The Week in Early American History

TWEAHIt’s been an exciting week for history in the news. First, we learned that Karen Nipps has discovered buried treasure in Harvard’s Houghton Library–650 signatures of Boston citizens pledging to boycott British goods taxed by the Townshend Acts in 1767. The signatories include Paul Revere, John Wheatley (owner of Phillis), and several of Boston’s women.

Meanwhile, two historians were among the people awarded this year’s National Humanities Medals. The president honored Natalie Zemon Davis “for her insights into the study of history and her exacting eloquence in bringing the past into focus” and recognized Ed Ayers “for his commitment to making our history as widely available and accessible as possible” through the digital humanities. At the same ceremony, the president also awarded a National Medal of Arts to historical novelist Ernest J. Gaines for “shed[ding] new light on the African-American experience and giv[ing] voice to those who have endured injustice.” A video of the ceremony is available on the White House website.

Speaking of the digital humanities, the American Antiquarian Society has announced that Molly O’Hagan Hardy will become its digital humanities curator this fall, thanks to a fellowship offered by the ACLS. And in today’s New York Times, Marc Egnal argues that Google Books’ Ngram function can help correct common misconceptions about themes in American novels of various eras.

Also this week, Alana Goodman revealed that Sen. Rand Paul’s social media director, Jack Hunter, was once a leader in the League of the South and until last year worked in Charleston as an apparently neo-Confederate radio commentator. He called himself “the Southern Avenger” and appeared in public wearing a Confederate flag mask. The news ignited debate among libertarians and conservatives. The Cato Institute’s Jason Kuznicki and Reason‘s Mike Welch condemned libertarian Confederate-sympathizers for associating their movement with symbols of slavery. The American Conservative’s Daniel McCarthy defended Hunter as perhaps sharing in “a certain obtuseness about minorities” rather than racism. (McCarthy then published a sympathetic review of Ron Maxwell’s film Copperhead.) Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano endorsed Hunter’s view of “Lincoln’s assaults on civil liberties.” (The news also generated some debate among liberals about the depth of neo-Confederate sympathy in the libertarian movement.) Rand Paul has expressed disagreement with some of Hunter’s past views but has denied that his aide is a white supremacist, and Hunter has disavowed unspecified “embarrassing” past comments, posting the statement at his website, Southern Avenger.

Meanwhile, the New York City Draft Riots of 1863 happened exactly 150 years ago, starting yesterday. Linda Wheeler, Greg Young, and Joshua Brown have taken note in various publications. Nate Ricks of the Juvenile Instructor has begun a threepart post on the eyewitness accounts of Joseph F. Smith, nephew of the Mormon founder. Carla Peterson discusses the riots’ effects on the city’s black elite. Some people on Twitter have been “live”-tweeting the riots at #DraftRiots and #NYCDraftRiots.

N-Y Evening Post, July 17, 1804This week also saw the anniversary of Alexander Hamilton’s untimely Burrial. The New-York Historical Society has posted the New-York Evening Post’s story about his funeral.

Speaking of nationalisms and the humanities, Randall Stephens has posted a long excerpt from Michal Jan Rozbicki’s review essay on “The Rise of Learned Hagiography.” Rozbicki uses Jon Meacham’s bestselling biography of Thomas Jefferson as a basis for musings on “the cult of great individuals” in America. In the New York Times, Andrew Cayton has related concerns about Joseph Ellis’s Revolutionary Summer. J.L. Bell, writing at Boston 1775, puts these concerns in the context of Ellis’s scholarly career.

This week on Twitter, Lincoln Mullen started a sprawling conversation with other American historians about what religion is “about.” Over the course of the day, participants tackled an array of topics and books relevant to early American history. Thanks to Michael J. Altman, it’s now easy to read the entire discussion.

Finally, our readers may be interested in “Food in History,” this weekend’s 82nd Anglo-American Conference of Historians, hosted by the Institute of Historical Research. Digests of the proceedings of day one, day two, and day three are available via Twitter and Storify. Presentations relevant to early America include Molly Perry’s “‘Flowing Bowls and Bumping Glasses’: Raising Toasts, Declaring Loyalty, and Protesting in the British Empire,” Rebecca Earle’s “Indians and Drunkenness in Colonial Spanish America,” and Matthew Broker’s “Shifting Tides: Oysters and Social Class in Urban America.”


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