A recent news story has me thinking about the weird enduring appeal of the Lost Cause. It seems to me that this news story about a contemporary religious organization might lead us into an interesting case study. Why, at this late date, do so many Americans still want to see the antebellum South as a tragically vanished world of nobility and grace?
Most early Americanists are familiar with David Barton, a conservative activist who argues that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. He’s been mentionedhereseveral times as the most visible proponent of a view that’s common among members of the “Religious Right.” What’s less widely understood is how often his Christian-founding ideology overlaps with a claim advanced by a few other evangelical conservatives: that the Confederacy—and antebellum southern culture, if not slavery itself—are also part of “America’s Godly heritage.” In these circles, in other words, the Founding is sometimes wrapped up with the Old South.
Was the purpose of the constitution to protect democracy from being ruined by the people or to protect commerce from being ruined by democracy? This was one of the questions put to Gordon Wood and Woody Holton in a debate held a few weeks ago at the University of South Carolina. A full video of the event has just been released on YouTube, and is embedded below. For anyone familiar with the work of these two historians, the debate will constitute a useful recap of the distinction between their two interpretations of the origins of the federal constitution. And for others, I hope it might be a kind of teaser for their excellent books! Continue reading →
We at The Junto are thrilled to host this guest post from Erik J. Chaput and Russell J. DeSimone, who are the historians-in-residence on the Dorr Rebellion Project Site sponsored by Providence College. Chaput is the author of The People’s Martyr: Thomas Wilson Dorr and His 1842 Rhode Island Rebellion (University Press of Kansas, 2013). DeSimone is the author of Rhode Island’s Rebellion (Bartlett Press, 2009). Chaput and DeSimone have collaborated on a number of projects, including this article on Common-place.org. Chaput and DeSimone welcome feedback on the site. They can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
The “People’s Ticket,” with a direct reference to 1776, served as a connection between the American and Dorr Rebellions.
When Rhode Island finally ratified the U.S. Constitution in May 1790, the state sent back to Congress eighteen amendments. These amendments revealed a deep suspicion of the new central establishment, a suspicion that had been increased by the failure to include a bill of rights. The first line of the lengthy third amendment declared that “the powers of government may be reassumed by the people, whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness.” Continue reading →
Few issues trouble historians of all stripes more than the disconnect between “popular” and “academic” history. Somewhere in the mists of the recent past the Age of Hofstadter gave way to, at best, the Age of McCulloch and, at worst, the Age of Barton. The waning influence of professional historians in the public sphere particularly troubles the historical blogosphere. The popular-academic history disconnect is something addressed a lot here at The Junto, including with a podcast.
I am, as I said on the JuntoCast episode, particular dour about the possibility of bridging this gap. Academic historians, public historians, and interested members of the public more often than not talk past each other. How each group defines “good” or “useful” history is often so at cross-purposes that it sounds like one side is speaking English, another French, and another Dothraki. My attention was recently drawn to a series of posts by Peter Feinman at New York History, which deeply entrenched my Eeyore-like-sullenness when it comes to these questions. Continue reading →
This week, Chief Curator Constance Cooper shares what’s next for the past at the Delaware Historical Society.
JUNTO: Can you describe the range and scope of the Society’s pre-1865 collections, and how researchers can access materials?
COOPER: The Delaware Historical Society has rich pre-1865 collections. Special strengths are the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, Delaware founding fathers, early businesses, and early organizations. The Society’s collections are cataloged in Ask Caesar. Researchers are welcome to visit the library on Monday, 1pm-9pm, Tuesday, 9am-1pm, Thursday, 9am-1pm, Friday 9am-5pm, and the third Saturday of the month, 10am-4pm. A good deal of basic Delaware information and bibliography is available in the Delaware Online section here. 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.
While a rejection is nothing any writer wants, sometimes it is what we need. Such was the case with my proposals to publishers for a book about Thomas Mundy Peterson. If you’ve heard of Peterson before, chances are it will be for the Wikipedia reason; in 1870, he became the first African-American to vote under the auspices of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. He was, of course, more than that moment.
Over at Slate last week, our Junto colleague Eric Herschthal reviewed some of the latest popular histories of revolutionary America, including two new studies of the years around 1776 by Richard Beeman and Joseph Ellis. Eric takes a very critical view of the analytical stance of the books–arguing that they are too in thrall to outdated and invalidated historical techniques; focusing too much on elites and ‘leadership’ at the expense of more recent trends in scholarship, such as the new emphasis on those who stayed (or tried to stay) neutral during the Revolutionary War.
Perhaps the most provocative part of the review is this statement:
“If you bought a popular book on science, one that came with a similar sheen of intellectual prestige, and learned that it essentially ignored years’ worth of scholarship, you’d demand your money back. Why should history be any different?”
On a cold and wet May Friday in London, I decided to take refuge from the weather by stepping back into the eighteenth century. While serving as agent for the colony of Pennsylvania (and others), Benjamin Franklin lodged in a small dwelling on Craven Street, now just behind Charing Cross station and a short walk from Parliament. Though Franklin’s lodgings were originally misidentified (to the extent that a commemorative plaque was placed on the wrong house!), the original building still stands. Now the only surviving Franklin home in the world, the house is the home of the “Benjamin Franklin Historical Experience,” dedicated to telling the story of “the first American embassy.” Continue reading →
When lines were drawn by Englishmen in 1763, the Proclamation Line probably looms largest in the historian’s mindset. But another line also appeared for the first time in 1763, when Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon set out to survey the line that would come to bear their name. Jeremiah Dixon is of particular interest to me, as I am also a County Durham native who hopes to make his name through close and careful study of Pennsylvania. So when my parents told me about an upcoming exhibition at the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, County Durham, dedicated to the life of Jeremiah Dixon, I knew it was something I wanted to check out. Continue reading →