Thanks to the United States Congress, it’s been a good week for the Founders—or a bad one, depending on your point of view.
For starters, David A. Fahrenthold counted no fewer than 28 signers of the Declaration in the filiopietist stew of recent congressional debates over the federal shutdown. Some writers (noting the coincidental death of political scientist Juan Linz) wondered whether the Constitution is really cut out for this kind of crisis. In a widely republished wire article, Connie Cass suggested that government shutdowns, though a relatively new practical problem, have Founding-era roots. Newt Gingrich agreed, arguing that shutdowns are an “integral part” of the power balance the Founding Fathers designed. And a fairly confusing editorial in the Christian Science Monitor argued that George Washington’s famous taciturnity somehow might help resolve things.
The federal shutdown affected a wide range of early American historic sites and monuments. In Philadelphia, it closed not only Independence Hall but also City Tavern, operated by chef Walter Staib as part of the park complex. In Washington, D.C. it meant moving the wedding of two young Capitol Hill functionaries who had planned to marry on the lawn of the Jefferson Memorial. (They were married by Stephen Colbert instead.) In Virginia, the Colonial Parkway was closed near (and along with) Historic Jamestowne. And in Salem, Massachusetts, a local coalition of volunteers, private organizations, and the city government have set up alternatives to Park Service facilities for the 250,000 visitors expected to swarm into town during October.
On the other hand, privately run historic sites may benefit from the closing of public institutions. “We’re Open! No Shutdown Here” said the front page of the Mount Vernon website. (The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington opened there last Friday.)
As for scholarship, the shutdown closed research institutions like the Library of Congress and the National Archives. Most websites of the Library of Congress and other federal agencies disappeared during the week. The National Archives even stopped updating its social media accounts. (The Library of Congress, however, has restored access to its websites, which must come as a relief to many early Americanists.) Abby Mullen reported that the shutdown of LoC’s Chronicling America site had stopped the research for a digital history project, Infectious Texts: Viral Networks in 19th-Century Newspapers. “One of our RAs is completely without a job because his research depends on being able to see the full text of the papers,” she wrote. And on Twitter, countless teachers and students complained (or celebrated?) that the shutdown meant they couldn’t complete online assignments and projects.
Meanwhile, however, the wheels of early American history turned slowly but inexorably onward. In digital history this week, the Liberalism in the Americas Digital Archive appeared on the Web with primary sources “to trace the rise, consolidation and development of liberal ideology and practice in Latin America during the long nineteenth century.” And the American Antiquarian Society has posted online the full text of its Proceedings from 1880 to 2008.
This week in talks, The Appendix collected the tweets from last weekend’s McNeil Center graduate conference, Traces of Early America. Jill Lepore appeared on WHYY in Philadelphia to discuss her new biography of Jane Franklin, sister of Benjamin. And Jack Greene gave a talk (in June) on “1763 and the Re-evaluation of Empire: The View from Britain” at the John Carter Brown Library.
Finally, in career advice, Matt Reed looked at the geographic difficulties of two-academic households, and William Pannapacker explores the “rhetoric of love” that governs how many people look at graduate school.