The “Suddenness” of the “Alteration”: Some Afterthoughts on #RevReborn2

As most, if not all, of our readers are aware, this past weekend was the “So Sudden an Alteration” conference hosted by the Massachusetts Historical Society in commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the Stamp Act.[1] It was the second of three conferences dedicated to rebirthing Revolution studies, hence, the hashtag #RevReborn2. (NB: You can find the immense backchannel coverage of the conference Storified here: Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3. You can also find Joseph Adelman’s interactive TAGSExplorer that chronicled the Twitter coverage). This post is not intended to be a standard Junto-type conference recap. Instead, I just want to offer some afterthoughts on the conference, specifically in light of the piece I wrote before the conference, entitled “Have Cultural Historians Lost the Revolution?” as well as numerous other pieces I have written about the historiography of the Revolution and the state of Revolution studies for the blog, particularly before the first #RevReborn conference back in 2013. Continue reading

No Politics, No Revolution

If there is a current orthodoxy among historians of the American Revolution, it is that the study of the Revolution has lost its focus. In their introduction to the Common-Place edition recapping the McNeil Center’s “The American Revolution Reborn” conference, Patrick Spero and Michael Zuckerman wrote of “a field that had grown stale” and that was “losing its verve, and worse, its center.” The call for papers for the forthcoming Massachusetts Historical Society conference effectively described the field as being stuck in a historiographical rut. There is a reason that study of the Revolution has lost its center. It has failed to concentrate its focus on politics. Continue reading

Have Cultural Historians Lost the American Revolution?

In just over a week from now, the Massachusetts Historical Society is hosting, “‘So Sudden an Alteration': The Causes, Course, and Consequences of the American Revolution,” an important conference on the American Revolution in recognition of the the 250th anniversary of the Stamp Act. This is the second of three conferences dedicated to rediscovering or re-energizing study of the American Revolution, the first of which, “The American Revolution Reborn,” was hosted by the McNeil Center for Early American Studies in the spring of 2013. And so with the conference fast approaching, I want to use this piece to think about the specific moment and circumstances in which American Revolution studies currently finds itself, which has been the catalyst for this series of conferences, and suggest possibilities going forward. The primary circumstance of that moment, with which many seem to agree, is that the study of the Revolution is in a rut, plodding along in the same “well-worn grooves of historical inquiry” for the “past fifty years,” according to the conference’s call for papers. Continue reading

Guest Post: William Black, Gordon Wood’s Notecards and the Two Presentisms

Today we are pleased to have a guest post from William R. Black (@w_r_black), a PhD student of history at Rice University. His research examines how Cumberland Presbyterians dealt with slavery, sectionalism, theological controversy, and professionalization in the nineteenth century.

blogsize-obama-gordon-woodGordon Wood riled up the #twitterstorians with a review of his advisor Bernard Bailyn’s latest book, Sometimes an Art: Nine Essays on History. Much of the review is not so much about Bailyn as it is about later generations of historians, who (according to Wood) have abandoned narrative history for “fragmentary,” obscure monographs on subaltern peoples. Wood attacks these historians for being “anachronistic—condemning the past for not being more like the present.” He continues: Continue reading

The Problem of Southern Indians’ Allegiance in the American Revolution

So you know what’s hilarious? Trying to revise your dissertation into a book during the semester. I will admit that I am in the middle of editing my worst dissertation chapter, and am yelling out of a metaphorical pit of despair that’s been dug by a combination of bad prose and end-of-the-semester angst. Part of these struggles have to do with the fact that even after writing the chapter, submitting it, and defending it, I’m still not really sure what this chapter’s argument needs to say. This problem is directly tied to the fact that I found (and continue to find) myself befuddled by late-eighteenth-century Southern Indian affairs. So many factions! So much switching of sides! So many different ways I manage to mis-type Scots-Creek go-between Alexander McGillivray’s last name![1] Continue reading

Economic Growth and the Historicity of Capitalism

NewYork1One of the central characteristics of the new history of capitalism has been its tendency to defer the question of just what “capitalism” is. The project’s enquiry starts with the question, not with a predetermined answer. But in order to know where to look, historians have to start with some idea about what makes a place and a time capitalist. As Tim Shenk points out in a recent article in The New Republic, the clue around which they converge is economic growth. Continue reading

Telling the Story of Women in Printing

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of women in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) both past and present named after the early nineteenth-century British mathematician. Here in our corner of early American studies, I want to mark the occasion by working through a question that I’ve worked on in my own writing for years: how do we effectively integrate women into the history of printing in early America?

Continue reading