In Media Res

Dunn Roundtable CoverThe 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.”[1] 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.

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Interviews with Historians: Carol Berkin

BerkinCarol Berkin is Presidential Professor Emerita at Baruch College and the CUNY Graduate Center. She received her bachelor’s degree at Barnard College. In 1972, she received her PhD at Columbia University, where she also worked on the Papers of John Jay and Alexander Hamilton. Her dissertation on Jonathan Sewall won the Bancroft Award for Outstanding Dissertation and the subsequent book, Jonathan Sewall: Odyssey of an American Loyalist, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1974. She then spent her entire teaching career at Baruch College and the CUNY Graduate Center. Her most popular works include A Brilliant Solution (2002), which has been translated into Polish and Chinese, First Generations: Women in Colonial America (1996), Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for American Independence (2005), and Civil War Wives (2009). She is a pioneer in early American women’s history and also the author and editor of numerous textbooks, readers, and teaching guides for women’s history including Women of America (1980), Women’s Voices, Women’s Lives: Documents in Early American History (1998), In the Words of Women: The Revolutionary War and the Birth of the Nation, 1765 – 1799 (2011), and Clio in the Classroom: A Guide to Teaching Women’s History (2009). She is also the editor of History Now, an online magazine published by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. She has appeared in numerous television documentaries, including Founding Brothers and Founding Fathers on the History Channel and Ric Burns’ New York on PBS. Continue reading

Q&A with Edward E. Andrews, Author of Native Apostles

Ted AndrewsThe 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.
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History Is Not Science

Over at Slate last week, our Junto colleague Eric Herschthal reviewed some of the latest popular histories of revolutionary America, including two new studies of the years around 1776 by Richard Beeman and Joseph Ellis. Eric takes a very critical view of the analytical stance of the books–arguing that they are too in thrall to outdated and invalidated historical techniques; focusing too much on elites and ‘leadership’ at the expense of more recent trends in scholarship, such as the new emphasis on those who stayed (or tried to stay) neutral during the Revolutionary War.

Perhaps the most provocative part of the review is this statement:

“If you bought a popular book on science, one that came with a similar sheen of intellectual prestige, and learned that it essentially ignored years’ worth of scholarship, you’d demand your money back. Why should history be any different?”

To me, the answer seems self-evident. Continue reading

Teaching Narrative in Graduate School

Word Cloud of Cronon's 2013 Presidential Address

This past Monday I turned in my final paper in a graduate seminar given by John Demos entitled, “Narrative and Other Histories.” I initially registered for the class not long after watching Bill Cronon’s Presidential Address at this year’s AHA Annual Meeting and engaging in conversation about it on Twitter as well as in a piece for The Junto. With all the focus on “storytelling” and narrative as a means for carving out a twenty-first-century model of the historical profession, the course offering appeared quite timely. Continue reading

A Very Old Book: The Case for Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Revolution

DraperOhara

Put the poetry down, Don. It’s time to get your Chartism on.

Last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Revolution, 1789-1848, a milestone that was largely overlooked in the more general hubbub over the great historian’s death in October. But it’s an impressive number all the same, and an inescapable reminder that when we return to The Age of Revolution we are dealing with a Very Old Book. The battered cover of my own 1962 Signet paperback (see below), whose author still preferred the high-academic modesty of “E.J. Hobsbawm,” offers a striking visual proof of the antiquities that lie within. It is after all technically possible, and perhaps not as improbable as you may think, for this book to have lain on Don Draper’s desk. When he was still married to Betty Draper.

What can a 21st century early American historian learn from such an artifact? Amid the clamors and confusions of the debate over the New New Political History, why should anyone bother to resuscitate the  Old? Can we learn anything vital about the Age of Revolution in a book written during the Age of Draper? Well, obviously, the answer is yes. Continue reading