The Week in Early American History


Welcome to another The Week in Early American History! Take a break from the end-of-semester crunch to check out the unprecedented unification of the four surviving Magna Carta manuscripts or to a look at the tree root that ate Roger Williams. On to the links!

This week, Kenneth E. Carpenter explores the kinds of work now possible through digitized texts by exploring a project that traces the influence of Benjamin Franklin’s “The Way to Wealth” by following its bibliographic dissemination. Thanks to online databases such as Early American Newspapers, Series 1 to 10 and Early American Imprints, Carpenter explains how sketching out the diffusion of specific works across early North America is now possible in a way unthinkable before digitized databases.

In further digitization news, Harvard Libraries have digitized James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson.

On Monday this week, Yahoo! covered the bringing together of the four surviving original Magna Cartas at the British Library. This event, in honor of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, also marks the first time that the documents have been held under the same roof. Of the 43,000 people who applied to view the four documents, only a selected 1,215 people actually got to see the historic documents on Tuesday.

In his new book, historian Andrew Burstein ponders the question of who owns Thomas Jefferson’s political legacy. In Democracy’s Muse: How Thomas Jefferson Became an FDR Liberal, a Reagan Republican, and a Tea Party Fanatic, All the While Being Dead, Burstein ranges over a wide chronological and geographic scope in order to understand how Jefferson’s legacy has been molded to fit very disparate political agendas.

In weird and decidedly creepy news, meet the tree root that allegedly ate Roger Williams. No, but really. The tree root that supposedly entered Roger Williams’ coffin and contorted to the shape of his body is on display in the carriage house behind the John Brown House in Providence, Rhode Island.

The historical world lost a luminary this week with the passing of C. A. Bayly at the age of sixty-nine. Bayly was the author of innumerable works from Imperial Meridian: The British Empire and the World, 1780-1830 to The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914 as well as Professor of Global History at Queen Mary, University of London.

Rebecca Onion’s most recent blog post on Slate’s The Vault looks at book-buying practices in colonial Virginia with a historic assist from the Junto’s own Joe Adelman! Huzzah, Joe!

For a much-needed break from grading final papers and planning exams, check out, which offers a counterintuitive take on the origins of the American Revolution. Spoiler alert: the Founding Fathers don’t come out looking good.

And, finally, hearty congratulations this week to Elizabeth A. Fenn for winning the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in history for her book, Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People.

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