The ratification of the Federal Constitution is a notoriously difficult historical event to categorize. On the one hand, it is a watershed moment; the creation of a consolidated federal government with extensive power is a clear break with the immediate post-Independence traditions of American governance. Yet at the same time, it is traditionally seen as the final achievement of a revolutionary generation—the fulfillment of the ideals of the Revolution. Continue reading
There is a breed of historians known, colloquially, as “cold water” historians for their drive to pour analytic “cold water” on the politically or historiographical fashionable arguments. Pauline Maier most certainly belongs to this historiographical polar bear club. As anyone who read her New York Times obituary (or any other, really) knows, Maier is famous for describing Thomas Jefferson as “overrated.” Her wonderful American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence brings the most powerful weapons of the skeptical historians— context and contingency—to bear on that central document of American political and national identity. Continue reading
It’s often said that we tell old stories to get new ones, a truth self-evident in my favorite of Pauline Maier’s many works, The Old Revolutionaries: Political Lives in the Age of Samuel Adams (1980). And everything I admire about her as a scholar rolls in with the first lines of that barefaced preface: “Let me confess at the outset that this book, though it answers some questions of the sort historians are trained to ask, has also been—and was meant from the outset to be—a personal adventure. I wanted to know better what it was to be an American of the late eighteenth century and to live through the American Revolution” (xiii). Maier’s prosopography of five men and their “worlds,” accentuated by a thoughtful “interlude” on the rigors of political life in the colonies, marked a change in how historians used individual biographies to retell the Revolution to post-bicentennial Americans. First given as a series of lectures at New York University in 1976, the essays gather a fairly random matrix of people for a group shot of colonial life: Samuel Adams, Isaac Sears, Dr. Thomas Young, Richard Henry Lee, and Charles Carroll. Few had appeared in solo biographies, and if they did, it was often in fairly dim light. In fewer than 300 pages, Maier promised to deliver the story of “not just why Americans made the Revolution, but what the Revolution did to them.” How to get at it? Continue reading
One of the things that set Pauline Maier apart was the exuberance she brought to the work of history. That joyful zeal is charmingly expressed in the metaphor she used to evoke the intellectual atmosphere in which she wrote her dissertation and first book, From Resistance to Revolution (1972). “In the heady days of the 1960s,” she recalled in 1991, a group of Bernard Bailyn’s graduate students shared the exciting “conviction” that “a great historical paradigm, an interpretation of the Revolution that had stood for most of the century, was collapsing like some great empire, and that another, equally powerful, was already coming into view” (v-vi). It was, indeed, a “‘revolution’ in historical understanding” (ix). Continue reading
The following is an interview with Ted Andrews, an assistant professor of history at Providence College in Rhode Island. Yesterday, Christopher Jones reviewed his book, Native Apostles: Black and Indian Missionaries in the British Atlantic World (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013), and now Ted is speaking with The Junto about the process of writing it. Ted teaches early American, Atlantic, and Native American history, and he was recently awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to explore his next project on global missionary connections among early modern Protestants. Native Apostles is his first book.
Today’s guest post comes from Ben Wright, a doctoral candidate at Rice University, who focuses on religious conversion and early American antislavery. He is the co-editor of Apocalypse and the Millennium in the Era of the American Civil War (LSU, 2013), the editor of the Teaching United States History blog, and co-editor of The American Yawp.
Like many of you, I find myself teaching the first half of the U.S. history survey this fall. The first few times through the course, I used a textbook and appreciated the clear organizational structure and built-in pacing. Teaching with a textbook felt like teaching with training wheels, and I certainly needed them for my first few laps. But as my confidence grew, so did my desire to assign primary sources, articles, monographs, museum catalogs, and other readings. While I am impressed with the quality of many texts – Eric Foner’s Give Me Liberty, and Kevin Schultz’s HIST are among my favorites – I cannot justify assigning an (often outrageously) expensive textbook if it is not going to be the cornerstone of my course. But my course evaluations often include requests for textbooks, particularly among athletes or other students with serial absences. I have tried placing a textbook on reserve, but in the three semesters of doing so, no one has ever checked out the book. It seems like our discipline could use an affordable, synthetic safety net for students who would like one. Continue reading
Brett Rushforth is Associate Professor of History at the College of William and Mary, where he teaches courses on the history of early America, American Indians, and comparative race and slavery. He is the co-editor, with Paul Mapp, of Colonial North America and the Atlantic World: A History in Documents (Pearson/Prentice-Hall, 2008), and he currently serves as Book Review Editor for the William and Mary Quarterly. His first monograph, Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France was published by University of North Carolina Press for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture in 2012, and has won several awards, including the 2013 Merle Curti Award in Social History (Organization of American Historians), 2013 FEEGI Biennial Book Prize (Forum on European Expansion and Global Interaction), and 2013 Mary Alice and Philip Boucher Prize (French Colonial Historical Society). It was also recently named a finalist for the 2013 Frederick Douglass Book Prize (Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition). Dr. Rushforth is currently at work, with Christopher Hodson, on a general history of the early modern French Atlantic. Under contract with Basic Books, its working title is Discovering Empire: France and the Atlantic World from the Crusades to the Age of Revolution. Continue reading
Today’s guest post comes from Cambridge Ridley Lynch, a PhD student at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is currently working on a project that links American weather study with larger shifts in American science and politics.
In their recent recap of the MCEAS’ “Traces of Early America” conference, Sara Damiano and Michael Blaakman spoke of the need to examine “processes, events, ideas, and dynamics that subsequent history has largely obscured, and that often pose significant evidentiary problems for those who wish to write about them.” Clearly, the work presented at the conference did much to flesh out adumbrations left throughout the historical record, often by focusing on close reading of specific events, personages, and texts. But what about a factor that is so ubiquitous so as to hardly be thought of at all, one that every single person in a historical moment and place experiences at the same time, and yet goes largely unremarked upon in historical texts? Naturally, I’m talking about the weather. 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.
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