Ciphers, codes, and keys—plus reflections on how to encrypt sensitive developments in early American diplomacy—run through the papers of two generations in the Adams family’s saga of public service. So how did they use secrecy in statecraft? Continue reading
Hannah Bailey, a PhD candidate in History at the College of William & Mary, studies the interconnectivity between developing notions of race and the expansion of the African slave trade in the early modern French Atlantic. She graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2010, with degrees in History and French, and a minor in Gender and Women’s Studies. Her master’s thesis focused on how women like Eliza Jaquelin Ambler Brent Carrington remembered, defined, and recorded their experiences during the American Revolution for her master’s thesis. Her dissertation uses histories of West Africa written by individuals like Jean-Baptiste Labat to help explain why, in early eighteenth-century accounts of the region, the fiction of African inferiority began to supersede the fact of African political and economic dominance on the West African coast.
I never learned the verb “rebobiner” in any of my nine years’ worth of French courses. I don’t blame my French teachers or professors for this. Neither they nor I had any idea that it would one day become an integral part of my vocabulary as I commenced my dissertation research in the Archives Nationales d’Outre-mer in Aix-en-Provence, France. As it happens, “rebobiner” means “to rewind the bobbin of microfilm that you spent twelve minutes learning how to load onto the microfilm reader, because microfilm is always complicated and is triply so when the directions are in a foreign language,” or…something like that. Despite my attempts to prepare myself for my time in the French archives, I experienced more “trials by fire” than I might care to admit. All of my listening to French radio, reading complex French secondary sources, and frantic scouring of French online archival inventories only got me so far. Despite the best efforts of the kindest and most helpful archival staff I’ve yet encountered, I often had to learn by doing, and that wasn’t always easy. It was, however, always worth it. Continue reading
This summer I started research for my second book project, which I will admit feels a bit ridiculous when my first book project is still in process. I’m blithely ignoring this problem at the moment. In brief, the project, currently-horribly-titled “Aquatic Foodways” asks two related questions: 1) Where, why, and how did people fight over food when crossing water in the early modern Atlantic, and 2) What happened when people disembarked and interacted with indigenous peoples as they searched for sustenance? After a month of preliminary research at the British Library this summer, I’m decidedly more interested in the second question, but have a sense that I’ll need to answer the first question before proceeding forward. Continue reading
Today’s guest post is by Emily Merrill, a PhD candidate in the History Department at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on issues of gender and military history in the British Atlantic world during the 18th century. She is currently completing a dissertation entitled, “Judging Empire: British Military Courts and the Politics of the Body.”
One of the most provocative aspects of the popular Netflix series Orange is the New Black is the way it grapples with the issue of class (as well as race, gender, and sexuality) as it relates to the contemporary American penal system. By contrasting the prison experiences of the main character, Piper, an upper middle class white woman, with those of a range of working class and minority characters, the show invites a deeper reflection on the complex ways in which class divisions help shape and organize a supposedly impartial system of justice. In my own research on British military courts during the Revolutionary War, I have found that class, specifically the divide between officers and enlisted men, also helped determine crucial aspects of the military justice system. Continue reading
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.
Ever since Richard Hofstadter called John C. Calhoun the “Marx of the Master Class,” at least, American historians have pondered the relationship between the pro-slavery critique of Northern wage labor and later left-wing critiques of capitalism. One of Calhoun’s great themes, as Hofstadter noted, was the inevitable “conflict between labor and capital,” a conflict that threatened to overwhelm the “free institutions” of the North. Continue reading