Contested Rites

continental_prayerJoseph Yesurun Pinto, a 31 year-old Anglo-Dutch émigré in the autumn of 1760, had led New York’s Shearith Israel synagogue for barely a year when the second notice appeared in the papers. To re-commemorate the British conquest of Canada, all “Christian societies” and “houses of worship” would celebrate a day of thanksgiving on Thursday, October 23d. Over the past decade, New Englanders and their neighbors had held at least 50 fast days, many to lament God’s judgments against America, or to reform their wayward behavior. The proclamation of a thanksgiving day likely brought some measure of relief and joy.

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The Story of “Evacuation Day”

A century after the end of the War for Independence, New Yorkers continued to celebrate a holiday known as “Evacuation Day,” commemorating the leaving of the last British troops from New York City on November 25, 1783. It marked the end of a seven-year occupation by the British army who used the city as the headquarters for its North American operations during the war. But it also marked the beginning of a holiday that would be enthusiastically celebrated by New Yorkers for a century to come. On this anniversary, I offer the following narrative account of a day that played a large role in the city’s historical memory of the Revolution for more than a century, but was eventually displaced when it became incompatible with contemporary circumstances. Continue reading

Guest Post: Keeping the “Human” in the Humanities

Hannah Bailey is a PhD candidate in History at the College of William & Mary, where her research examines the interconnectivity between developing notions of race and the expansion of the African slave trade in the early modern French Atlantic. This is her second guest post at The Junto. Be sure and read her earlier post on French archives and entangled histories here

SAM_1925As someone who is also leaping into an entirely new historiography in preparation for dissertation writing, I could commiserate with Casey Schmitt’s brilliantly astute post on the costs and benefits of comparative projects. It can be terrifying to move from a historiography with which one is relatively comfortable to, as she puts it, “a [new] field where innumerable scholars have dedicated entire careers.” I took one undergraduate class on West African history (which was a survey course that occurred five years ago), and yet my dissertation focuses heavily on early modern histories of West Africa and the Atlantic networks of knowledge (and ignorance) that shaped them. The body of exemplary secondary source material on West Africa is vast, and working with it for the first time is more than a little daunting. Continue reading

Decoding Diplomacy

JA Steady 2

John Adams, Codename: “Steady”

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

Making the Adams Papers

acornNearly a quarter of a million manuscript pages, and almost fifty volumes to show for it: As we mark the 60th anniversary of production at the Adams Papers editorial project, here’s an inside look at our process, from manuscript to volume. Continue reading

Guest Post: Researching en Français: French Archives, and Why They’re Worth It for All Early Americanists

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.

ANOMI 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

A Humorous(?) Post about People Traveling by Canoe

Crossing the bar of Gallinas River, near Sierra Leone and Liberia. During the 1820s and 1830s, slave ships stopped at the mouth of the Gallinas River, to collect slaves. Image taken from The illustrated London News. Originally published/produced in London, 1849. British Library Images Online, Shelfmark P.P.7611.237, filename 080997

Crossing the bar of Gallinas River, near Sierra Leone and Liberia. During the 1820s and 1830s, slave ships stopped at the mouth of the Gallinas River, to collect slaves. Image taken from The illustrated London News. Originally published/produced in London, 1849. British Library Images Online, Shelfmark P.P.7611.237, filename 080997

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