Questions first ignited in a comprehensive exam room have an electric way of rippling through your whole career, whether you’re teaching in a university classroom and/or in the realms of public history. Take, for example, a standard query about nineteenth-century material culture: How would you tell a history of the American Civil War in five objects?
Hannah Bailey, a PhD candidate in History at the College of William & Mary, studies the interconnectivity between developing notions of race and the expansion of the African slave trade in the early modern French Atlantic. She graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2010, with degrees in History and French, and a minor in Gender and Women’s Studies. Her master’s thesis focused on how women like Eliza Jaquelin Ambler Brent Carrington remembered, defined, and recorded their experiences during the American Revolution for her master’s thesis. Her dissertation uses histories of West Africa written by individuals like Jean-Baptiste Labat to help explain why, in early eighteenth-century accounts of the region, the fiction of African inferiority began to supersede the fact of African political and economic dominance on the West African coast.
I never learned the verb “rebobiner” in any of my nine years’ worth of French courses. I don’t blame my French teachers or professors for this. Neither they nor I had any idea that it would one day become an integral part of my vocabulary as I commenced my dissertation research in the Archives Nationales d’Outre-mer in Aix-en-Provence, France. As it happens, “rebobiner” means “to rewind the bobbin of microfilm that you spent twelve minutes learning how to load onto the microfilm reader, because microfilm is always complicated and is triply so when the directions are in a foreign language,” or…something like that. Despite my attempts to prepare myself for my time in the French archives, I experienced more “trials by fire” than I might care to admit. All of my listening to French radio, reading complex French secondary sources, and frantic scouring of French online archival inventories only got me so far. Despite the best efforts of the kindest and most helpful archival staff I’ve yet encountered, I often had to learn by doing, and that wasn’t always easy. It was, however, always worth it. Continue reading
With all eyes on Scotland this week, The Junto chats with Dora Petherbridge, International Collections Curator (U.S. & Commonwealth) at the National Library of Scotland. To learn about George Washington’s Edinburgh connection, and how NLS is “collecting the Referendum” for history, read on. Continue reading
We begin this Week in Early American History with James Oakes’ powerful and timely reflection on white abolitionism. “The Real Problem with White Abolitionists,” Oakes argues, is that “even the most radical abolitionists betrayed a blind faith in the magical healing powers of a free market in labor. Scarcely a single theme of the broader antislavery argument strayed far from the premise.”
I’m pleased to introduce today’s guest poster, Matthew Crow, a regular commenter here at The Junto, who received his PhD at UCLA in 2011 and now teaches at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York.
In his compendium of global archival practices, Memoirs of Libraries, Edward Edwards developed a history of how various peoples had organized their relationship to their pasts. For Edwards, political emancipation in the wake of the great revolutions required broadening public availability of the historical documents archived by the state. Continue reading
On March 29, 1911, a fire tore through the New York State Capitol Building. From the third floor of the Assembly Library, where books and papers served as kindling, it shot up to the capitol’s iconic towers. By the early morning, much of the building was in ruins, and many of the books and manuscript papers housed within it reduced to melted ink and char.
Anyone who’s used the Papers of Sir William Johnson knows the fire well. Every other page is a reminder of the embers that destroyed letters, accounts, conference minutes. It’s also a reminder that the current documentary record has been shaped in ways that—while often times hidden away—were also bright and fiery and loud. Continue reading