The Week in Early American History

TWEAHWe hope you will forgive the spottiness of TWEAH recently, but it is likely to be a regular occurrence during the summer months. Nevertheless, here are some links for you this Independence Day holiday weekend… Continue reading

Guest Post: Of Class and Courts-Martial: The Case of Ensign McVicar

Today’s guest post is by Emily Merrill, a PhD candidate in the History Department at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on issues of gender and military history in the British Atlantic world during the 18th century. She is currently completing a dissertation entitled, “Judging Empire: British Military Courts and the Politics of the Body.”

adyeOne of the most provocative aspects of the popular Netflix series Orange is the New Black is the way it grapples with the issue of class (as well as race, gender, and sexuality) as it relates to the contemporary American penal system. By contrasting the prison experiences of the main character, Piper, an upper middle class white woman, with those of a range of working class and minority characters, the show invites a deeper reflection on the complex ways in which class divisions help shape and organize a supposedly impartial system of justice. In my own research on British military courts during the Revolutionary War, I have found that class, specifically the divide between officers and enlisted men, also helped determine crucial aspects of the military justice system. Continue reading

Benjamin Franklin and “our Seamen who were Prisoners in England”

Papers of Benjamin Franklin, 31: 497.Earlier this week, I found myself sitting at my desk at the Franklin Papers faced with photostat copies of an “Alphabetical List of Escaped Prisoners” and a huge pile of promissory notes printed in triplicate by Franklin himself on the press he kept at his home in Passy, a suburb outside Paris. While I was going through them, I could not help but think back to the recent events surrounding the return of U.S. Army Sergeant, Bowe Bergdahl, the last remaining prisoner of the nation’s longest continuous period of war since the American Revolution. Politics aside, the Bergdahl affair speaks to the importance placed on coming to the aid of Americans detained in wartime. And what I had before me at my desk spoke to the same during the War for Independence. These men—largely privateersmen who had been captured on the high seas by the British and transported to English prisons—were among the very first Americans imprisoned on foreign soil during wartime and these documents reveal an often untold story about how the United States government and Benjamin Franklin dealt with this new problem.

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Guest Post: “Early Modern France and the Americas” Conference Recap

Craig Gallagher is a PhD candidate in History at Boston College. His dissertation analyzes Scots and their religious and economic networks in the late seventeenth century British Atlantic World.

1396010110570-031dbAtlantic history has always had at its heart a simple enough goal: to connect the histories of Europe, Africa, and the Americas so that historians can better understand each in relation to the others. Scholars have disagreed about how best to realize this goal, and about whether it is a goal worth realizing at all, but few have denied that Atlantic history as a pursuit has enriched our understanding of the early modern world. Although this has been particularly true for historians of the British and Spanish empires in the Americas, it is a more recent development among scholars of the French empire. By convening the “Early Modern France and the Americas: Connected Histories” Symposium (Program#FrenchAtlantic on Twitter) at Boston College on May 2-3 – an event co-sponsored by the Institut des Amériques – the organizers, Owen Stanwood (Boston College) and Bertrand van Ruymbeke (Université de Paris VIII), sought to showcase those historians of France and French North America whose work, either in print or in progress, has extended an Atlantic perspective to the history of France and its early modern empire in the Americas.

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Notes on Thompson, Arendt, and Revolutionary Violence

In the first episode of HBO’s John Adams miniseries there’s a memorable scene (NB: it includes nudity) in which Adams is present at the tarring and feathering of a customs officer at Boston harbour. The purpose of the scene was to frame Adams as an outsider whose firm principles prevent him from ever being an organic leader of the American people—a theme that runs throughout the series. But it also does something else, which is to acknowledge early on that the American Revolution was an affair of violence. In a particularly poignant moment of the scene (2.02-2.07 in the clip), the director even chose to portray slaves in chains, looking on silently at the anger of the American mob. That is, he chose to remind us that violence in colonial and revolutionary America wasn’t just momentary and spectacular, but also pervasive and structural.[1] Continue reading

The Revolution is Reborn at Common-place

home_revolutionLast summer, Philadelphia witnessed a gathering of many delegates who discussed British tyranny and American liberty. Though none of the resulting documents may be as influential as Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, the proceedings of “The American Revolution Reborn: New Perspectives for the Twenty-First Century” should at least instigate some debate. The conference itself was a product of generosity from Frank Fox, the American Philosophical Society, the David Library of the American Revolution, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, Samuel Adams® (the beer, who aptly supplied refreshments for the reception), and the Museum of the American Revolution (who provided an expansive—and sweltering!—location for the closing activities). A good number of Juntoists were in attendance—there is even photographic evidence!—and the excellent speakers sparked good discussion. Patrick Spero and Michael Zuckerman should be commended for organizing the event. Continue reading

Turn, Turn, TURИ

I had the opportunity, over the course of Passover-Easter break, to watch the first three episodes of AMC’s new series Turn (transcribed as TURИ on subway ads).[1] The show is very much in the vein of the recent spate of high-serious historical (Mad Men) or faux-historical (Game of Thrones) dramas airing on the finer cable networks (AMC, IFC, HBO). Turn, like its sister-shows, features excellent acting and wonderful set and costume design. Unlike these other shows, however, it adapts for television a historical event that gets a lot of coverage on this blog–the American Revolution.[2] For the series AMC has turned Alexander Rose’s Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring into a tale of conflicted loyalties, love, betrayal, and waterboarding fit, some ways, for our new Golden Age of television. At the same time, much is lost in the adaptation process.

For the more spoiler-phobic among our community, this essay will contain spoilers for the pilot episode of Turn.

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