Q&A: Kathleen DuVal, Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the Revolution

Yesterday, Chris Minty reviewed Kathleen DuVal’s latest book, Independence Lost: Lives on the 9781400068951Edge of the Revolution. Today, we continue with an interview with DuVal, who is a Professor of History at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Junto: Your work has focused on Atlantic perspectives, including that of marginalized voices. What sort of questions inspired Independence Lost? And, what particularly drew you to the Gulf Coast?

DuVal: In teaching the U.S. survey, I had noticed that I taught the colonial period as a broad and diverse history of many peoples and regions, but when I got to the American Revolution, I narrowed the focus to the thirteen colonies in exactly the way I had been telling the students we wouldn’t do. In the course of research for my first book, I had come across the Revolutionary War battles between the British and the Spanish at Pensacola and Mobile, and I thought that telling the stories of the people who experienced that part of the war as well as what happened to them in the war’s aftermath would broaden our understanding of the Revolution in similar ways to the broadening that colonial-era historiography has undergone in recent decades. I wanted to know what various people—European, Native, and African—on this edge of the Revolution thought about the war and what they envisioned for the continent’s future.

Junto: You have some fascinating analysis into the role of European-Native American diplomacy during the American Revolution. At some points, you note parallels between what went on during the Seven Years War, and what happened during the American Revolution. What do you think most shaped Native American views of independence?

DuVal: The idea of independence was already engrained within Native American views of themselves and their polities. The eighteenth-century Chickasaws, for example, didn’t question whether they were a independent nation. What did change in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth centuries was that many of them began to use a European vocabulary of nationhood when they explained themselves to Europeans in defense of their independence.

Junto: You bring in a lot of different voices – Native American, women, slaves, and various groups of Europeans. When writing Independence Lost, what did you find to be the most challenging about bringing in all those different perspectives?

DuVal: The shortage of primary evidence from some of the people was not surprising but was challenging. I was particularly frustrated at my inability to find any evidence about any of the Choctaw or Creek women and children who were in Pensacola at the time of the siege. I know they were there, but I couldn’t find anything about them as individuals. But other primary sources were a wonderful surprise, such as the letters I found from Margaret Pollock to the Spanish governor, at a time when women were not supposed to write such letters—indeed, the governor told her to stop writing him, which, fortunately for us, she did not do.

Junto: This past July, you participated in a panel at SHEAR exploring how a republic becomes an empire. Did this working on this book change the way you think of that process?

DuVal: Yes, absolutely. I already believed that the westward-expanding United States acted in many ways like an empire. What shocked me was the huge number of proposals in the Spanish archives from Americans proposing either to become Spanish subjects or to form new independent states allied with Spain, all of which caused me to see that U.S. national westward expansion was by no means guaranteed (or even likely until at least the 1790s).

Junto: What do you think the most important lesson studying the Gulf Coast can teach us about the American Revolution?

DuVal: Studying this region helps us get beyond the old question of whether people revolted because of ideological or pragmatic reasons. In fact, most people—and definitely most women—didn’t choose war at all. It came to them, and they had to make their way in it the best they could.

Junto: One of your final paragraphs asks the question about whether independence was “gained or lost?” What did American independence mean for some of the groups that lived on the “edge of independence?” In other words, whose independence was it?

DuVal: For many people, empires provided more benefits and more security than the United States would. I think it is important for us to disentangle the concept of the country’s political independence from the multiple and overlapping ways in which people in North America exercised individual and national independence within a network of interdependencies.

Junto: What are you working on now?

DuVal: I am working on what I think will be a joint biography of the Spanish General Bernardo de Gálvez, who led the Spanish forces in New Mexico and in Gulf Coast and Caribbean battles of the Revolution, and his wife, Marie Felice de St. Maxent, who was an important figure in French New Orleans. I think their story will illuminate themes of empire and revolution in the second half of the eighteenth century.

Guest Post: The Art of Absconding: Slave Fugitivity in the Early Republic

Guest Poster Shaun Wallace (@Shaun_Wallace_) is an Economic and Social Research Council-funded Ph.D. candidate at the University of StirlingHis dissertation examines how reading and writing influenced and aided slave decision-making in the early republic. Shaun holds a B.A. (Hons.) and a MRes. from the University of Stirling and is president of Historical Perspectives, a Glasgow-based historical society run by and for graduate students in the United Kingdom.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 12.43.09 PMA “very ingenious artful fellow” appears a peculiar description of a runaway advertised for recapture. The advertisement, for Harry or Harry Johnstone, featured in Baltimore’s Federal Gazette newspaper, on May 2, 1800, at the request of Nicholas Reynolds, overseer of criminals for Baltimore County. Harry had absconded from Gotham gaol, near Baltimore. Reynolds described Harry as a “tolerable good blacksmith” and a “rough carpenter.” A “very talkative” slave, he was a man of “great address.” On first impression a relatively congenial description; in actuality, Reynolds’s use of the term “artful” condemned the runaway.[1]
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The Origins of the American Revolution: Religion

Yesterday, Tom Cutterham kicked off our week-long roundtable on the Origins of the American Revolution with a discussion of Nick Bunker’s recent book, An Empire on the Edge. Today, we continue with a discussion of religion and the American Revolution.

George Whitefield Preaching in Philadelphia

George Whitefield Preaching in Philadelphia

In 1781, as the American Revolution raged, a Connecticut magazine reported that a spectral George Whitefield (1714-1770) had appeared over a regiment of British troops, including Benedict Arnold. So frightened were these British regulars, the magazine claimed, that they burned their British finery. Those familiar with the consumer politics of the Revolutionary period will recognize the political statement implicit in the burning of British goods. With refinement, British clothing, textiles, and other goods had become attractive to well-heeled colonists, who emulated the latest London fashions. As T.H. Breen and others have noted, the wearing of British fashions became problematic during the Revolution. Textiles and other factories began to crop up in the northeast, the start of an American industry.[1]

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Teaching Trauma: Narrative and the Use of Graphic Novels in Discussing Difficult Pasts

Roy Rogers kicked off yesterday’s 4-day roundtable with a review of the graphic novel, Rebel. For day two of our roundtable on graphic novels and history, I will discuss the use of graphic novels in teaching traumatic histories.

51m-NxiSLdL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_As anyone who has taught the history of slavery knows, it can be challenging. It is an important, but also emotionally loaded subject that can provoke spirited responses from students. Some students are resistant to discussing what they view as an ugly event in the past. Others may become defensive. And, for others, the history of slavery may be personal. The challenge becomes presenting the history in a thoughtful way that will engage students, but does not whitewashing history. Other traumatic events—genocide, war, etc.—can present similar pedagogical challenges.

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Making the Most of Your Time in the Archives: Research Technology

mainpageAs funding budgets shrink, many historians face increased pressure to make the most of their time in distant archives. For a number of years now, a lot of researchers have favored a good digital camera, which (theoretically) allows for a faster gathering of primary source materials than traditional note-taking methods. Of course, as historian Larry Cebula humorously observed, failure to exercise good digital stewardship with your own personal archives can have disastrous consequences.

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