Here in the United States, today is Memorial Day, a holiday originally created in the late 1860s to honor the Union Civil War dead, and now a time to commemorate all of America’s war dead. Because it’s also observed as a three-day weekend, we’re bringing you a special Monday holiday edition of The Week in Early American History. On to your morning reading…
Like many of my friends, I’ve spent the past few weeks anxiously awaiting the series finale of Mad Men. I started watching a bit late, but caught up, and eagerly watched each week in April and May to find out how show creator Matthew Weiner would leave the stories of the main characters. And in the past few days, I’ve been mulling over the finale and in particular how it ended. Then yesterday, I realized that the finale of a beloved TV series actually has quite a bit to tell us (and possibly our students) about the omnipresent specter of teleology in the study of the past. [NOTE: Spoilers ahead, just in case.]
It’s commencement season around the United States, so we wish a hearty congratulations to all of our readers (and our students) graduating this month. Now, straight on to the links!
Sometime in the 1990s, NBC decided to promote its usual lineup of summer reruns with the tag line, “if you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you!” I’ve thought about that line occasionally since I started grad school, and came to it again this week as I’m working on syllabi (including, yes, a belated book order) for the fall semester. The problem I’m facing is a familiar one: how to balance the desire to engage in discussions of the newest work on a given topic—in this case the American Revolution—with the fact that they haven’t yet encountered some of the classic arguments.
Today’s guest poster is Robert Gamble, Visiting Assistant Professor of History at the University of Kansas. He is currently at work on a manuscript entitled “The Civic Economy: Regulating Urban Space and Capitalism in the Early American Republic,” and has written a chapter on secondhand goods for Capitalism by Gaslight: Illuminating the Economy of Nineteenth-Century America (Brian Luskey and Wendy Woloson, eds.).
The death of Freddie Gray three weeks ago and the ensuing protests prompted many people to seek richer historical context for what happened. Consider that Seth Rockman’s twelve-year-old Common-place essay on rioting in early Baltimore had garnered some one million re-tweets by last Tuesday afternoon, according to his estimate. Justly concerned about half-baked historical parallels, Rockman doubts “the 1830s is [the] most useful context for now.” Certainly, there are more recent sources and contexts to consider: the real estate and lending practices that fortified segregation, reeling public school systems, eroding city tax bases, deindustrialization and the exportation of jobs, transit systems that bypass largely black neighborhoods, a deteriorating housing stock encased in lead paint, the mutual distrust sown by the War on Drugs, militarization of the police, and so on. Baltimore’s bank riot of 1835, though a nice lesson in shifting attitudes toward capitalism and urban order, does little to make the issues of 2015 any more coherent.
This has been a momentous week for early Americanists, with the 150th anniversary of the Lincoln assassination to start the week and, especially for those of us in Massachusetts, the annual commemorations of Patriot’s Day this weekend. We have lots of great links for you below the fold!
At the risk of overkill, I have thoughts about the “So Sudden an Alteration” conference hosted by the Massachusetts Historical Society, which I attended along with a number of my Junto colleagues. I’d like to pick up on the themes of the conference to discuss an underlying tension in the conversation that never quite reached the surface in explict terms.