The Week in Early American History

TWEAHSavor summer’s finale weekend with an extra side of early American history news.

Historians uncovered a treasure trove of early confessions and applications for church membership, in the course of scouring the country for Congregational records. The Washington Post explored founding-era translations of the U.S. Constitution, and spoke with the historians who compiled a new appendix of the German and Dutch texts with commentary. Elsewhere, attention turned to the “coarsening of culture” that afflicts American history, from antebellum riots to recent unrest in Ferguson.

Economic historians presented new data showing that upward economic mobility is least likely to occur among residents of the American Southeast, especially in regions where slavery once flourished. They speculate that the rise of large-scale sugar plantations fostered long-term inequality and led communities to “adopt institutions that served to advantage members of the elite and hamper social mobility.” Marcus Rediker previewed his new book on the working class of the Age of Sail, describing how sailors contributed to the modern labor movement and “invented” the strike: “If you look at the crew manifests for voyages like Columbus and Magellan, you see a motley crew. You see Greek sailors and African sailors and sailors from a remarkable swath of the earth’s surface… To say that this international working class is multiethnic doesn’t mean that it’s free of conflict.”

New York Magazine argued that the founders were politicians, not Tea Partiers: “The Federalist Papers were an exercise in spin—spin in service of a worthy cause, but spin nonetheless.” Over at Jacobin, Christian Parenti reimagined Alexander Hamilton as a “progressive” who espoused an “unnamed ideology” of “developmentalism,” thereby reclassifying him as “amoral, pragmatic, instrumentalist, and flexible” in contrast to Thomas Jefferson and others. Check out Erik Loomis’s reply here. And if you’re looking for further insights on the founders, then read on over here with a grain of salt.

On the academic front, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni issued a landmark report charging trustees with general neglect of institutional oversight, resulting in “substantial numbers of recent college graduates” who “lack a fundamental understanding of their history and heritage.” Florida’s newest public university unveiled a bookless library. At the New-York Historical Society, summer campers channeled the past and sat for tintype portraits. Former New Amsterdam-ers marked a 350th birthday with little fanfare. A new novel, Dear Committee Membersskewered academe by using letters of reference to shape the plot; and a photographer explained why he deconstructs and reconstructs echoes of New Orleans architecture abroad. Get inspired by Adam Gopkin’s guide to why history matters: “What history generally ‘teaches’ is how hard it is for anyone to control it, including the people who think they’re making it… History is past, and singular, and the same year never comes round twice.”

There’s still time to catch up on your Junto reading before school starts! Enjoy our recent posts on the old world/new republic, the pleasure of reading Paine, Joseph Smith’s trip to Washington, how to Vectorize NYC history, why manufacturers remade American government, and the Suburban Plots of American men. Finally, as the fall semester begins anew, take a moment to review these handy tips on “writing while sleeping.”

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