The Week in Early American History

TWEAHWelcome back to the week(s) in early American history!

In Northwest Passage news, skeletons poking through the ice led Canadian explorers to locate the wreck of the HMS Erebus of the 1845 Franklin Expedition. JSTOR launched a wide-ranging, all-new Daily, and Salon drew on the founders to paint the “sordid” world of Washington lobbying. For a profile of the historian as activist, check out John Barry’s crusade to salvage New Orleans marshes, a project driven by his curiosity “to see how the past would inform the decisions about the city’s future.” Annette Gordon-Reed examined “Jefferson’s Contradictions”; Eric Foner weighed in on Edward E. Baptist’s new book; Google hosted the Anderson Slave Pen’s journey; and Historiann reinvented the New York Times book interview genre. Civil War scholars shared their favorite “secret histories” and overlooked vignettes of the conflict. Pennsylvania brewers prepared to reopen a whiskey distillery with colonial roots—a good chance to note that Benjamin Franklin compiled more than 200 synonyms for “drunk” (and here’s a taste: A is for “He is Addled, He’s casting up his Accounts, He’s Afflicted, He’s in his Airs.”)

Meanwhile, the San Diego Free Press cracked open “America’s first banned book” and how it revealed “the untamable ‘other’ of colonial America.” Laura Arnold Leibman traced the history of spirituality in cosmetics, and the Boston Globe explored the origins of Cotton Mather’s smallpox inoculation campaign. Reviewing the National Museum of the American Indian’s new treaty exhibit, the Times wondered: “A reproduction of a 1734 painting shows the British trustees of colonial Georgia, wearing long coats, breeches and wigs, receiving a bare-chested, feathered delegation of Creek Indians. How much mutual understanding could there have been?” Elsewhere, historical societies meditated on the power of rebranding, and London theatregoers prepared for a revival of the 18th-century popular operetta Yarico and Inkle. Scholars debuted a new digital mapping tool that rebuilds whole blocks from Manhattan’s past, stretching back to 1765. And Marc Parry reminded us that it’s important to turn westward for a fuller view of early America.

On the campus front, Jacobin investigated the upper tier of University of Chicago administrators who “received more than $7.6 million in compensation increases since 2007-2008, even as the school moved toward and suffered a credit downgrade.” Wellesley reconsidered international partnerships that brought the university in touch with the debate over academic freedom in China. California’s college libraries reappraised the “Faustian bargain” of loading up on e-books. The conversations continued about how to make a Ph.D. program equal parts “practical education” and useful knowledge; whether we can reduce the hours put in for a doctorate; and if/when graduate students should publish journal articles. TIME went a step further, suggesting that “professors, the campus and even the university as an institution need to be replaced.” Organizers saved the date of February 25, 2015 for National Adjunct Walkout Day. Over at the AHA’s Perspectives, James Grossman reflected on what we think about when we think about history. On a related note, W. Caleb McDaniel offered some solid pointers on how to read history: “Critical reading is conversational: the author starts the conversation by trying to convince the reader of something, and the reader continues the conversation by formulating arguments with or posing questions to the author.”

As the Halloween weekend winds down, check out John Fea’s excellent interview with Emerson Baker about how the Salem witch trials “marked a turning point in colonial history from Puritan communalism to Yankee independence, from faith in collective conscience to skepticism toward moral governance.” Or, if it’s been a soul-crusher of a week, lighten up with this historical look at a Salem church for a zombie.


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