The Week in Early American History

TWEAHHappy Summer to all of our readers. Another week has come and gone, and we’re back with the latest installment of This Week in Early American History. Feel free to weigh in on posted links or share any interesting stories and newsworthy items we might’ve missed. Let’s jump right into it:

Last Sunday’s New York Times‘ Book section highlighted a treasure trove of items recently purchased by Yale’s Law School Library and  the Beinecke. The collection, containing some “400 legal manuscripts and 200 printed books … relating to the cultural and intellectual history of English law” was collected over the course of 35 years by British barrister Anthony Taussig. Early Americanists might be particularly interested in the 18 manuscript letters of Sir William Blackstone. While the financial details of that acquisition remain undisclosed, a 1788 letter from George Washington urging a Pennsylvanian to ratify the Constitution “fetched just under $1.5 million at an auction Friday.

A handful of recent reviews of potential interest: At the Dublin Review of Books, Marc Mulholland offers some extensive reflections on Jonathan Sperber’s new biography of Marx and “the distance between Marx and our present day Marxian fringe.” Meanwhile, over at Journal of the American Revolution, Hugh Harrington recommends the 1994 film, Mary Silliman’s War, praising it as “one of the best Revolutionary War films ever made.” Finally, I authored a short review at Religion in American History of James Byrd’s recently-released Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution (short version: I liked it).

Also at Religion in American History is Carol Faulkner’s preview of panels on religion at next month’s SHEAR conference. It supplements nicely our own ongoing series of pre-conference highlights here at The Junto.

A hearty congratulations to Neil Safier (whose Measuring the New World: Enlightenment Science and South America is a personal favorite) for his appointment as the new director and librarian at the John Carter Brown Library.

For our legal historian readers, a reminder from the Legal History Blog that the deadline for the Cromwell Research Fellowship is fast approaching.

Of interest to current, prospective, and former graduate students alike, The Chronicle of Higher Education has announced a “PhD Placement Project” aimed at ultimately providing the sort of “externally verified, reasonably comprehensive data about individual programs and maybe even individual advisers” William Pannapacker called for earlier in the week. Somewhat relatedly, Debra Werrlein weighs in over at Professor Never on the meanings and uses of the title “professor” and her decision (as an academic-turned-tutor) “to quit dancing around this word” and update her biographical information to include her prior work as an “adjunct English professor” (emphasis mine).

This week’s politically-relevant (and -charged) readings include two pieces from Inside Higher Ed—the first on ongoing debates in Washington over accreditation and the second on attempts to “to sanitize collegiality enough for it to be a viable, fourth criterion in personnel decisions” at colleges and universities—and one from James Livingston at Politics and Letters on radicalism, conservatism, and revolution sparked by the recent revelations regarding government surveillance.

We’ll wrap things up this week with a few pieces from The Atlantic: first, Tony Horwitz’s thoughtful reflections on the Civil War as a “good war” and the “limits of remembrance” as we approach the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s poignant response is also well worth the read, and his concluding paragraph is worth quoting in full:

I am very sorry that white people began experiencing great violence in 1860. But for some of us, war did not begin 1860, but in 1660. The brutal culmination of that war may not have allowed us to ascend into a post-racial heaven. But here is something I always come back to: In 1859 legally selling someone’s five-year-old child was big business. In 1866, it was not. American Slavery was a system of perpetual existential violence. The idea that it could have been — or should have been — ended, after two and a half centuries of practice, with a handshake and an ice-cream social strikes me as really wrong.

On a somewhat lighter note, Coates this week also plugged Open Yale’s History Department lectures while reflecting on “the art of the college lecture.” I’d be willing to bet that’s the first time John Merriman has been labeled “a kind of a freestyle rapper.”

And finally, this week’s “Tweet of the Week” comes from fellow Junto blogger Joe Adelman, who proves that no subject can escape the ability of historians to connect it to their own work:

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I’d be willing to bet Joe was the only person writing about the NBA Finals and “LBJ” this week and referring to President Johnson and not King James.


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