The Origins of the American Revolution: Definition, Periodization, and Complexity

This is the fourth post in a weeklong roundtable about “The Origins of the American Revolution.” On Monday, Tom Cutterham kicked things off by exhorting historians to stop “separat[ing] economic from constitutional, imperial, political, or even intellectual causes of the revolution.” His post was followed on Tuesday by Jessica Parr’s post, which raised questions about the convergence between religious and political rhetoric during the Revolution. Yesterday, Mark Boonshoft considered the importance of civil society and associationism in thinking about the origins of the Revolution. The roundtable will continue tomorrow with a post by Ken Owen and on Saturday with a final guest post by Jackie Reynoso.

7080030In thinking over my contribution to this roundtable, I realized that, in the last two years, I have written at least five posts and done an episode of The JuntoCast on this very topic. In “The Return of the Revolution,” I called for a recommitment to the questions of origins and causes, something that had been hampered by synthetic studies of the late colonial period based on a consensus model. In “#RevReborn, Periodization, and the American Revolution,” I discussed the problematic uncertainty regarding periodization of the Revolution, particularly the recent trend to extend the endpoint of the Revolution and the reluctance to do the same in terms of the beginning of the Revolution. In “Have Cultural Historians Lost the American Revolution?” I tried to understand the recent relative ennui regarding study of the Revolution’s “origins and causes” in the broader context of developments in the field as a whole. And, in “The ‘Suddenness’ of the ‘Alteration’: Some Afterthoughts on #RevReborn2,” I noted the disappointing lack of papers directly engaging the questions of origins and causes at a recent conference devoted to the 250th anniversary of the Stamp Act.[1] Continue reading

In Memoriam: Lois Green Carr, 1922-2015

Lois Green Carr was a pioneer in both social history and women’s history. Originally from an upper-class family from Massachusetts, Carr made her greatest impact in studying the history of women from the seventeenth-century Chesapeake. Carr’s mother, Constance McLaughlin Green, was a well-respected historian, who had received her PhD from Yale University. Carr attended Swarthmore College before enrolling in the graduate program at Harvard in 1943. Along the way, life happened. She got married in 1946, moved with her husband to New York in 1947, and had a child in 1952. In 1956, she accepted a job as a junior archivist at the Maryland Hall of Records. Family responsibilities and then difficulties at the end of the decade had rendered her progress toward completing her PhD quite slow. In fact, by that point, she said, “I had done no work for years on my PhD dissertation because I could not get to New England for needed research.”[1] Her solution was to switch her research focus to Maryland and find an advisor willing to take her on, which she did. In 1961, Bernard Bailyn became her advisor and by 1968 she had finally graduated, twenty-five years after starting graduate school. By the end of 1967, she had taken a job as the historian for the St. Mary’s City Commission. a post she would hold for nearly five decades. Continue reading

The Early American Digital World

This post builds on the conversation began by Joseph Adelman’s post on early American history blogging the other day, and a panel on the topic at the OIEAHC/SEA conference yesterday. A version of these remarks were delivered at a panel entitled, “Early American Worlds: A State-of-the-Field Conversation” at the 2015 Organization of American Historians Annual Meeting on April 17, 2015 in St. Louis, MO.

For longer than I’ve been alive, our field in a structural sense has been organized through the efforts of the main institutions in the field, i.e., the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and, later, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies and the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. From fellowships to seminars to conferences, these institutions gave to the field the significant sense of community it had. And I would argue that the new early American “digital world” is not changing that but expanding upon (or around) it. Social media and blogs are adding an additional layer of social infrastructure within the field itself, creating spaces that foster an even broader and more inclusive sense of community in the field, largely through the ability to include people who for whatever reason don’t have access to or are outside the immediate orbit of those institutions and the field’s traditional channels of community-building. Continue reading

Historical Charts and David Ramsay’s Narrative of Progress

A while back Slate’s “The Vault” blog ran a piece on John Sparks’s “Histomap” from 1931. I was recently reminded of that post as I came across a number of eighteenth-century historical charts during my dissertation research on eighteenth-century American history culture.[1] In the eighteenth century, there were conflicting understandings of historical time. Some understood time to be cyclical, as evidenced by the rise and (inevitable) fall of empires throughout history. Increasingly, however, historical time was coming to be understood as linear (in a mechanical, Newtonian sense). With the linear conception came the idea of historical time as being fundamentally progressive. This conception was further distinguished by those who understood it in terms of a narrative of social and political progress and those who understood it in millennialist terms, i.e., time progressing toward the end-of-days. These ideas shaped the ways in which one thought about history, and, in a time when historical distance was far more truncated than today, they had a profound effect on how one viewed their contemporary world. Historical understanding and, hence, historical writing were undergoing significant shifts in the eighteenth century. One of the by-products of these developments was the historical chart.

Continue reading

The “Suddenness” of the “Alteration”: Some Afterthoughts on #RevReborn2

As most, if not all, of our readers are aware, this past weekend was the “So Sudden an Alteration” conference hosted by the Massachusetts Historical Society in commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the Stamp Act.[1] It was the second of three conferences dedicated to rebirthing Revolution studies, hence, the hashtag #RevReborn2. (NB: You can find the immense backchannel coverage of the conference Storified here: Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3. You can also find Joseph Adelman’s interactive TAGSExplorer that chronicled the Twitter coverage). This post is not intended to be a standard Junto-type conference recap. Instead, I just want to offer some afterthoughts on the conference, specifically in light of the piece I wrote before the conference, entitled “Have Cultural Historians Lost the Revolution?” as well as numerous other pieces I have written about the historiography of the Revolution and the state of Revolution studies for the blog, particularly before the first #RevReborn conference back in 2013. Continue reading

Interview: Liz Covart of Ben Franklin’s World

ben_franklins_worldLast week, The JuntoCasters—aka Ken Owen, Roy Rogers, and myself— appeared on the new, fast-growing podcast hosted by Liz Covart called Ben Franklin’s World, an interview-based early American history podcast that launched in October 2014. Already, the podcast has a catalogue of twenty-four episodes and a rapidly growing audience. Most episodes feature Liz interviewing a historian/author about a recent book and some of her past guests have included such notable historians as Alan Taylor, François Furstenberg, Claudio Saunt, Joyce Chaplin, and James Green, as well as The Junto’s own Sara Georgini for an episode about John and Abigail Adams and the Adams Papers. Continue reading