The Week in Early American History

TWEAHWelcome to another installment of The Week in Early American History. Let’s get started with reviews of two books that offer fascinating insights into the history of French and Spanish-speakers in America, respectively. Over at The Seattle Times, Kevin J. Hamilton offers his thoughts on François Furstenberg’s When the United States Spoke French: Five Refugees Who Shaped a Nation (Penguin Press, 2014), praising it as “a fascinating portrait of the diplomatic intrigue between France and England for power and position, with the United States displaying a disconcertingly astute aptitude for playing them off against each other” and “essential reading for understanding the complex relationship between France and the United States that, to this day, endures.”

And over the Los Angeles Review of Books, John Alba Cutler reviews Raúl Coronado’s A World Not to Come : A History of Latino Writing and Print Culture (Harvard University Press, 2013), which, as Cutler notes, “boldly challenges the dominance of the westward expansion narrative by re-centering early 19th-century American history on a seemingly unlikely point: the brief 1813 Texas rebellion against Spanish rule.”

Moving on, a few items to chew on for those interested in archives, digitization, and data. Writing at The Atlantic, Elizabeth Yale uses the damage done to her own family’s personal archives and library to a warehouse storage flood in the middle of a cross-country move to consider “the mortality of paper.” Meanwhile, over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Alison J. Head and John Wihbey detail the discouraging inability of many college students to “delve deeply into source material” unavailable in online search engines and to “effectively navigate the Internet’s indiscriminate glut of information.” Though directed at different audiences and toward different ends, the two essays read alongside one another offer some insight into issues facing researchers and educators in the digital age.

Speaking of the digital age, has finished digitizing the New York State Department of Corrections inmate records and made them freely available to New York state residents, beginning later this month. As the New York Times reports, the collection “includ[es] files from Newgate in Greenwich Village (1797-1810), the first New York State penitentiary and the inspiration for the phrase “up the river”; Clinton (1851-1866, 1926-1939); and Sing Sing (1865-1939).” Belt Magazine profiled another fascinating digital collection of documents—the letters of Walt Whitman’s mother, Louisa Van Velsor Whitman, and ABC News notes that “a handwritten thank you note written by freed slaves to former President John Quincy Adams has been digitized ahead of the 175th anniversary of the Amistad Rebellion.”

Continuing on the subject of slavery, Washington and Lee University’s president apologized for the school’s historical connection to slavery following a controversy over the placement of Confederate flags next to a campus statue of Robert E. Lee that resulted in the flags’ removal. Shifting from one former Confederate state to another, Kristopher Monroe details the “forgotten history of the largest slave auction ever on American soil,” when, in 1859, more than 400 slaves were auctioned off in Savannah, Georgia. One final slavery-related link: The African Renaissance News has published “Sexual Relations Between Elite White Women & Enslaved Men in the Antebellum South: A Socio-Historical Analysis.”

Two items of note on the continued legacy of Native American removal: At Slate, Claudio Saunt has a provocative essay on the ongoing controversy over professional sports franchises featuring American Indian team names and mascots, pointing out the ugly but not entirely unsurprising fact that the football teams in Washington and Kansas City, baseball teams in Cleveland and Atlanta, and hockey team in Chicago “all play on land seized from American Indians” in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Meanwhile, the Portland Press Herald has published the first fourteen chapters of Colin Woodward’s 29-part series, “Unsettled,” which details the recent history of Maine’s Passamaquoddy people. Successive chapters will continue to be serially published every day through July 27.

Three final links I am not clever enough to try and relate to one another:

This item is nearly a month old now, but new to me: David Allan Green reflects on the legacy and importance of the Magna Carta, whose 500th anniversary will occur in 2015.

The Boston Globe ran a feature article (and video) chronicling correspondent Ethan Gilsdorf’s day spent as a historical re-enactor at Plimoth Plantation.

And Slate‘s Rebecca Schuman weighs in on the recently-surfaced revelations concerning prominent professors sleeping with grad students and advisees.

One final note: With the 2014 annual meeting of SHEAR just around the corner (be sure and read Roy Rogers’s preview here), a brief reminder to those of you either attending or interested in following along online:


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