Last summer, Philadelphia witnessed a gathering of many delegates who discussed British tyranny and American liberty. Though none of the resulting documents may be as influential as Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, the proceedings of “The American Revolution Reborn: New Perspectives for the Twenty-First Century” should at least instigate some debate. The conference itself was a product of generosity from Frank Fox, the American Philosophical Society, the David Library of the American Revolution, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, Samuel Adams® (the beer, who aptly supplied refreshments for the reception), and the Museum of the American Revolution (who provided an expansive—and sweltering!—location for the closing activities). A good number of Juntoists were in attendance—there is even photographic evidence!—and the excellent speakers sparked good discussion. Patrick Spero and Michael Zuckerman should be commended for organizing the event.
The Junto also provided extensive coverage of the conference and its themes, both at the time and since, including:
- A Storify that compiled almost all of the social media and blog discussion related to the conference
- Michael D. Hattem’s preparatory thoughts on the conference
- His post-conference musings on periodization among the conference’s works
- Roy Rogers’s response to a specific topic raised at the conference (don’t miss his footnotes!)
- Tom Cutterham on the question of whether the Revolution was a “civil war”
- An episode of “The JuntoCast” on the American Revolution from last June
Well, nearly a year later, we now have access to a good number of the papers (though many are the shorter responses rather than the longer presentations). The excellent online journal Common-place just published text and some video from several of the panels, which should hopefully invite more contemplation on their provocative ideas. Amongst those online, I especially enjoyed Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s paper which is a mix of political (especially the meaning of the terms “Revolution” and “Civil War”) and social (“the pursuit of happiness for some people led to the enslavement or destruction of others”) reflections, as well as Christine Heyrman’s musing on how *little* the Revolution changed America’s religious trajectory. (“It may well be,” Heyrman provocatively claims, “that the impact of the Revolution on the United States’ subsequent religious development has been overrated—that it’s the dog that doesn’t bark or the gun placed on the mantle during the first act that doesn’t go off at the end of the play.”) But there are plenty of other gems found in these papers, including Peter Thompson’s observe that suburban, middle-class academics have difficulty understanding the role of violence in early American society, and Marcus Rediker claiming we should all write more like William Blake.
It’s exciting to have such immediate (and free!) access to these resources, even if they are, at this point, not comprehensive. I especially liked how they have lots of digestable, 2-3 minute video excerpts from papers or Q&A discussions. (Though it would also be nice to have videos of full presentations.) The short excerpt format might work perfectly in the classroom or graduate seminars, as the bold and provocative claims found in each could easily spur debate. Hell, this format is quite conducive for blogs, as we could easily post one of the brief essays, along with a couple of videos, and invite comment. Perhaps we’ll start a series like that in the future.
I don’t know if this is the final resting place for the papers from the conference, or if this is a holdover for a published volume, but it is enormously helpful. Cheers to those involved in the conference and its distribution of content.
At the very least, it should hold us over before the conference’s sequel next year in Boston!