slave societies in the Caribbean? Were English slaveholding practices modeled off of successful Portuguese or Spanish examples? Why were there so many institutionalized efforts to codify slave law in the seventeenth century and did these separate legal dialogues unfold in conversation with one another? As you can probably guess, none of these questions have proven as easy to answer as I thought. Continue reading

Academic Audiobooks: Or, a Thinly-Veiled Plea for Recommendations

IMG_5335Over the past few years, I’ve become (to my great surprise) an avid listener of audiobooks. What initially began as a means to keep me awake and alert during a series of near-monthly drives back and forth from Virginia to northern New Jersey has become, over time, what I prefer to listen to in almost all circumstances: on my morning run, on my daily commute, during the several short walks I take across campus throughout the week, and even occasionally at day’s end, as I lay in bed trying to unwind before falling asleep (with my headphones in, this is a far less intrusive means of me “reading” for my slumbering wife).  Continue reading

WMQ-EMSI Workshop CFP: Early American Legal Histories

The Omohundro Institute and the University of Southern California-Huntington Library Early Modern Studies Institute are pleased to announce the tenth in a series of William and Mary Quarterly-EMSI workshops designed to identify and encourage new trends in understanding the history and culture of early North America and its wider world.

Participants will attend a two-day meeting at the Huntington Library (May 29–30, 2015) to discuss a precirculated chapter-length portion of their current work in progress along with the work of other participants. Subsequently, the convener may write an essay elaborating on the issues raised at the workshop for publication in the William and Mary Quarterly. The convener of this year’s workshop is Sarah Barringer Gordon of the University of Pennsylvania. Continue reading

Consent in Early America, 1600-1900

RAI, OxfordWhat does it mean to give consent? Or to withhold it? In what situations is it asked for? When isn’t it? And why? These are questions that most historians of early America face some time, some way or another. But the range of uses of consent is vast, from the many senses of government through relations of labour, exchange, sex, and kinship. Next March at the Rothermere American Institute in Oxford, Kathryn Olivarius and I will hold a conference with the aim of drawing connections and patterns across these disparate realms. Continue reading

Telling the Story of Women in Printing

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of women in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) both past and present named after the early nineteenth-century British mathematician. Here in our corner of early American studies, I want to mark the occasion by working through a question that I’ve worked on in my own writing for years: how do we effectively integrate women into the history of printing in early America?

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Columbus Day video roundup

Pocahontas screenshotWe’ve covered Columbus Day here at the blog before. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to distill academic rage and indignation into something short, pithy, and easily conveyed to undergraduates. I tend to resort to YouTube clips when I’m feeling particularly shouty. So I’d like to issue a call: what videos do you use to teach Columbus Day (or other prickly issues)? Please include a link and a short description of the video + how you use it. Continue reading

Socializing, Speculating, and Speaking French in François Furstenberg’s Philadelphia

Furstenberg CoverREVIEW: When the United States Spoke French: Five Refugees Who Shaped a Nation. By François Furstenberg. New York: Penguin, 2014.

On the Fourth of July, 1794, two former members of France’s Constituent Assembly gazed from a window across New York’s Bowling Green. Both had arrived in the United States just that year. Back in 1789, they had helped to launch a revolutionary movement for liberal and constitutional reforms. But as the Revolution grew ever more violent and threatened to destroy them, they fled France. The United States, they thought, would be a suitable refuge: the republican spawn of the British government whose constitution they so admired, the new nation whose Enlightenment principles would guard them from the threats of the Parisian mob. They must have been unnerved to see “a host of pro-French radicals” marching towards them that day, the rabble-rousing Girondin ambassador Edmond-Charles Genet at the fore, “singing the Marseillaise and other republican songs,” and hurling insults up to the windows where the émigrés stood watching (80). Continue reading