Thanks to the Comte de Buffon’s comprehensive Natural History, every European in the eighteenth century knew that the American environment was conducive only to degeneration. Still, Buffon admitted, “though Nature has reduced all the quadropeds of the new world, yet she has preferred the size of reptiles, and enlarged that of insects.” As his Dutch colleague Cornelis de Pauw put it, giant insects and venomous snakes “so unhappily distinguish this hemisphere” from the more hospitable side of the Atlantic. Leaving aside insects for the moment, reptiles—and especially serpents—have always had a powerful symbolic valence. In the American context, the ambivalent use of the reptile shows up some of the complex relationship between the colonists’ natural world and their political imagination.
Joel Barlow and Noah Webster graduated from Yale together in 1778 with little sense of what they might do next. Their experience will be familiar to graduates of our own day, except, of course that it was in the middle of a Revolutionary War. “We are not the first men in the world to have broke loose from college without fortune to puff us into public notice,” Barlow wrote to Webster. But if ever virtue and merit were to be rewarded, he went on, “it is in America.” Both men would have their faith in America sorely tested over the following decades, as they struggled to gain entry into established social elites that were themselves experiencing tension and transformation. Continue reading
Here’s a roundup of early American art on special exhibit throughout the autumn. Please share your links and thoughts on using early American art in the classroom in the comments, below. Enjoy! Continue reading
Today’s guest poster is Ariel Ron, who earned his PhD in history at the University of California, Berkeley, and is currently a visiting research associate at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies.
Three or four years ago, while doing research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library, I stumbled upon a lost cache of some ten-thousand pamphlets. I had been browsing the papers of Stephen Colwell, a nineteenth-century ironmaster and writer, when archivist John Pollack called me into the closed stacks behind the reading room. There he showed me Colwell’s personal pamphlet library, neatly bound into hundreds of volumes. The collection also included three thousand works from the library of Colwell’s friend, Henry C. Carey (see picture to right), without question the most important American political economist of the mid-nineteenth century. The sheer size of the corpus floored me. Continue reading
I’ve never met anybody, living or dead, who fits their name quite as well as Peregrine Foster did. I encountered Peregrine in the papers of his brother, Dwight Foster, at the Massachusetts Historical Society, where I was looking for compilations of meaty correspondence that depicted land speculators at work. Peregrine was the youngest of three; his older brothers were Congressmen from Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Peregrine, though, wasn’t destined for such prominence.
In 1780, at the age of twenty-one, he more or less flunked out of the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (now Brown University), complaining that his homework was eating him. “Though it is but only 23 Days since he began the 1st Vol of Blackstone’s Commentaries,” his oldest brother wrote, “he lost Flesh surprizingly and . . . is persuaded that it is not for his Interest to pursue his Books.” Peregrine wanted to go to sea, but his brothers disapproved. So instead, after a few years of twenty-something idleness, he resolved to venture west in pursuit of a fortune through land speculation. Continue reading
How did eighteenth-century print networks really operate? This week, The Junto asked Jordan Goffin, Special Collections Librarian at the Providence Public Library, how mapping Rhode Island’s early book trade led to the creation of a new digital atlas.
JUNTO: Can you describe the Atlas of the Rhode Island Book Trade in the Eighteenth Century, and why you chose a digital platform for the project? How did you select the software and organize your digital workflow? Continue reading
The Watkinson Library at Trinity College has an impressive collection of manuscript music from the late eighteenth century. Thanks to a grant from the Bibliographical Society of America, I spent a few weeks in June on a research road trip in New England, and Trinity was my first stop. Although I was focusing on musical commonplace books and copybooks, at the suggestion of librarian Sally Dickinson I also worked with their collection of annotated hymnals. It was while perusing these volumes that I came across something I hadn’t seen before: a hymnal in which every reference to Britain had been crossed out and replaced with the word “America” or related terms (New England, Western States, United States, etc.) As the assiduous penman noted at the bottom of one page, the entire volume had been “translated to America.”
This week, The Junto spoke with Lea VanderVelde, the Josephine R. Witte Professor of Law at the University of Iowa College of Law, a Guggenheim Fellow in Constitutional Studies, and principal investigator of the Law of the Antebellum Frontier project, which “seeks to digitally analyze the legal and economic mechanisms at work on the American frontier in the early 1800s.” She kindly took our questions on her work-in-progress, and why digital research transforms the early American legal history of how the West was run. Continue reading
Today’s post is by guest blogger, David J. Gary, who received his MLS from Queen’s College (CUNY) in 2011 and his PhD in History from the CUNY Graduate Center in 2013. He is currently an adjunct assistant professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at Queens College (CUNY). He blogs at Function Follows Forme.
I am grateful to The Junto for this chance to reflect on my experiences earning both a Master’s in Library Science and a PhD in American history and to advocate for others to consider joining me. Continue reading