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.
Today’s guest post comes from Barton Price. Barton is the Director of the Centers for Academic Success and Achievement at Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). He has taught courses in American history, religious studies, and history of rock and roll at IPFW. Price has a Ph.D. in American religious history from Florida State University. His research interests vary from religion in the American heartland to the scholarship of teaching and learning in religious studies and history. Here he offers some thoughts on teaching the U.S. History survey course gleaned from his administrative experience in an academic support center.
The start of another semester is upon us. It is a new opportunity to teach students about America’s past, to correct longstanding inaccurate assumptions about that past, and to introduce students to the ways of thinking like a historian. It is also an opportunity to foster student academic success. The introductory survey course is a venue for such accomplishments. Continue reading →