The Question of Narrative

borgesdesmazieres2Should historians embrace the art of narrative, or treat it with more suspicion? In his review of Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton back in July, USIH’s Kurt Newman argued that “the book-length narrative” is not “the proper form for the presentation of a historical argument.” Narrative, he wrote, involves too much selection, too many authorial choices hidden from the reader. “Most importantly,” Newman suggested, “constructing a narrative is almost always tied up with some telos or end,” a teleology that serves as expression or conduit of ideology, pulling us towards the outcome we imagine fits. Narrative, in other words, is something more than reasoned argument. It enlists desire to shape the way we think. Continue reading

Historians Attend Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical

This post was written by Christopher Minty and Nora Slonimsky, who, many moons ago, woke up early on a Sunday morning to purchase tickets to the opening-night preview performance of Hamilton: An American Musical, which took place on July 13, 2015, at the Richard Rodgers Theater in New York CityThis post was originally posted on July 192015It was removed as a courtesy to the show’s creative and promotional teamsIt has been reposted with significant alterations and additions.

hamilton_FBHip-hop is on Broadway, not just in a popular YouTube video. On Monday, July 13, 2015, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit off-Broadway musical, HAMILTON, made its debut on the big stage. On August 6, 2015, rebranded as Hamilton: An American Musical, a much-applauded, diverse cast returned to perform in the official opening of a much larger, hopefully long-running production at the Richard Rodgers Theater.

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Seriously, though, was the American Revolution a Civil War?

On February 18, 2014, Tom Cutterham asked, “Was the American Revolution a Civil War?” According to Cutterham, understanding the Revolution that way might be useful. If we did, he suggested, “we’d better understand the way the modern world—the nexus of state, citizen, and property—was born in and determined by violence.”[1] Continue reading

The Charleston Shooting and the Potent Symbol of the Black Church in America

Emanuel landscapeLast night, Dylann Storm Roof entered the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, sat through an hour-long meeting, and then opened fire on those in attendance. Reverend Clementa Pinckney, a state senator, was among nine individuals who were killed. Many are shocked at not only the grisly nature of the shooting, but also its location. “There is no greater coward,” Cornell William Brooks, president of the N.A.A.C.P, declared in a statement, “than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture.” Yet this experience is unfortunately, and infuriatingly, far from new: while black churches have long been seen as a powerful symbol of African American community, they have also served as a flashpoint for hatred from those who fear black solidarity, and as a result these edifices have been the location for many of our nation’s most egregious racial terrorist acts. Continue reading

Single-Perspective Narratives and the Politics of Marriage History

scotus-obergefell-ahaEarlier this month, the American Historical Association announced that it had signed a Supreme Court amicus curiae brief in support of legal same-sex marriage.[1] This well-written, scholarship-rich brief was apparently drafted by Nancy Cott, and it was signed by many other distinguished historians of marriage.

In discussions that followed on Twitter, some professional historians who were happy with this brief (as I imagine most were) told me they supported it on the basis of historians’ collective interest in historical accuracy. History has been distorted, they argued, by conservative arguments—specifically, by conservatives’ appeals to what marriage has supposedly always been like. They agreed with the AHA that conservatives have advanced not only an unconvincing interpretation but also a set of demonstrably false claims.[2] Specifically, it seems, they think it’s false to say that marriage historically “serv[ed] any single, overriding purpose.”[3]

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Serial, Microhistory, and the Perils of Historical Research

I’ve been listening to Serial again. Part of this is the spate of articles and interviews that attack (perhaps not persuasively) the foundations of Sarah Koenig’s research and reporting. Another reason is that, as someone in the midst of researching and writing a dissertation, I find Serial’s storytelling and depth of research very compelling and inspiring. At the same time, as a historian, the popular podcast has left me deeply troubled and uncomfortable with its final product. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHHappy 2015 to our Junto readers! Continue reading