Object Lessons

Questions first ignited in a comprehensive exam room have an electric way of rippling through your whole career, whether you’re teaching in a university classroom and/or in the realms of public history. Take, for example, a standard query about nineteenth-century material culture: How would you tell a history of the American Civil War in five objects?

Iron Yoke Slave Collar John A. Andrew Artifact Collection, MHS

Iron Yoke Slave Collar
John A. Andrew Artifact Collection, MHS

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Making the Adams Papers

acornNearly a quarter of a million manuscript pages, and almost fifty volumes to show for it: As we mark the 60th anniversary of production at the Adams Papers editorial project, here’s an inside look at our process, from manuscript to volume. Continue reading

Commodifying Labour, Commodifying People

cotton millThis post is part of an ongoing exploration of the edges of capitalism that I’ve been conducting in the pages of the Junto, most recently here. One element of that exploration, and something that’s been highly visible in the discussion lately—especially with things like the furore over The Economist‘s review of Ed Baptist’s book, The Half Has Never Been Told (we posted our own review)—is the relationship between slavery and capitalism. Today I want to focus on just one element of that relationship: the distinction between commodifying labour and commodifying people. Continue reading

Guest Post: Researching en Français: French Archives, and Why They’re Worth It for All Early Americanists

Hannah Bailey, a PhD candidate in History at the College of William & Mary, studies the interconnectivity between developing notions of race and the expansion of the African slave trade in the early modern French Atlantic. She graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2010, with degrees in History and French, and a minor in Gender and Women’s Studies. Her master’s thesis focused on how women like Eliza Jaquelin Ambler Brent Carrington remembered, defined, and recorded their experiences during the American Revolution for her master’s thesis. Her dissertation uses histories of West Africa written by individuals like Jean-Baptiste Labat to help explain why, in early eighteenth-century accounts of the region, the fiction of African inferiority began to supersede the fact of African political and economic dominance on the West African coast.

ANOMI never learned the verb “rebobiner” in any of my nine years’ worth of French courses. I don’t blame my French teachers or professors for this. Neither they nor I had any idea that it would one day become an integral part of my vocabulary as I commenced my dissertation research in the Archives Nationales d’Outre-mer in Aix-en-Provence, France. As it happens, “rebobiner” means “to rewind the bobbin of microfilm that you spent twelve minutes learning how to load onto the microfilm reader, because microfilm is always complicated and is triply so when the directions are in a foreign language,” or…something like that. Despite my attempts to prepare myself for my time in the French archives, I experienced more “trials by fire” than I might care to admit. All of my listening to French radio, reading complex French secondary sources, and frantic scouring of French online archival inventories only got me so far. Despite the best efforts of the kindest and most helpful archival staff I’ve yet encountered, I often had to learn by doing, and that wasn’t always easy. It was, however, always worth it. Continue reading

A Humorous(?) Post about People Traveling by Canoe

Crossing the bar of Gallinas River, near Sierra Leone and Liberia. During the 1820s and 1830s, slave ships stopped at the mouth of the Gallinas River, to collect slaves. Image taken from The illustrated London News. Originally published/produced in London, 1849. British Library Images Online, Shelfmark P.P.7611.237, filename 080997

Crossing the bar of Gallinas River, near Sierra Leone and Liberia. During the 1820s and 1830s, slave ships stopped at the mouth of the Gallinas River, to collect slaves. Image taken from The illustrated London News. Originally published/produced in London, 1849. British Library Images Online, Shelfmark P.P.7611.237, filename 080997

This summer I started research for my second book project, which I will admit feels a bit ridiculous when my first book project is still in process. I’m blithely ignoring this problem at the moment. In brief, the project, currently-horribly-titled “Aquatic Foodways” asks two related questions: 1) Where, why, and how did people fight over food when crossing water in the early modern Atlantic, and 2) What happened when people disembarked and interacted with indigenous peoples as they searched for sustenance? After a month of preliminary research at the British Library this summer, I’m decidedly more interested in the second question, but have a sense that I’ll need to answer the first question before proceeding forward. Continue reading