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.
I bet few graduate students these days haven’t read, or at least seen referenced, Walter Johnson’s essay “On Agency.” Published a decade ago, the essay was prompted by what had become hackneyed trope in slavery scholarship. Everyone seemed to ascribe slaves a role in shaping their lives—“agency”—despite the power asymmetries inherent in the slave-master relationship. Johnson famously called for an end to this kind of writing. But one of his subtler points may have been lost amid his overarching argument. It wasn’t that slave agency was unimportant, but that it had lost its contemporary relevance. Finding agency mattered in the Civil Rights Era, the years in which the scholarship flourished, because it bolstered African Americans’ claims on the nation’s past, and thus its future. Continue reading
My wife is a knitter, and she’s explained to me the subtle difference observed, among those in her guild, when referring to someone’s work as “handmade” or “homemade.” Both acknowledge the difference between the sweater you spent months on and something mass-produced. The former, though, implies that for the piece in question that difference is measured in care and craftsmanship, while the latter measures it in imperfections. It’s the difference between, “You made that yourself?!” and “You made that yourself, huh?” Continue reading
Public history can take many forms. We, here at The Junto, are committed to engaging with and covering public history regarding early America. The New Netherland Institute is an excellent example of an organization dedicated to bringing early American history to the public. I want to use this space to talk about its most recent publication, Firth Haring Fabend’s New Netherland in A Nutshell: A Concise History of the Dutch Colony in North America.
Fabend is an independent historian (though she holds a PhD in American Studies from NYU) and is the author of numerous books of fiction as well as two award-winning works of history also dealing with New Amsterdam, both of which were published by Rutgers University Press. Continue reading
My interests in the late colonial and revolutionary periods include print culture and history of the book. Ever since I was an undergraduate and first accessed a Readex database, I have been fascinated with colonial newspapers and not just the content but with the mechanics, logistics, and persons involved. Every major research project I have undertaken has made significant use of newspapers and pamphlets. In that time, I have come to understand and appreciate the centrality and importance of newspapers to colonial life, particularly in but not limited to urban areas. Indeed, I have always felt quite privileged to have access to such primary sources and perhaps it is part of the standard vanity of the historian but I also always suspected that general readers—the kind who buy books about the Revolution by the truckload—would be just as interested in seeing and just as excited by these primary sources as I continue to be. Todd Andrlik thought the same thing and his book, Reporting the Revolutionary War: Before it was History, it was News, appears to have proven me right. Continue reading
Warning: Please be advised that there are a few spoilers in terms of the game’s storyline in the fourth paragraph of this post.
This is a strange topic for me to be writing on, i.e., a video game. After all, I am not what some younger Juntoists might call “a gamer.” But when I saw the trailers for Assassin’s Creed III last summer I found my anticipation for the game growing. Assassin’s Creed III is a historical fiction-based game in which the main character—a half-English, half-Mohawk warrior called Connor—finds himself at the center of many of the most important events of the American Revolution. Let me start with a little background on the game.