Re-Writing the American Revolution: Kathleen DuVal’s Independence Lost

9781400068951When most people think about the American Revolution and its cast of characters, names like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and George Washington spring to mind. On the British side, people might think of John André, Benedict Arnold, John Burgoyne, and, sometimes, Lord Dunmore. Though some of these people appear in Kathleen DuVal’s latest book, Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution (New York: Random House, 2015), most of DuVal’s narrative centers around people who seldom feature in books or articles on the American Revolution. It is not the American Revolution that most people know. Indeed, “The American Revolution on the Gulf Coast,” DuVal writes, “is a story without minutemen, without founding fathers, without rebels. It reveals a different war with unexpected participants, forgotten outcomes, and surprising winners and losers.” Continue reading

Guest Post: Steven Elliott on Public History at the Morristown National Park

Today’s guest post comes from Steven Elliott, a PhD candidate in American Military History at Temple University. Elliott (@EastJerseySteve) is writing a dissertation about the American War of Independence, tentatively titled “The Highlands War: Soldiers, Civilians, and Landscapes in Revolutionary New Jersey.” He has worked for seven years as a historical interpreter at Morristown National Historical Park in Morristown, New Jersey, which is the subject of this guest post.

“The chief aim of interpretation is not instruction, but provocation,” Freeman Tilden, NPS

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A depiction of the 1780 winter encampment at Morristown, courtesy of Morristown National Historical Park Collection.

Despite Tilden’s call to action, provocative interpretation at many National Parks remains a challenge, especially for Revolution-era sites. As many Americans learn (or re-learn) their history at public history venues, rather than through books or schooling, the Park Service can play an important role in bringing challenging interpretations to popular audiences. Yet, this can be difficult for Revolutionary-era sites, many of which were created to focus on “heroic narratives” emphasizing military campaigns and political leaders. In this post, I reflect on my personal experiences in attempting to challenge visitors’ assumptions about the Revolution, as a seasonal park guide at Morristown National Historical Park in Morristown, NJ.   Continue reading

Guest Post: The Art of Absconding: Slave Fugitivity in the Early Republic

Guest Poster Shaun Wallace (@Shaun_Wallace_) is an Economic and Social Research Council-funded Ph.D. candidate at the University of StirlingHis dissertation examines how reading and writing influenced and aided slave decision-making in the early republic. Shaun holds a B.A. (Hons.) and a MRes. from the University of Stirling and is president of Historical Perspectives, a Glasgow-based historical society run by and for graduate students in the United Kingdom.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 12.43.09 PMA “very ingenious artful fellow” appears a peculiar description of a runaway advertised for recapture. The advertisement, for Harry or Harry Johnstone, featured in Baltimore’s Federal Gazette newspaper, on May 2, 1800, at the request of Nicholas Reynolds, overseer of criminals for Baltimore County. Harry had absconded from Gotham gaol, near Baltimore. Reynolds described Harry as a “tolerable good blacksmith” and a “rough carpenter.” A “very talkative” slave, he was a man of “great address.” On first impression a relatively congenial description; in actuality, Reynolds’s use of the term “artful” condemned the runaway.[1]
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The American Revolution within the British Imagination

british-american-flag-pattern-backgroundFour months ago, I reviewed Andrew D. M. Beaumont’s Colonial America and the Earl of Halifax. A biography of an often overlooked figure, Beaumont makes a strong case for including Halifax in standard interpretations of the coming of the American Revolution. As Beaumont showed, to enrich our understanding of colonial British America, including the 1760s and early 1770s, we must appreciate the importance of high-ranking British officials. We also need to isolate and account for the behavior of the people underpinning and changing the constitutional relationship between Britain and its colonies in North America. Continue reading

Autumn Reads

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“Valley of the Catawissa in Autumn,” Thomas Moran (ca. 1862)

Fall brings new early American titles to explore. Enjoy our Spring Reads 2015 list, too, and share your finds below!

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Guest Post: Racial Violence and Black Nationalist Politics

Guest poster Keisha N. Blain (@KeishaBlain) is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Iowa. She is a regular blogger for the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS). She is currently completing her first book entitled, Contesting the Global Color Line: Black Women, Nationalist Politics, and Internationalism. This post shares some additional insights into the racial violence Benjamin Park discussed following the Charleston shooting.

Members of the UNIA in Harlem, 1920s. Image: Black Business Network

Members of the UNIA in Harlem, 1920s. Image: Black Business Network

Someone recently asked me why the black women activists I study were so determined to leave the United States. It was a question I had been asked many times before. As I often do, I explained the complex history of black emigration, highlighting how these women’s ideas were reflective of a long tradition of black nationalist and internationalist thought. I acknowledged the romantic utopian nature of these women’s ideas. However, I also addressed the socioeconomic challenges that many of these women endured and explained how the prospect of life in West Africa appeared to be far more appealing—especially during the tumultuous years of the Great Depression and World War II. I spoke about black women’s ties to Africa and the feelings of displacement many of them felt as they longed for a place to truly call home. It was the same feeling of displacement to which the poet Countee Cullen alluded when he asked a simple yet profound question: “What is Africa to me?”

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Guest Review: Keith Grant on Jonathan Den Hartog, Patriotism and Piety

Today’s guest post is a book review from Keith Grant, a PhD candidate in History at the University of New Brunswick, Canada. He is also the co-editor of Borealia, a new group blog on early Canadian history. We strongly encourage everyone to bookmark this new and exciting blog.

Patriotism & Piety: Federalist Politics and Religious Struggle in the New American Nation, by Jonathan J. Den Hartog. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015. 262 + xii pp. ISBN 9780813936413. $39.50.

PatriotismReligion was an “engine of politics” in the early American republic. Jonathan Den Hartog explains how religion energized (and then, ironically, diverted energy from) Federalist politics, and how the national vision of Federalists changed American religion. He considers northern evangelical Federalists such as John Jay (and his two sons), Caleb Strong, and Elias Boudinot, Unitarian Federalists including John Adams, and Federalists with a southern accent, Henry De Saussure and Charles Pinckney. These individuals are located, through impressive archival research, in a web of interpersonal relationships. Continue reading