Kimberly Alexander is an Adjunct Professor in the History Department at UNH, Durham, where she teaches courses in museum studies and material culture. She earned her Ph.D. in Art & Architectural History from Boston University and was a founding Curator of Architecture and Design at the MIT Museum. She’s also served as Curator of Architecture and Design at the Peabody Essex Museum and Chief Curator of Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, NH. Dr. Alexander has published several books and essays, and has recently had papers presented at history of fashion conferences in London and Florence. Her current catalog and exhibition project is titled “Cosmopolitan Consumption: Georgian Shoe Stories From the Long 18th Century.”
How does one select a sampling of dozens of pairs of eighteenth-century shoes and translate the assemblage into a coherent museum exhibit housed in one charming, but tiny gallery? How does one translate a five-year study of eighteenth-century consumption patterns, cultural diffusion, and gentility in the Atlantic shoe trade into a show that will excite the imaginations of early Atlantic scholars yet appeal to the general public? How does present a material culture and fashion history exhibition in a refined Athenaeum situated in a corner of New Hampshire? Continue reading →
Today’s guest poster, Jeffrey A. Fortin, is an Assistant Professor of History at Emmanuel College, Boston. He is currently finishing up a book on Paul Cuffe, an African-American Quaker and merchant in the early republic.
Credit cards, electronic banking, online shopping, and a host of other modern forms of commerce did not exist at the turn of the nineteenth century. Merchants throughout the Atlantic relied on reputation and good character when determining a customer’s credit worthiness. Not exactly a foolproof way to do business but seemingly less risky than our fully electronic world of money and banking in twenty-first century America. Yet, identity theft and fraud were still a part of doing business.
Richard Dunn has written a big book. Normally, big books like Dunn’s are primarily meant for fellow academics, grad students who need to pad their comps list, and the super-interested general public. (That category still exists, right? Right?) For academics, these types of books influence two aspects of our scholarly life: our own academic projects and our classroom instruction. The previous participants in the roundtable have focused on A Tale of Two Plantations’s contribution to the former category, while I would like to focus my remarks on the latter. So I am going to skip the basic parameters of a book review—namely, identifying the key arguments and weaknesses of the volume—and focus on how this book can work with undergraduate students. Continue reading →
The most interesting thing about Richard Dunn’s “intergenerational study” of slave life in Mount Airy and Mesopotamia plantations of Virginia and Jamaica is its incompleteness. As Dunn notes, A Tale of Two Plantations is a narrative without “a proper opening or a proper conclusion.” His source base begins relatively arbitrarily with a pair of masters who sought to improve their record keeping and ends with the institution of slavery itself. This is tragic, of course, for our knowledge of the lives of the enslaved persons of Mesopotamia and Mount Airy are circumscribed by the ability of whites to track them. In Jamaica, that proves troubling in freedom while in Virginia and Alabama, thanks to better census taking, the lives of the families of Mount Airy are much easier to recover. These sources, of course, mirror the experience of slavery itself.
When Walter Johnson published Soul by Soul in 2001, he unleashed a critical analysis of the inner life of slavery. More than just an exploration of the plantation complex, or even the indignities and tragedies of slavery, Johnson elucidated how the buying and selling of black bodies affected (in Johnson’s argument, corrupted) the participants in slavery. Johnson had identified a critical hole in the historiography. And now, Richard S. Dunn’s newest contribution to the scholarly discourse, A Tale of Two Plantations, compares life at two plantations—Mt. Airy (MD) and Mesopotamia (Jamaica)—to understand how slavery affected these two plantations, and conversely, how conditions on these plantations affected the enslaved.