Is Blogging Scholarship? Reflections on the OAH Panel

On Sunday, at the 2014 OAH Annual Meeting, I was part of a roundtable discussion entitled “Is Blogging Scholarship?” Several other participants have posted their thoughts on the subject; there was also a great deal of live-tweeting, and our own Joe Adelman has also joined (and developed!) the conversation. The discussion itself was fantastic, and was videotaped for later broadcasting. But in reflecting on the panel, I’ve found there are some points I wish to re-emphasize, and some problems I have with the way the entire roundtable was framed. Continue reading

A MOOC Confession

Peter Onuf rides into MOOCland

Peter Onuf rides into the world of MOOCs

I have a confession to make. I have been watching some MOOCs. I feel guilty about it, honestly, I do—not so much about the fact that I have been watching them, but more about the fact that I have also been enjoying them.

Continue reading

Just How Free Was Religious Life in the Early American Republic?

Religious liberty, perhaps, is the key legacy of the Revolutionary generation. The new United States was a society where slavery was a growing economic force, gender inequality was becoming entrenched, and the new nation’s expansion relied on the exploitation and expropriation of Native Americans. If there was one freedom, however, on the march in the early republic it was religious freedom. The progress of religious freedom in the United States was also the progress of religion itself. “[T]he number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the state” noted James Madison, that famous advocate of religious liberty, in an 1819 letter.[1] Religious freedom, then, is the American freedom. This has been the animating assumption behind most scholarship on the religious development of late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Continue reading

On Undergraduate Writing

I am currently in the midst of grading midterms and the process, as well as a recent piece by Marc Bousquet at CHE, has gotten me thinking about undergraduate writing and the debate of its value kicked off by Rebecca Schuman’s piece, “The End of the College Essay,” in Slate back in December. I want to use my post today to lay out some thoughts I have been having about undergraduate writing in lieu of the debate these articles have occasioned. Continue reading

Gaming History

Historical trappings are extremely popular with video game designers. The Assassin’s Creed (AC) series, for example, has made a great success of combining beautiful recreations of historical scenery with the sort of conspiracy fueled story lines that propel Dan Brown novels and the Nicolas Cage headed National Treasure series to the heights of popularity.[1] The Assassin’s Creed games present a fascinating vision of historical agency, where historical change is explained through a hybrid of extreme individual agency—in the form of the game’s protagonist(s)—and the unending trans-historical battle between competing secret societies.[2] This is a very cyclical vision of history. We (through the player character, Desmond Miles and his ancestors) can battle Evil but the struggle will repeat itself time after time.

As a historian and life-long gamer I find these aspects of my beloved hobby in turns fascinating, endearing, and befuddling.[3] The question of agency—whom or what produces historical continuity and change—is one of the most contested and controversial philosophical and historiographical problems in my profession. Entire fields, such as the history of American slavery and abolition, have been riven by big-stakes arguments over such questions.[4] Few things are better at sparking heated debate (and more than a few eye-rolls) than bringing up the “agency question” in a seminar room or at a conference.

Video game designers and writers wade into this intellectual battlefield in ways that will likely surprise and frustrate most historians. I want to explore how historical agency is represented in modern gaming by looking at two recent games from Paradox Interactive—Europa Universalis IV (2013) and Crusader Kings II (2012). Both are “grand strategy games,” a genre very different from Assassin’s Creed. Born out of war and strategy board games—from the old stand-by Risk to much more complex games like Settlers of Catangrand strategy games allow the player to take control of a nation-state, cultural group, or civilization and shape its future. To make matters more interesting, a video game allows many more facets of the human experience to be modeled than a board game does.[5] Continue reading

The Generation Game

The AHA recently announced the formation of an ad hoc committee to produce standard guidelines for evaluating digital scholarship. It is hoped that the guidelines will allow professional recognition of new scholarship in a way that can become codified within the tenure process. The committee is a veritable who’s who of digital humanities worthies—all with an excellent track record of traditional peer-reviewed scholarship and engagement with a variety of digital media. When this committee speaks, it will command attention.

This is an important step forward for the profession; having a rigorous set of guidelines for evaluation will serve as an important starting point for encouraging recalcitrant colleagues and administrators to take digital scholarship seriously. But there is one thing that is also notable about the committee—not to put too fine a point on it, it is rather old. All the scholars are safely tenured. Where are the voices of the new generation, of the digital natives? Continue reading

Are We All Book Historians Now?

Tomorrow at the Library Company of Philadelphia, I’ll be participating in a special edition of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies’ Friday seminar reflecting on five years of the Mellon Early American Literature and Material Texts Initiative. The Initiative began in 2009 as an effort to get early Americanists taking a material-texts approach to their research to step out of their respective fields and into a general conversation about the methods, theory, and potential of that approach. Over the course of five years, the initiative has provided funding for ten dissertation fellows to be in residency at the McNeil Center and make use of the tremendous resources of the Library Company and other area archives. In addition, the Initiative has contributed funding to conferences and sponsored a workshop each summer bringing together both junior and senior scholars to discuss their work and the trajectories of material-texts research. For Friday’s seminar, four former material-text fellows will discuss short selections of our current work and how our experiences in the Initiative have affected it.  Continue reading

Guest Post: “X” Marks the History: Plundering the Past in Assassin’s Creed IV

Robert Whitaker is a doctoral candidate in History at the University of Texas at Austin. His dissertation, “Policing Globalization: The Imperial Origins of International Police Cooperation, 1918-1960″ studies the relationship between the British Empire and international police organizations, such as Interpol. He serves as an Assistant General Editor for the journal Britain and the World, and is the creator of the YouTube series History Respawned. Bryan S. Glass teaches the history of Britain’s interactions with the World at Texas State University. He is the founding member and General Editor of The British Scholar Society and serves as an Editor of the Britain and the World book series (Palgrave Macmillan). His publications include an article in the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth HistoryThe Scottish Nation at Empire’s End (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming), and a co-edited volume with John MacKenzie entitled Scotland, Empire and Decolonisation in the Twentieth Century (Manchester University Press, forthcoming).

ACIVc

French game company Ubisoft has turned early American history into an age of booty. Over the past two years, the company has used early American history as the backdrop for three successive and successful titles in their Assassin’s Creed franchise: Assassin’s Creed III, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. The most recent of these titles, Black Flag, is set in the Golden Age of Piracy during the early eighteenth century, and is easily the most profitable and well received of the three. Critics and players have praised Black Flag for its gameplay, graphics, and music—or rather, sea shanties.[1] But the biggest reason why this game has garnered accolades and high sales is because of its use, or misuse, of history. More than any other Assassin’s Creed game, Black Flag plays fast and loose with the historical record. It skews away from accuracy in favor of fun at almost every turn. Yet even as Black Flag thumbs its nose at the concerns of academic history, it nevertheless succeeds, perhaps better than any previous title in the series, in giving players a sensibility of the age. Continue reading

Guest Post: Working on The Papers of Francis Bernard

Christopher F. Minty (University of Stirling) recently completed his dissertation on the social and cultural origins of Loyalism in New York during the imperial crisis. He is the recipient of numerous fellowships, including the British Library, the Huntington Library, the David Library of the American Revolution, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and Houghton Library at Harvard University. This is his second guest post for The Junto.

In early 2013, Michael D. Hattem offered some thoughts on his role as a Research Assistant on the Papers of Benjamin Franklin. Since then, a variety of other online databases have established themselves as essential go-to sources for students and scholars of colonial British America, the American Revolution and the early Republic. With the launch of Founders Online, it has complemented a stream of other online resources that have given us an unparalleled insight into the lives of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James and Dolley Madison, the Adams family as well as documentary histories of the ratification of the Constitution and, well, “People of the Founding Era.”  Continue reading

“Nor Any of the Rights of Citizenship”: Indians, Property, and International Law

In the years after the American victory at Yorktown, a series of debates took place over questions of citizenship and international law. Who counted as an American citizen, and what did that mean? What did the new American republics, and their confederation, owe to those who fell outside that category? In an earlier post, I discussed these matters in regard to one group of outsiders—suspected loyalists. Here I want to continue the theme as it touches a different group—Native Americans. Continue reading