The Problem with Big Books; Or, Alan Taylor’s Biggest Sin

[Headlines are supposed to draw readers, right?]

TaylorOne of the first things I did after finishing my dissertation a couple of months back (other than sleeping for an entire week, of course), was reading Alan Taylor’s latest tome, An Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1776-1832 (New York: W. W. Norton, 2013), which recently won the Pulitzer Prize. (One could argue that Taylor’s biggest sin, other than the one I’m about to discuss, is hogging all the major book awards.) As one would expect given Taylor’s track record, I was floored by the book’s exhaustive research and lyrical prose. I made a mental note that this would be a great book to assign to students. Now that I’m prepping for this fall, when I’ll be teaching a Jeffersonian America course, I gave the idea more serious consideration. However, I soon realized the biggest problem, which more seasoned teachers probably already know.

The book is just too big.

Continue reading

The Revolution is Reborn at Common-place

home_revolutionLast summer, Philadelphia witnessed a gathering of many delegates who discussed British tyranny and American liberty. Though none of the resulting documents may be as influential as Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, the proceedings of “The American Revolution Reborn: New Perspectives for the Twenty-First Century” should at least instigate some debate. The conference itself was a product of generosity from Frank Fox, the American Philosophical Society, the David Library of the American Revolution, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, Samuel Adams® (the beer, who aptly supplied refreshments for the reception), and the Museum of the American Revolution (who provided an expansive—and sweltering!—location for the closing activities). A good number of Juntoists were in attendance—there is even photographic evidence!—and the excellent speakers sparked good discussion. Patrick Spero and Michael Zuckerman should be commended for organizing the event. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History: Super Bowl Edition

tweahAs Americans gather round the tv, settle into their couches, and devour unhealthy amounts of wings while encouraging concussion culture watching football, the world of early American history news moves on. Let’s hit the links!

Speaking of contact sports, Obama delivered his State of the Union Address, which prompted lots of discussion on executive orders. Jon Meacham oddly argued that previous presidents like Lincoln and FDR didn’t execute similar actions, but then later offerd an apology for the mistake—which, ironically, actually is something FDR never did. Continue reading

Using Contraries in the Classroom: Thoughts on Choosing Reading Assignments

“Without Contraries there is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion,
Reason and Energy, Love and Hate are necessary to Human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil.
Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing
from Energy. Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.”
-William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

I doubt that the mercurial poet William Blake had American historiography on his mind when he penned these famous lines from his most famous poem, but I am going to use them for such a purpose anyhow. And who knows—Blake was indeed known as a visionary. Continue reading

One Year Older and Wiser, Too…: The Junto Turns “1″

A year ago today, I introduced the world to The Junto.

For those who care, chocolate is the official Junto cake flavor. Duh.

For those who care, chocolate is the official Junto birthday cake flavor. Duh.

Since then, my admittedly lofty goals of success have been dramatically achieved by our cast of bloggers. I aimed to gather some of the brightest young minds in the field, and I have been pleased with the consistent quality and quantity of posts throughout the year. We have had posts nearly every weekday, along with our popular “This Week in Early American History” roundup every Sunday, which totaled 292 posts for the year. It would be impossible and unfair to highlight the “best” posts because there have been so many quality posts that, quite frankly, probably belong in a more professional setting than a blog. Some of our most popular include Michael Hattem’s overview of Assassin’s Creed III (thanks, Reddit!), the multi-author roundtable on Walter Johnson’s River of Dark Dreams, Rachel Herrmann’s response to new(!) cannibalism developments, and Matt Karp’s reviews of Django Unchained and Twelve Years a Slave. And our academia-related posts have also been highly popular, as the response to posts on digital workflow and creating a CV attest. And who can forget our epic March Madness Tournament? Indeed, the quality of the content is reflected in the fact that The Junto has been featured in the American Historical Association’s “What We’re Reading” seven times.  Continue reading

Whither Early American Intellectual History?

Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 21.34.40Last week, I attended the annual conference for the Society of United States Intellectual History, this year held in Irvine, CA. It was a fun time, and I learned enough and met enough people to consider the conference a success (and worth the 12 hour flight from London!). Yet one thing struck me the entire weekend, and was reinforced by Mark Peterson who gave words to my thoughts during his session response: why is there a paucity of work on early America within the recent surge of interest in US intellectual history? Or, to ask a different, but still related, question, why do so few historians of early America do work on intellectual history, or self-identify as intellectual historians? Continue reading

Guest Post: A New Forum Dedicated to the Study of the Dorr Rebellion and Constitutional Reform in Rhode Island

We at The Junto are thrilled to host this guest post from Erik J. Chaput and Russell J. DeSimone, who are the historians-in-residence on the Dorr Rebellion Project Site sponsored by Providence College. Chaput is the author of The People’s Martyr: Thomas Wilson Dorr and His 1842 Rhode Island Rebellion (University Press of Kansas, 2013). DeSimone is the author of Rhode Island’s Rebellion (Bartlett Press, 2009). Chaput and DeSimone have collaborated on a number of projects, including this article on Common-place.org. Chaput and DeSimone welcome feedback on the site. They can be contacted at: echaput@providence.edu and russbook1@cox.net.

The "People's Ticket," with a direct reference to 1776, served as a connection between the American and Dorr Rebellions.

The “People’s Ticket,” with a direct reference to 1776, served as a connection between the American and Dorr Rebellions.

When Rhode Island finally ratified the U.S. Constitution in May 1790, the state sent back to Congress eighteen amendments. These amendments revealed a deep suspicion of the new central establishment, a suspicion that had been increased by the failure to include a bill of rights. The first line of the lengthy third amendment declared that “the powers of government may be reassumed by the people, whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness.” Continue reading

Articles of Note: Spring and Summer 2013

Many months ago, I posted the first of what I hoped to be a quarterly series highlighting recent articles I enjoyed, and inviting readers to do the same. Sadly, life got in the way, and so I have a bit to make up. As a recap for this roundup’s purpose: there are so many journals publishing quality articles in the field of early American history that it is difficult, if not impossible, to keep up. So this list serves as a reminder that you need to catch up on new issues, a identify articles I found especially important, as well as a chance to highlight the work of young scholars and friends. Just because an article doesn’t make the list doesn’t mean I didn’t like it—in fact, I am way behind on my own reading—but it is an invitation to list your own favorite recent articles in the comments below.

The following articles were published between March and September, and obviously reflect my own interests and background. Also, remember the fantastic articles in the special WMQ issue on families and the Atlantic world that I highlighted a few months ago. Continue reading

Roundtable Review: Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams (Introduction)

JohnsonThis week at The Junto, we are pleased to offer a roundtable review on Walter Johnson’s recent River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013). Johnson, whose Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Trade Market (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999) went far in this year’s Junto March Madness, is the Winthrop Professor of History and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. River of Dark Dreams is a dense, learned, and sophisticated account of cotton culture, slave society, and global capitalism as experienced in pre-Civil War Mississippi Valley. It has somthing for everyone: race, slavery, capitalism, technology, regionalism, and globalism. As such, this week’s roundtable will offer five reviews from five different authors giving their take on what promises to be a classic text. After my brief overview and introduction, we will post one review each day from Mandy Izadi (today), Matt Karp (Tuesday),  Joe Adelman (Wednesday), Roy Rogers (Thursday), Sara Georgini (Friday), and Eric Herschthal (Saturday). We hope that these various reviews will spark discussion and debate. Continue reading

Junto Social at the “Revolution Reborn”: Friday, May 31

As Michael Hattem noted in his post on Monday, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, along with a handful of other prestigious organizations, is hosting what promises to be a monumental conference on the American Revolution this weekend in Philadelphia. Titled, “The American Revolution Reborn: New Perspectives for the Twenty-First Century,” it is a combination of roundtable discussions with prominent historians as well as pre-circulated papers from up and coming scholars. (I’m about halfway through the papers, and they are terrific.) There will certainly be lots of important ideas to discuss, and we’ll have several followups (including a post and a podcast) to help digest what went down. Continue reading