Q&A with Nick Bunker, author of Young Benjamin Franklin

[Today we are happy to share a Q&A with Nick Bunker, author of the new Young Benjamin Franklin: The Birth of Ingenuity (Knopf, 2018). Tomorrow our own Sara G. will post her review of the book.]

  1. BunkerStarting with his own autobiography, there have been many treatments of Benjamin Franklin’s life. How did you approach the project when you were aware of this vast literature, and how did you attempt to carve out your own space?

Yes, library shelves are crammed with books about Franklin, but the literature is biased towards the second half of  his life, and his achievements as politician, diplomat, and man of letters. The period up to age 40 has come to be neglected, and the same is true of his scientific career. This is because – for the most part – in chronicling Franklin’s early life biographers have preferred to rely entirely on his autobiography. But written though they are with panache, Franklin’s memoirs are really a sketch or an essay, not a rounded narrative. He mentions his scientific work only in passing and he skips through his youth in an episodic, impressionistic way. So I began by working my way through the autobiography, and Franklin’s early writings, compiling lists of  questions left unanswered, references unexplained, and incidents where other sources might be available. Then I went in search of  material to fill in the gaps.  The central question I was asking was this: just why was Benjamin Franklin so ambitious, and so energetic? In the 1740s an opponent called Franklin “an uneasy spirit” – which he was! – and I wanted to find out why this was so. Continue reading

Q&A: Craig Bruce Smith, author of American Honor

Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 9.58.33 PMWe are pleased to host a Q&A with Craig Bruce Smith, author of the recently released American Honor: The Creation of the Nation’s Ideals During the Revolutionary Era (UNC Press). Dr. Smith received his PhD from Brandeis and is an assistant professor of history at William Woods University. We will be featuring a review of the book in the coming weeks. Continue reading

A New Era for The Junto

Junto LogoHey, remember us?

A few months ago we decided it was time to take a break here at The Junto. Our first five years were far better than we ever expected—you can get a run-down of our achievements here—but we were a bit burned out, to be honest. Most of us have been blogging since the beginning, and we only have so many good ideas to blog about. We were also ready for the next phase of The Junto‘s history. Continue reading

A Half-Decade of The Junto

Five years ago, The Junto was born. The immediate context was parochial: as a PhD student studying early American history at the University of Cambridge, I was lonely for fellow scholars. But the niche the blog filled was much more broad: there was a need for a digital space to serve as a hub for early American scholarship. The reception we’ve since received, and the readership we still welcome, has been overwhelming. The blog’s success is indicative of our field’s vibrancy. Continue reading

Book Review: Max Mueller, “Race and the Making of the Mormon People”

Modern Mormonism is known for being a predominantly white religion—at least in America. But a new book by religious studies scholar Max Mueller argues that the LDS faith has a complex and evolving story of racial imagination during the antebellum period. This is a declension narrative that is at once riveting and wrenching, and one that deserves a close reading.

MuellerMax Perry Mueller, Race and the Making of the Mormon People (University of North Carolina Press, 2017). 352 pp., 17 halftones, notes, bibliography, index. [Also, make sure to see Mueller’s interview with The Atlantic.]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormons, had audacious beginnings. They claimed a new book of scripture, a modern-day prophet, and a restored ecclesiastical structure. It was a reenactment of Christianity’s origins. And according to Max Mueller, those origins included a reformulation of America’s racial imagination. Contemporaries during the mid-nineteenth century were, to use a complex and problematic term, “secularizing” racial differences. They sought to justify slavery and segregation through a strict delineation of racial compartmentalization. Race, in other words, was becoming a fixed identity. But among Joseph Smith’s radical protests was an attack on that very assumption: Smith, the book Smith translated, and the movement Smith led, posited that race was a malleable component dependent more on righteousness than descent. They believed in a moderate “racial universalism” that, though it required the subjugation of non-white races, could unite the entire human family. Or, at least, they believed this during their first two decades, before eventually succumbing to a much more mainstream structure of racial difference. Continue reading

Q&A with Carla Pestana on The English Conquest of Jamaica

Pestana ReviewTo accompany the review by Casey Schmitt that was published yesterday, we are pleased to have this Question & Answer with Carla Pestana today regarding her new book, The English Conquest of Jamaica: Oliver Cromwell’s Bid for Empire (Harvard University Press, 2017). We thank Dr. Pestana for her time. Continue reading

Review: Adam Jortner, Blood From the Sky

Adam Jortner, Blood from the Sky: Miracles and Politics in the Early American Republic (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017).

JortnerThe role of religion in the early republic has received a fair amount of attention in the recent decades. And though there are competing narratives concerning how ministers and denominations took advantage of the post-revolutionary era—the “Hatchites” arguing that they embraced the democratization and empowered the common man, while the “Butlerites” and “Porterfieldites” emphasizing how leaders capitalized on the fear of  a chaotic society—there has been a general point of agreement: religion and politics now took place within a secularized sphere. Expectations of democratic governance led religionists to frame their arguments in a way to match the new republican age. Politics drove religious belief and practice, and not the other way around. Continue reading