The calendar has worked its way round to March, and here at The Junto that can only mean one thing: Junto March Madness is back! The principle is simple: we ask our readers to nominate books about early American history, then we pair them off against each other, until there’s only one book left standing. Last year’s tournament can be found here: Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom ultimately proved victorious.
This year, we’re going to be doing the same thing, only with a twist: entrants to the tournament will be limited to books published since 2000. Last time around, we noticed a tendency to reward older, more established books. We wanted to bring the same liveliness of discussion to more recent works, and to highlight recent work that deserves the prominence of old favorites. We’ll be asking for nominations next week, but we wanted to give you some advance notice so you could start thinking of the books you wanted to receive full consideration.
To repeat: We are NOT soliciting nominations today. We’ll put up a full nominations thread next Wednesday, the 12th, and readers will then be able to nominate works in the comments section of the March 12th post. The nomination window opens as soon as the March 12th post is up and closes the next day, March 13th, at 5pm.
And to repeat what we said last year: don’t take this too seriously. It’s intended to be a bit of fun – to promote works we think might be underappreciated, and to instigate some thought-provoking discussions on recent directions in early American history. No poll can truly reflect the worth of a book; we understand that. But the process is enjoyable. We hope you’ll have as much fun with this year’s tournament as we did running it last year – and we look forward to seeing your nominations next Wednesday!
Junto March Madness 2014 Schedule
March 12/13: Reader Nominations
March 14: Announce Brackets
March 17/18: First Round Voting
March 20/21: Second Round Voting
March 24: Round of 16
March 26: Quarterfinals
March 31: Semifinals
April 2: Final
The AHA recently announced the formation of an ad hoc committee to produce standard guidelines for evaluating digital scholarship. It is hoped that the guidelines will allow professional recognition of new scholarship in a way that can become codified within the tenure process. The committee is a veritable who’s who of digital humanities worthies—all with an excellent track record of traditional peer-reviewed scholarship and engagement with a variety of digital media. When this committee speaks, it will command attention.
This is an important step forward for the profession; having a rigorous set of guidelines for evaluation will serve as an important starting point for encouraging recalcitrant colleagues and administrators to take digital scholarship seriously. But there is one thing that is also notable about the committee—not to put too fine a point on it, it is rather old. All the scholars are safely tenured. Where are the voices of the new generation, of the digital natives? Continue reading
Primary sources form an important part of the assignments for any of my undergraduate classes. As with any set readings, some of these sources work more successfully than others. One source that has proven reliably successful is Henry Drax’s instructions on running a sugar plantation in seventeenth-century Barbados. Back in my graduate student days, I prepared an initial transcription of the instructions as a research assistant. Thankfully, my students don’t have to grapple with some of the more eccentric approaches to handwriting in the original copy, and can instead read the 2009 William and Mary Quarterly ”Sources and Interpretations” piece written by Peter Thompson. 
Are you looking for a break from a busy weekend of watching the NFL playoffs? Or maybe you need some light relief while finishing up your syllabi for the new semester? Never fear, The Week in Early American History is here!
(All I’ll say is that it’s not because I’m British that I’m angry at the Patriots this weekend.)
On with the links! Continue reading
Teaching the first half of the American history survey has become a more complicated job over the last few decades. The reason is quite simple—the purview of early American historians has broadened significantly in the same period. A narrative from Jamestown to Independence to Civil War is now a narrative that begins with (or even before) the Columbian Exchange. A geographical focus that formerly considered the “thirteen colonies” almost in isolation now extends northwards to Canada, westwards to the Mississippi, southwards to the Caribbean, and across the ocean to Europe and Africa. A predominantly white, male, Protestant cast of characters has welcomed women, people of color, Native Americans, and others to its merry band.
All of this is a good thing. But it runs up against a critical problem—the amount of time in a semester has not extended at all. To take account of newer historical approaches therefore requires critical editing of syllabi and a rethinking of approaches. That means there will be, for want of a better term, “winners” and “losers” in terms of the material covered in the survey course. My contention is that the 18th century is the main loser from these changes—and I wonder, at times, what the implication is for our students’ understanding of key currents of American history. Continue reading
The ratification of the Federal Constitution is a notoriously difficult historical event to categorize. On the one hand, it is a watershed moment; the creation of a consolidated federal government with extensive power is a clear break with the immediate post-Independence traditions of American governance. Yet at the same time, it is traditionally seen as the final achievement of a revolutionary generation—the fulfillment of the ideals of the Revolution. Continue reading
Welcome to another of The Junto‘s weekly round-ups of things that caught our eye in the rest of the Internet this week. Find the links after the jump! Continue reading
I don’t like Abraham Lincoln. Working in Springfield, Illinois, that’s not an especially popular viewpoint to hold. Yet it is working in Springfield, Illinois, that has really led me to that conclusion. It’s almost impossible to escape the shadow of Honest Abe here. Bronze statues sit prominently in downtown; all sorts of programs and buildings at my university bear Lincoln’s name. His face even peers out from every license plate in the state. It’s a historical cult of personality that can feel alienating to a revolutionary specialist.
(Though he does have a good nose for sniffing out dodgy car dealers.) Continue reading
Readers of early American history blogs will undoubtedly have come across the recent kerfuffle regarding the divide between academic and public historians of the American Revolution, which stemmed from a series of posts by Peter Feinman assessing the conference. Much of the debate has centered around this post, in which Feinman chided academic historians for their failure to answer the question: “Was the American Revolution a good thing?” Roy Rogers posted an excellent response to this here last week; J.L. Bell at Boston 1775 had other reflections on Monday (and is continuing to address the topic in other posts).
If Inventing The People is a work of consensus history, it is not one that seeks to celebrate blindly the development of an Anglo-American tradition of popular sovereignty. “The popular governments of Britain or the United States rest on fictions as much as the governments of Russia and China” (13). Indeed, many of Morgan’s most important conclusions in the book are remarkably radical—reminding us that all power is at some level arbitrary, and that appeals to rationality alone cannot justify any single system of government. Indeed, governments that try and conform to the letter of their appeals to the people could not long hope to survive. “The fiction must approach the fact but never reach it” (91). Thus, while Morgan unquestionably concludes there is a coalescence of ideas of popular sovereignty, it is not a reassuring consensus. The consensus on the dominance of popular sovereignty is necessary, for else a community can never be made fit to govern. Continue reading