The Week in Early American History

Unearthing the Past - UVA MagazineThis week brings a rich harvest of material on slavery, memory, and public history.

First, we have two fascinating filmed conversations. At the Graduate Center at CUNY, James Oakes talks to  Sean Wilentz about his new book, Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865. And at the New-York Historical Society,  Harold Holzer speaks with Tony Kushner on the subject of Lincoln (and, of course, Lincoln).

Next, we take a look into slavery at Jefferson’s university. In an article in University of Virginia Magazine and a blogpost for Encyclopedia Virginia, Brendan Wolfe contextualizes a recent archaeological discovery.

In the Washington Post, meanwhile, J. Freedom du Lac reports on Colonial Williamsburg’s difficulty recruiting slave interpreters. And how did 19th-century African American portray their own emancipations? Good interviews Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer about their photographic history.

Meanwhile, Chris Cantwell, reflecting on the stops along Boston’s Freedom Trail, argues that public history needs greater dialogue with scholarship on religion. And shifting us from religion into, perhaps, civil religion: At First Things, Gabrielle Speach summarizes a debate on the nature of American liberalism and “the American founders’ philosophy,” a discussion that moved from that venue to the Witherspoon Center’s Public Discourse. These essays are an instructive example of a certain approach to the study and public presentation of “our political DNA.”

Whatever may be in our political genes, salesmanship is in our historical genes (or vice versa); we have peddlers, drummers, and now Cracker Barrel. For the Atlantic, Emily Chertoff reviews how Americana’s roadside salesmen have done a brisk trade in cultural history.

For a different approach to American rusticity, though, try to visit Princeton’s Firestone Library, where “A Republic in the Wilderness: Treasures of American History From Jamestown to Appomattox” is now on display. And for all your serious research purposes, Readex has announced that this spring will see the launch of “American Pamphlets, Series 1, 1820-1922,” featuring 25,000 short works from the N-YHS collections.

Keeping track of such a flood of information can be very stressful. If only we lived in a simpler time. Like us, Eric Schultz is pondering stress in the nineteenth century. Steamboats, as Harry Franco advises us, were ruining everything.

And finally this week, we  give a salute to the Senate doorkeepers of yore, contemplating the days when March 4th really mattered.

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