The Week in Early American History

TWEAHWelcome to another Week in Early American History, wherein I try to catch us up from last week’s post-Thanksgiving lapse. We’ve got drunk New Yorkers, scholarly young ladies, and an entrepreneurial George Washington for you this week, along with Jill Lepore, Albert Einstein, Moses, and many more!

So let’s start with Harriet Lowe’s Thanksgiving in Canton, China, 1830, and Honor Sachs’ reflection on the celebration’s Civil War origins, and the thanksgiving story’s role in competing American mythologies. For the majority of Wampanoag, though, along with other Native Americans across the United States, the fourth Thursday of November remains a Day of Mourning. Meanwhile, conflict between Canadian First Nations and property developers continues in British Columbia. And long before the first Thanksgiving—and before Christopher Columbus’ voyages—Native Americans were sailing the Pacific, as genetic evidence from Easter Island has recently confirmed.

In eighteenth-century items from around the web, we may not quite agree that Crispus Attucks was the “first Revolutionary War casualty” but he’s certainly worth remembering. So too is Newton Prince, a free black man (and ex slave) who was part of the events of the Boston Massacre. The New England Historical Society shares a tale of mercantile adventure as Jonathan Carnes corners the pepper market in 1795, and J.L. Bell shares the story of success and exclusion of a young lady at Yale in 1783. In the Wall Street Journal, Thomas Kidd writes about George Whitefield, “the Billy Graham of Colonial America.” And at the George Washington Financial Papers project, there’s now an inspirational video introduction: “Washington exhibited the values that were key to succeeding in business then, and today!”

Teaching the United States’ Founding and Constitution can be a tough job, especially when students enter the classroom “unaccustomed to the notion that some of our government’s and our nation’s most lasting and alarming problems might actually be built into the Constitution itself,” as Nathaniel Green explores. In Texas, that job is made more difficult by the politics (and theology) of curriculum design. Did the Founding Fathers really turn to Moses for inspiration? Richard B. Bernstein gives a clear but nuanced take on the issue. Of course the Founding is hardly the only issue in U.S. history where public memory poses challenges to teaching. At the African American Intellectual History Society, Kami Fletcher reflects on “Moving Midway” and remembering the world of the southern plantation.

Digitized papers have helped put seventeenth-century New Amsterdam on show, in all its “rowdy… drunk… disgusting” glory. But what gets lost when papers go online? Biographer Walter Isaacson argues there’s no substitute for the physical archive (a sentiment that may be easier to hold when you don’t have to worry about the costs of archival travel). Speaking of historians’ worries, few can be more terrifying than having someone else write your project first—especially when that someone is Jill Lepore. Shouldn’t we reduce that list of worries by just one, by getting rid of the PhD language requirement? And finally, roll up for the American Carnival, a twenty-part podcast on the life and career of P. T. Barnum, produced by Tona Hangen and her first year seminar honors students at Worcester State University. “Hero, trickster, or fraud? You be the judge.”

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