Museum Miles

Houghton HallOne of the serendipitous joys of warm-weather research is (occasionally) fleeing the archive to sample a new city’s eateries, museums, and sites. As you research your way across America (and beyond) this spring/summer, here are a few exhibits worth pausing for—feel free to add more in the comments.

The Smithsonian museums offer a new array of promising shows: join James McNeill Whistler for a ramble through London, 1859; tour treaties made between American Indian nations and the United States; relive the rivalry of Civil War generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee; trace the North American birds who have flown into history since 1600 (and see a few more preserved in bronze); or hum along to Francis Scott Key’s original manuscript of The Star-Spangled Banner. The DuSable Museum in Chicago presents “Red, White, Blue & Black: A History of Blacks in the Armed Services” from the American Revolution to the Vietnam War. Or head to the English countryside in late June by way of Houston, when the Museum of Fine Arts debuts paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts from Sir Robert Walpole’s Houghton Hall. At the Met, take a closer look at early American guitars and the workmanship of antebellum artisan C. F. Martin. A train ride to Brooklyn will get you a close-up of “Small Wonders from the American Collections.” To glimpse treasures from the Bodleian Library, including the manuscript of Handel’s Messiah and “the definitive account of Aztec civilization,” stop by the Morgan Library & Museum.

On the West Coast, check out Seattle’s Porcelain Room, and back on the East Coast, watch how American notions of photography, er, develop throughout the nineteenth century: “From its origins in recording the unadorned appearance of the human face, American photography evolved into a means of communicating personal attributes, beyond documentary into the fiction: By the end of the century, people were shown conversing with ghosts, struggling through faux blizzards created in the studio, even confronting their spirit doubles. Rare examples of these “photographic fictions” are included in MIT’s exhibition.” Also in Boston, visit “Tell It with Pride,” the story of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, currently on view at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

After a long day’s work, enjoy the real-life caper played out in Art and Craft, a new documentary about Mark Landis, and billed as the true tale of “one of the most prolific art forgers in U.S. history.” At the University of Notre Dame, take a break in the newly reinstalled Snite Museum of Art’s nineteenth-century gallery, reviewed here. For the armchair enthusiast: Browse the excellent database of nineteenth-century French drawings available here, thanks to the collaboration of the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Museum. And finally, check out the NEH events calendar for library programs, lectures, and more taking place at diverse venues around the country. Enjoy!

Guest Post: Dramaturging The Tower: A Historian’s Cannibalistic Adventures in Theater

TOWER_POSTCARD_FRONT-1 (2)Today’s guest post come from Maya Rook, a writer and artist living in Brooklyn, New York. She is pursuing her PhD in American Cultural History at Drew University. Collaborating on The Tower has inspired her to write her dissertation about the Donner Party. If she were to eat a piece of human flesh, it would likely be from the belly or rear—braised until the meat is tender and then broiled so the skin reaches crispy perfection. Check out her food blog and personal website. Continue reading

Godly Heritage and Plantation Chic: The Case of Vision Forum

Detail from a page of the Vision Forum 2014 catalogA 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 mentioned here several times as the most visible proponent of a view that’s common among members of the “Religious Right.”[1] 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.”[2] In these circles, in other words, the Founding is sometimes wrapped up with the Old South.

Continue reading

Wood & Holton on the Constitution

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

Guest Post: A New Forum Dedicated to the Study of the Dorr Rebellion and Constitutional Reform in Rhode Island

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 Chaput and DeSimone welcome feedback on the site. They can be contacted at: and

The "People's Ticket," with a direct reference to 1776, served as a connection between the American and Dorr Rebellions.

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

When Was the Last Time You Loved America?

MCEAS Conference

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.[1] 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.[2] 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

Collecting Delaware

TCaesarRodneyhis 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