The Week in Early American History

TWEAHLet’s get to the links…

Kai at Indigenous History asks, what if people told European history like they tell Native American history?

Meanwhile, Linda August at the Library Company of Philadelphia investigates the history of one of LCP’s great holdings: William Penn’s desk. And soon, heritage fans won’t just be able to dress up like the Founding Fathers: they’ll be able to drink like them too. Rye whiskey distilled according to George Washington’s own recipe is due to go on sale at $95 a bottle. It may be “rotgut at best” but it does come in a fancy box.

Those seeking a possible antidote to Django Unchained need not necessarily wait all year for Twelve Years a Slave. A trailer has been released for Tula, the Revolt, the story of a slave uprising on the Dutch island colony, Curacao, in 1795. The film will open on July 1st, the 150th anniversary of slavery’s abolition on the island.

If you were wondering what you can do to help preserve history digitally, you could do worse than to start with these fifty ideas by Tess Webre blogging for the Library of Congress. Beware suggestion number 19, it might be traumatic: “Write out your worst personal digital data loss story. Reflect on it.” Then back up your dissertation again! (And while you’re at it, you might like to check how it compares with others in the field, length-wise.)

Engels-biographer and dreary centre-left UK politician Tristram Hunt responds to Niall Ferguson’s homophobic slur on J.M. Keynes by reflecting on the “uniquely controversial place” of history in British public life:

Even if academic historians might not like it, politicians are right to involve themselves in the curriculum debate. The importance of history in the shaping of citizenship, developing national identity and exploring the ties that bind in our increasingly disparate, multicultural society demands a democratic input. The problem is that too many of the progressive partisans we need in this struggle are missing from the field.

Broadening the frame to the humanities as a whole, this piece from Inside Higher Ed renews the perennial critique of hyperspecialisation taking over the liberal arts, as schools across the country seek to ape Harvard and other prestigious research universities:

[T]he impulse that drives young people to the humanities is not essentially scholarly. The cult of expertise inevitably muffles the jazzy, beating heart of the humanities, and the students who come to the university to understand their great vibration return home unsatisfied. Or worse, they turn into scholars themselves, funneling what was an enormous intellectual curiosity through the pinhole of a respectable scholarly specialty.

Finally, over at An und fur sich, Adam Kotsko argues that in the United States, “the constitutional division of powers is less important to the functioning of the government than the party structure.” Far from being the preserve of totalitarian regimes, the “party state” is alive and well in America. Indeed, “the U.S. party-state is uniquely nihilistic in the sense of having no real goal besides maintaining the power of the party duopoly for its own sake.” Moreover, Kotsko suggests, this is a development that can be traced right back into our own back-yard: the annals of early American history.


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