Guest Post: Teaching and the Problem with Parties in the Early Republic

Mark Boonshoft is a PhD candidate at Ohio State University. His work focuses on colleges and academies, especially the networks forged in them, and their role in the formation of revolutionary political culture.

Boonshoft Flow ChartAs an undergraduate, I found the political history of the early republic to be fascinating. As a graduate student, I find teaching the subject to be utterly frustrating. This surprised me, though it shouldn’t have. I was already interested in early American history when I got to college. Most of my students don’t share that proclivity, to say the least.[1] Generally, they assume that the policy debates of the founding era and beyond—especially about banks, internal improvements, and federalism—are downright dry. That said, our students live in an era of rampant partisanship and government paralysis, punctuated by politicians’ ill-conceived attempts to claim the legacy of ‘the founders.’ The emergence of American party politics is pretty relevant to our students’ lives. So with many of us gearing up to get back into the classroom, I thought this would be a good time to start a discussion about teaching the history of early national party formation. Continue reading

Can The Comment

Like many academics, I’ve spent many hours this summer in conference rooms with fluorescent lighting and insufficient air conditioning. For the most part, this has been a real pleasure—after a year of teaching, it is always invigorating to hear others present their research and engage in fruitful conversations. But one part of the experience always fills me with dread: the comment. Continue reading

The Nation, the Global Game and the Weight of it All

Germany's Goetze celebrates

For the past month, our eyes have been on the ball. Perfectly round, it flies and falls, across stadium skies through fields of grass, past fast, neon shoes and into goals, from Brazil to where we are. Our eyes follow. From Manaus and Fortaleza in the northern regions, traveling southward through Recife, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, and Rio de Janeiro, near the Tropic of Capricorn, downwards to Porto Alegre. The World Cup has been a feast of the sensory and the dramatic, from the Amazon basin, where bugs abound with sweat, where sometimes torrential rain soaks shoes; and where, last night, near the busied streets of Rio and the ecstatic fun of the Copacabana, the sun set before the Christ the Redeemer Statue, and over the final game. For a month, we have seen the omnipresent national flags worn on people’s clothes and faces, and the victory runs, leaps, and hugs; as well as the tears that give you a sort of palpable agony, in the post-goal and final moments of every match.  Continue reading

How Do You Pronounce This Blog’s Name, Anyway?

OED JuntoBack in 2012, when the initial ideas for this blog were first being thrown around, I suggested the name “The Junto.” I did so, not least because working at the Franklin Papers tends to keep Franklin on the brain. But I also suggested the name because the blog seemed to me to be analogous to the original group in that it was started by a bunch of upstarts with the intent of creating intellectual discourse amongst a supportive and engaged community. And those were the two most important initial goals of the blog. At the time, I never anticipated that there would ever be any confusion as to how to pronounce the blog. That may have been a good thing since I probably would not have suggested it otherwise (“pronouncability” being pretty important when it comes to naming things). So, you might ask: “What is the correct pronunciation?” That’s the thing. There doesn’t seem to be one, at least not nowadays. So, in an effort to hopefully settle the question, I decided to try to find out how people in the eighteenth century pronounced it. Continue reading

Benjamin Franklin and “our Seamen who were Prisoners in England”

Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 31: 497.Earlier this week, I found myself sitting at my desk at the Franklin Papers faced with photostat copies of an “Alphabetical List of Escaped Prisoners” and a huge pile of promissory notes printed in triplicate by Franklin himself on the press he kept at his home in Passy, a suburb outside Paris. While I was going through them, I could not help but think back to the recent events surrounding the return of U.S. Army Sergeant, Bowe Bergdahl, the last remaining prisoner of the nation’s longest continuous period of war since the American Revolution. Politics aside, the Bergdahl affair speaks to the importance placed on coming to the aid of Americans detained in wartime. And what I had before me at my desk spoke to the same during the War for Independence. These men—largely privateersmen who had been captured on the high seas by the British and transported to English prisons—were among the very first Americans imprisoned on foreign soil during wartime and these documents reveal an often untold story about how the United States government and Benjamin Franklin dealt with this new problem.

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The Details Matter: On Ta-Nehisi Coates and Reparations

The attention Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay on reparations has received is remarkable and welcome. But like most of the folks he’s directly appealing to—educated, mainstream liberals who read The Atlantic—I approached his essay skeptically, assuming reparations was an impractical, even irresponsible way to redress the crimes of slavery and the way its legacy, racism, continues to disadvantage all African Americans today. But by the end of it, I was convinced. A major reason why is because by reparations Coates, or at least the leading advocates for reparations he quotes in approval, aren’t arguing for simple payouts to African Americans. Coates knows too well that, lacking a more rigorous understanding of our nation’s history with slavery, and the continuing problems of institutionalized racism, cash payouts risk becoming little more than “hush-money.” Continue reading

Putting “Republicanism” in Its Place

“By 1990,” wrote Daniel Rodgers, the concept of republicanism in American historiography “was everywhere and organizing everything, though perceptibly thinning out, like a nova entering its red giant phase.” A quarter of a century later, it can seem barely more than a dull glow—and in part, we have Rodgers’ essay to thank for dimming the lights. If republicanism’s 1970s high-water-mark was followed by a decade of furious debate over republicanism-versus-liberalism, scholarship after 1990 often framed itself as moving beyond precisely that anachronistic question. There was, apparently, no such conflict in the minds of revolutionary-era Americans. The problems that troubled them were different ones entirely.[1] Continue reading

Guest Post: Is There a Revisionist Doctor in the House?

Carl Robert Keyes is a newly tenured Associate Professor of History at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. He is currently working on a book about advertising practices and consumer culture in eighteenth-century Philadelphia. An earlier version was delivered at the induction ceremony for the Phi Alpha Theta chapter at Framingham State University in April, 2014.

Earlier this month I finished teaching my first public history course. I’ve long been concerned about how professional historians, especially academic historians, (often don’t) communicate with the public and, in turn, the general public’s misunderstanding of the historian’s craft. Teaching a public history course made these apprehensions central to my work in the classroom. My students and I grappled with a different kind of historiography, a less formal historiography consisting of public opinion, incomplete recollections of elementary and secondary history education, and a “master narrative” that usually dominates stories of the American past told by many public figures, a narrative steeped in patriotism, heritage, and commemoration. More than ever, I found myself challenging my students (in all my classes, not just the public history course) to take a three-part approach in their studies:  learn about the past, learn about how professional historians have interpreted the past, and learn about how the general public understands the past. This became yet another way to demonstrate that course content has relevance outside the classroom and beyond the semester.

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Guest Post: Authors, Athletes and Law’s Privilege

Today’s guest post is from Nora Slonimsky, a doctoral candidate in history at the CUNY Graduate Center. Her dissertation is on the relationship between literary property and politics in the Early Republic. She has previously blogged for the New York Public Library. For the 2013-2014 academic year Nora was co-chair of the CUNY Early American Republic Seminar.

Base-Ball, image from A Little Pretty Pocket-Book 1744)As most graduate students experience first-hand, the relationship between universities and unions can be complex. Our position as students, employees or a combination of the two varies largely by institution, particularly by whether or not our universities are public or private. However, if you’re a Division One football player with a potential NFL career in your future, the construct of a student-athlete underscores a specific question about the nature of labor in higher education. For those who participate in collegiate sports, are academic scholarships a privilege or a right, a special acknowledgement of their abilities on the field or a form of compensation for service to their institutions? Yet the tension between privileges and rights is as much about intellectual activity as it is about physical skills, dating all the way back to Andrew Law’s Privilege of 1781.

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Grade Inflation or Compression?

Back in December, the Dean of Undergraduate Education at Harvard was quoted from a meeting of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences saying, “The median grade in Harvard College is indeed an A-. The most frequently awarded grade in Harvard College is actually a straight A.” This statistic was highly shocking to the general public (or at least the general media). Yale itself moved last year to address the problem when it turned out that 62% of grades given to undergraduates in a two-year period were A-minuses. Just a few weeks ago, the Teaching Center at Yale hosted a day-long seminar entitled, Are All Yale Students ‘A’ Students? A Forum on Grading.” Most recentlyRebecca Schuman published a piece on grading at Slate entitled, “Confessions of a Grade Inflator.” However, rather than only seeing what has happened as the inflation of individual students’ grades, we should also see it–from the instructor’s perspective–as a compressing of the grading scale itself. Doing so reveals multiple repercussions for both students and faculty that the individualized, student-centered notion of “grade inflation” misses. We need to keep in mind that grade inflation or compression doesn’t just benefit unworthy students; it actually has negative effects on both students and faculty, which should be the real causes for wanting to address the problem.

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