What Happened to the “Democratic” in the “Age of Democratic Revolutions”?

PalmerThis past semester I taught a course on “18th Century Atlantic Revolutions: America, France, and Haiti,” which included both undergraduate and graduate students. (I wrote about the assigned readings at my personal blog.) I’d like to highlight a central theme that I emphasized throughout the course as a way to discuss historiographical and pedagogical questions.

To give my grad students a sense of the field’s starting point, I had them read R. R. Palmer’s classic 2-volume The Age of Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800 (1959, 1964; 2014), recently combined and re-published by Princeton University Press. Advancing through the semester and reading much more recent books, the dated nature of Palmer’s book is readily apparent. Most obvious is its avoidance of Haiti. (At an AHA panel on the Age of Revolutions last January, Nathaniel Perl-Rosenthal mention that it’s basically an academic ritual to mention this whenever discussing Age of Democratic Revolution.) Palmer also focuses on high-end (and male-centric) intellectual history, ignores economic interests and intersections, and only engages the nations whose revolutions “succeeded.” This last point is obviously problematic, of course, given what happens in France after their Revolution. But as Janet Polasky’s recent book shows, a more comprehensive view can be gleaned through looking at revolutionary moments that did not have successful outcomes. Like any book published over a half-century ago, even a classic book like Palmer’s, there are plenty of holes to acknowledge. Continue reading

Call for Papers: 2016-17 Missouri Regional Seminar on Early American History

The following link comes from the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy’s announcement. I was privileged to be a postdoc fellow with the Kinder Institute for the last two years and attended most of these MRSEAH meetings. They are phenomenal. Bonus: you get to hang out with our own Ken Owen!

Kinder LogoThe Kinder Institute is currently inviting submissions for presenters at the 2016-17 meetings of the Missouri Regional Seminar on Early American History (MRSEAH), which will be held on October 7, 2016, and April 21, 2017, in Columbia, MO, and on November 4, 2016, and February 17, 2017, in St. Louis. We welcome work on all aspects of early American history, broadly defined to extend throughout the Americas geographically and forward in time through the 19th century, and we are especially eager for submissions relating to political development, political thought, constitutionalism, and democratization. All MRSEAH submissions will also automatically be considered for the Kinder Institute’s Friday History Colloquium Series, held on campus during the academic year. Please visit the link below for complete instructions on submitting a proposal to present at the MRSEAH. Continue reading

Re-Conceiving the Age of Revolutions in the Age of Obama

Plum PuddingRevolutions: What are they good for?

The organizational concept of “The Age of Revolutions” has been on my mind a lot lately. First, I recently finished a full book manuscript that includes a version of that phrase in its title, so I’ve naturally been engaging with that literature quite a bit. Second, I’m preparing to teach a course titled “Eighteenth-Century Atlantic Revolutions: America, France, and Haiti” this semester, which will begin next week. And finally, I’ve had a review copy of Nathan Perl-Rosenthal’s excellent Citizen Sailors: Becoming American in the Age of Revolution (Harvard UP) sitting on my desk for a few months, struggling to come up with a more professional way to say “Go Out And Buy This Excellent Book Right Now.”  Continue reading

My Favorite Books from 2015: Or, a Christmas Book List for Your Early American History Nerd Friends

PolaskiI often have a goal to write a substantive post that addresses crucial historiographical topics. I really do. But then, I’m also lazy. Further, I love book lists. So let me put on my salesman’s voice and offer a gift guide for all of you who are searching for books for your overspecialized-early-American-history-nerd-friends. These are, in other words, some of my favorite books from the past twelve months in early American history. Continue reading

Putting the “Pop” into Popular History: Pop Culture Videos in the Classroom

Kanye West may not be ready to enter our historical surveys, but there are other pop culture references that deserve more attention.

President Kanye West may never become a reality, but I’d like to think he’d choose a Secretary of Education who’d endorsed creative pedagogy.

Kanye West’s presidential ambitions remind us that American history is full of fun surprises—even if most of them are short-lived and forgettable. Although it’s probably too much of a stretch to make the entertainment of #Kanye2020 relevant to American history—though Donald Trump’s candidacy perhaps proves that nothing is outside the realm of possibility—I do love to find pop culture references and videos and bring relevance to what students might see as staid topics.

I’m declaring this post a judgment-free zone so that I can be frank: I have a tough time keeping the attention of the freshmen students in my undergraduate survey class. But I have found that one thing that works well is video clips, and so I find myself drawing from youtube nearly as much as I do from powerpoint. Luckily, I’m a TV-show junkie, and so I have have a lot of background at my disposal. (Finally a way to justify my Netflix binges!) Indeed, my use of videos in class is one of the constant positives in my students’ evaluations, so I know it’s not just me who enjoys this approach. Continue reading

Guest Post: Steven Elliott on Public History at the Morristown National Park

Today’s guest post comes from Steven Elliott, a PhD candidate in American Military History at Temple University. Elliott (@EastJerseySteve) is writing a dissertation about the American War of Independence, tentatively titled “The Highlands War: Soldiers, Civilians, and Landscapes in Revolutionary New Jersey.” He has worked for seven years as a historical interpreter at Morristown National Historical Park in Morristown, New Jersey, which is the subject of this guest post.

“The chief aim of interpretation is not instruction, but provocation,” Freeman Tilden, NPS

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A depiction of the 1780 winter encampment at Morristown, courtesy of Morristown National Historical Park Collection.

Despite Tilden’s call to action, provocative interpretation at many National Parks remains a challenge, especially for Revolution-era sites. As many Americans learn (or re-learn) their history at public history venues, rather than through books or schooling, the Park Service can play an important role in bringing challenging interpretations to popular audiences. Yet, this can be difficult for Revolutionary-era sites, many of which were created to focus on “heroic narratives” emphasizing military campaigns and political leaders. In this post, I reflect on my personal experiences in attempting to challenge visitors’ assumptions about the Revolution, as a seasonal park guide at Morristown National Historical Park in Morristown, NJ.   Continue reading

The Charleston Shooting and the Potent Symbol of the Black Church in America

Emanuel landscapeLast night, Dylann Storm Roof entered the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, sat through an hour-long meeting, and then opened fire on those in attendance. Reverend Clementa Pinckney, a state senator, was among nine individuals who were killed. Many are shocked at not only the grisly nature of the shooting, but also its location. “There is no greater coward,” Cornell William Brooks, president of the N.A.A.C.P, declared in a statement, “than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture.” Yet this experience is unfortunately, and infuriatingly, far from new: while black churches have long been seen as a powerful symbol of African American community, they have also served as a flashpoint for hatred from those who fear black solidarity, and as a result these edifices have been the location for many of our nation’s most egregious racial terrorist acts. Continue reading