The Week in Early American History

TWEAHWe begin this week with topography and geography, both literal and figurative.

In Smithsonian Magazine, Tony Horwitz reports on Nathaniel Philbrick’s latest project, an attempt to understand the weird and lumpy little battle of Bunker Hill. The Exchange, the weblog of the Business History Conference, highlights Caitlin Rosenthal’s recent article on visualizing “Big Data in the Age of the Telegraph“–specifically, how she rediscovered a copy of what may be America’s first organizational chart. And the Wall Street Journal reports on the new Winterthur exhibition “Common Destinations: Maps in the American Experience,” curated by Martin Brückner. Also concerned with the imagination of space is Emily Suzanne Clark’s brief review of Michael Pasquier’s edited collection, Gods of the Mississippi.

In other news of early American religion, the New York Times reported this week that the Manhattan real estate endowment of Trinity Church on Wall Street, given by Queen Anne in 1705, is currently valued at more than $2 billion. As Mitchell Moss says in the story, “Who says that the empire doesn’t live on?”

At the Society for U.S. Intellectual History blog, Chris Cameron finishes his series of guest posts on early American intellectual history by reviewing Sarah Rivett’s Science of the Soul in Colonial New England. Also there, L.D. Burnett wonders whether historians’ preference for reading conference papers aloud puts us in a tradition of sermonizing–and, quoting Emerson, calls for history sermons that really preach it.

Regarding a different delivery medium, but similarly attentive to the needs of different audiences, Jill Lepore talked about the challenges of teaching undergraduates who have never actually unfolded a newspaper. I had to go have a lie-down on my chaise longue after thinking about that too hard.

In political news this week, PolitiFact asked Ronald White, Michael Burlingame, Eric Foner, James MacPherson, Harold Holzer, and James Cornelius to comment on the Spielberg-fueled popular wisdom that Abraham Lincoln was a great compromiser. The occasion was a speech by Paul Ryan embracing Lincoln’s patience as a model for the contemporary pro-life movement. Also in politics, at The Historical Society Blog, Heather Cox Richardson invokes John Adams as a model for Americans interested in fair trials for heinous murderers.

In awards news, William and Mary’s Brett Rushforth has received the 2013 Merle Curti Award in social history for Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France. It’s good to see recognition for such archivally heroic scholarship. And in conference news, here’s a reminder that registration is open for the McNeil Center’s “The American Revolution Reborn” in Philadelphia, May 30 to June 1.

Like me, you probably haven’t had your fill of angst-ridden reflections on the overproduction of PhDs and the dismal prospects of anyone hoping to enter grad school right now, so you’re going to be thrilled to read Joshua Rothman’s thoughts in the New Yorker.  Compared with many other writers, Rothman is relatively optimistic … which is to say, he’s merely “stumped” by a decision that’s “confusing in a mundane, dependable way.” May we all always be so lucky in our travels.


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