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 →
Even as nineteenth-century biographers sought to ignore or suppress it, there’s rarely been much shortage of gossip about the sex lives of the Founding Fathers. Cassandra Good’s new book, Founding Friendships: Friendships between Men and Women in the Early American Republic (OUP, 2015), offers a warning to readers of eighteenth-century relationships who can be all too ready to embrace the temptations of scandal—these letters might sometimes look like thin veils for a seething sexuality beneath, “but a careful consideration of how people expressed emotion and an openness to the notion that men and women could be friends offers new, more nuanced readings,” Good argues. Scandalizing male-female relationships only serves to place them beyond the purview of ordinary life. Founding Friendships reminds us that women’s presence in the world shouldn’t come as a surprise, and that their roles were never limited to wives, mothers, and sex-objects.Continue reading →
Shelby M. Balik, Rally the Scattered Believers: Northern New England’s Religious Geography. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014.
At the beginning of February, Wake Forest University hosted a symposium marking the 25th anniversary of the publication of Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity (Yale University Press). The list of participants was a “who’s-who” of American religious history: Catherine Brekus, Sylvester Johnson, Mark Noll, Amanda Porterfield, Harry Stout, Grant Wacker (on more of a “who’s-that?” note, I was there, too, feeling honored but absurdly under-credentialed in that company). Each offered reflections on the book’s influence and reach, on his or her personal experience with it, on how its arguments have aged. Hatch, now the president of Wake Forest, offered an eloquent response. (Video of the event is available here.) Continue reading →
When colonial Georgia was founded in 1732, it carved out a brand new space in the New World. The founders’ intentions were in part for it to serve as a charitable colony, where Britons from overcrowded debtor’s prisons could start anew. It also carved out an English space to serve as a geographic barrier between wealthy South Carolina and rival Spanish Florida. But, as Stephen R. Berry demonstrates in this highly original new study, colonies were not the only spaces that were created and negotiated as the Atlantic World expanded. The ocean, and indeed the ships that carried passengers to and from the New World should also be viewed as spaces in their own right.
Bernard Bailyn’s contribution to our understanding of early American history is so vast that it’s easy to forget he’s still publishing books. His writings on the American Revolution, begun in the 1960s, remain required reading for any doctoral student studying for orals. And even since retiring from Harvard a quarter century ago, he’s continued to influence the field, perhaps nowhere more than through his promotion of Atlantic history.
Yet even at 92, Bailyn isn’t finished. His new book, Sometimes An Art: Nine Essays on History (Knopf), can be read in a number of ways: as an introduction to his vast corpus of work; a chance to respond to his critics; a reflection on the meaning of history; and, perhaps, a summing up of sorts. “It reflects some of my own work over the years,” Bailyn told me during an interview from Boston. The essays he’s chosen to include, dating from 1954 to 2007, have only appeared in either obscure publications or dated back issues of prominent journals. But in one way or another, he said, they “concentrate on certain major themes” in all his work. Continue reading →
Eric Nelson’s The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding is, to put it simply, an important book. It is perhaps, the most important book on the Revolution in almost a decade. Yet, at the same time, its argument, methodology, and importance are indicative of (one might say, testament to) the long-standing stasis in which Revolution political studies has been mired for a very long time. This post is less reviewing the book itself than exploring its relationship with its historiographical context regarding political studies of the Revolution, particularly, its origins and causes. In a sense, I want to read the field from the book rather than reading the book from the field.Continue reading →