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.

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Review: Andrew Beaumont, Colonial America & the Earl of Halifax, 1748-1761

Andrew D. M. Beaumont, Colonial America & the Earl of Halifax, 1748–1761. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

NB: This review is written by frequent guest poster, Christopher F. Minty, the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Postdoctoral Fellow at the New-York Historical Society and Eugene Lang College at The New School for Liberal Arts.

Andrew Beaumont has written a provoking biography of George Montagu Dunk, second earl of Halifax (1716–1771) that covers the crucial period between 1748 and 1761. This book offers a re-evaluation of how we understand colonial American politics and, by implication, it forces us to reconsider the origins of the American Revolution.It also reorients our understanding of British figures who wanted to centralize the Empire during the eighteenth century. For Beaumont, we should look less at the familiar cast of characters: George Grenville; the Earl of Bute; William Pitt, later Lord Chatham; and Lord North. There are others, of course. But, we are familiar with these men. We know their stories. We know their contributions. Beaumont does not argue that we should look away from these men. Rather, he argues that we should look at other “ambitious men” and how they affected the British Empire. In this book, Beaumont examines the “Father of the Colonies,” the Earl of Halifax. 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

Have Cultural Historians Lost the American Revolution?

In just over a week from now, the Massachusetts Historical Society is hosting, “‘So Sudden an Alteration': The Causes, Course, and Consequences of the American Revolution,” an important conference on the American Revolution in recognition of the the 250th anniversary of the Stamp Act. This is the second of three conferences dedicated to rediscovering or re-energizing study of the American Revolution, the first of which, “The American Revolution Reborn,” was hosted by the McNeil Center for Early American Studies in the spring of 2013. And so with the conference fast approaching, I want to use this piece to think about the specific moment and circumstances in which American Revolution studies currently finds itself, which has been the catalyst for this series of conferences, and suggest possibilities going forward. The primary circumstance of that moment, with which many seem to agree, is that the study of the Revolution is in a rut, plodding along in the same “well-worn grooves of historical inquiry” for the “past fifty years,” according to the conference’s call for papers. Continue reading