We begin this Week in Early American History with James Oakes’ powerful and timely reflection on white abolitionism. “The Real Problem with White Abolitionists,” Oakes argues, is that “even the most radical abolitionists betrayed a blind faith in the magical healing powers of a free market in labor. Scarcely a single theme of the broader antislavery argument strayed far from the premise.”
For provocative contributions to the historical critique of white supremacy, cultural expropriation, and just plain old lyin’, cheatin’ and stealin’, we also suggest for your consideration the Twitter hashtag #SuspectedLooters.
In more uplifting news, thousands of 19th-century medical books will soon be digitized in a project spearheaded by the Wellcome Trust, while the Smithsonian is calling for volunteers to help transcribe its collections. At Vita Brevis, Alicia Crane Williams shares part two of her cheat sheet for family history. And at History Today, Michael Pollitt warns that declining language skills in the British education system threaten the study of the past—offering an intriguing comparison with some all-too-literal medieval translations of Islamic texts. Are we the “Google Translate” generation? We’d love to hear your thoughts!
The Boston Globe shares Jill Lepore’s thoughts on coffee, work habits, and the companionship of historical subjects. “I get lost in people. I have a sensitivity to them that as a historian is really useful … The downside of having this oversensitivity is that if your subject is not a good companion, you really need to get away.” The same paper wonders, do we have too many historic house museums? While “the museum world today seems sexier and more successful than ever,” some say America’s proliferation of small house museums was a 20th-century paradigm. But what about the newly-opened Green Dragon Tavern and Museum? Well, J.L. Bell concludes that “its sensibility is old-fashioned, but within that sensibility the standards are high.”
Over at Religion in American History, Kate Carté Engel answers four questions on the field and her own work, including her new project, “an international religious history of the American Revolution.” Susan Kern will be the new director of William & Mary’s Historic Campus. The Professor is In teaches us “How to Write an Honest But Collegial Book Review“. And Will Pooley proposes an igNobel prize for history. “What do you think people really learn from studying the family lives, emotions, or sexuality of our ancestors,” he wonders, “beyond soft ideas of cultural relativity or platitudes about the importance of tolerance, reason, and understanding? Whose life are you saving with your ‘research’? Who will even read it?”
Finally, to recap this past week at The Junto, Alyssa Zuercher Reichardt began the week with a piece about the potential political relationship between archives and fire. On Tuesday, guest poster Matthew Crow expanded on the possibilities of a brief passage from Edward Edwards about the idea of “public historiography” and Thomas Jefferson. On Wednesday, the blog announced the addition of two new members: Mark Boonshoft and Emily Merrill. The week ended with a fascinating, in-depth interview of Kathleen Brown by Sara Damiano, concluding the first “Junto Summer Book Club.”
Will Pooley’s piece got me thinking. As a new graduate student of history, I occasionally forget that the seemingly trivial can have unexpected and important impacts; a reminder is always refreshing. Thank you for sharing!