Rethinking the Early American Map

AmeriqueSeptentrionaleIt’s time we remake the North American map.

Open up most any early American history book and flip to the list of tables and figures. Chances are you’ll find—if provided—maps devoid of almost any indigenous peoples. If the book is more recent, perhaps instead you’ll find that the author included two maps: one of European settlements, and one of Native American peoples. Or, just maybe, you happen to have on hand one of the few books to merge all of these together. But look closely and see if you can find the usual tension—an unbalance resulting from the projection of European empire on one hand, and the illustration of limited, isolated, scattered indigenous nations on the other.

How can so many maps of colonial North America display European power and political influence, but not do the same for American Indian polities and groups?

Maybe the better question is, how can we overcome our own historiographical strictures and the limitations of seventeenth and eighteenth-century maps to better portray the American landscape?

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Research in Timelines

TimelineMethodology and note-taking have been popular topics at The Junto, opinions and preferences ranging from Rachel Herrmann’s defense of good-olde-fashioned index cards, to Michael Hattem’s detailed tour of his digital workflow. I’d like to throw my hat into the ring and suggest yet another tool: timeline software.

I’m a visual person, and while a table is technically a “visual,” nothing makes me happier than seeing those rows and columns transform into something a bit more appealing.

Minor admission: I’m years late to the timeline game. But since I began using chronology software this summer—having finally leaped into the archives with little more than a macbook and a dream—my master timeline has become my best friend, my go-to reference guide. Why? Because timelines gives me easy access to, and visualization of, each and every who, what, where, and when of my project. And then some. It’s my very own personalized tool to quickly know (or estimate) where any individual or object in my project is at a given time.

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The Plains of Abraham and Annus Mirabilis

Or, how I came to realize my early America might not be so quintessentially American. Year Fifty-Nine Song

According to my calendar—everyone has alerts set to eighteenth-century military actions, right?—today is the 254th anniversary of the French surrender of Quebec. Forget Constitution Day, this is the hottest event of your week.

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History by Freehand: Drawing Your Research

History by Freehand: Drawing Your Research

QuestionMapChances are, if you’ve ever sat next to me during a seminar, lecture, colloquium, workshop, conference, or dinner, you’ve seen me scribbling away on something. Stylus or pen in hand, I’ll create landscapes of crudely drawn people or mountains or ships, encircled and dissected by wavering arrows and question marks.

It’s about time I admit it. I’m a doodler. Continue reading

The Language Question

LanguagesWhat is the current state of early American language training, what is its future, and why aren’t we more concerned?

A quick survey of more than a dozen graduate programs (all known for their strengths in colonial and early American history) reveals that three quarters of these departments require only one foreign language for early Americanists. To put this into context, the guidelines for European historians at all but one of these same institutions—guidelines often broken down by Early Modern, Western, and British subfields—require at least two foreign languages (yes, even in British history). Yet the issue is not simply the number of languages required of Americanists, but rather what constitutes proficiency. While language guidelines surely vary some from school to school, if the “proficiency” exams and reading courses across History programs even vaguely resemble ones that I’ve encountered, then even these lenient requirements themselves mean very little.

I suspect the numbers and realities of language training surprise very few. But even if we’re not surprised, maybe we should be a little worried. Continue reading

Driving the Dissertation

OhioRiverFor the past several days, I’ve been on the road, driving highways and back streets of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Weeks before, with an invitation to an Alabama wedding, and a school year (and orals) finally behind me, I realized I had the perfect opportunity for a road trip. And being the impossibly hip grad student that I am, I also decided I’d be driving my dissertation.

Part of my research entails recovering the mid-eighteenth-century transportation and communication paths that cut across and radiated out from Ohio Valley. While I’ve studied maps, charts, letters, and travel accounts, I’d never traveled on or along those waterways, roads, or footpaths—even the well-known routes of Braddock’s and Forbes Roads.

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