Conference: The Antislavery Bulwark: The Antislavery Origins of the Civil War

Antislavery Bulwark Conference FlierIn two weeks the CUNY Graduate Center will be hosting an all-star conference “The Antislavery Bulwark: The Antislavery Origins of the Civil War.”[1] This conference, co-organized by the Graduate Center, Harvard University, and the New York Historical Society, seeks to trace origins of the antislavery political movement from the eighteenth century to its apotheosis in the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments to the Constitution. Continue reading

The Junto SHEAR 2014 Meet-up!

48ffa-shear2We’re happy to announce that we will be holding a meet-up at this week’s SHEAR conference in Philadelphia, PA. We will be hosting the meet-up for any interested readers, commenters, and conference goers at 9:00pm on Saturday July, 19 at the bar/restaurant in the DoubleTree Hotel.

All are welcome, but it would be appreciated if interested readers would comment on this post or tweet at Roy Rogers (@fauxintel) so that we may get a sense of the number of attendees.

Those Juntoists attending SHEAR look forward to what should be a great conference! See you on Saturday!

SHEAR 2014 Annual Meeting Preview

A little over a week from now (July 18-20) marks the beginning of the thirty-sixth annual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR), held this year the society’s balmy hometown of Philadelphia, PA. To help get the broader Junto community excited, for what is my favorite conference of the year, I thought I’d offer a brief preview of a few of the panels and sessions I am particularly interested in this year.

I’ve highlighted below just one session from each scheduling block. This preview is just that—it does not represent all of the panels I’m interested in at this year’s conference. I have, for example, excluded all of the panels touching on the history of religion because Monica Mercado has already ably highlighted them over at Religion in American History. The wonderful thing about this year’s SHEAR meeting is the sheer number of fantastic offerings for each session block.[1] No matter your subfield—gender, slavery, religion, and economics—there are offerings sure to challenge your perceptions and shake up the historiography. You can find the full program here.

I invite our community to highlight the panels and sessions in which you are particularity interested in the comments section of this post, if I don’t mention them below. Continue reading

Turn, Turn, TURИ

I had the opportunity, over the course of Passover-Easter break, to watch the first three episodes of AMC’s new series Turn (transcribed as TURИ on subway ads).[1] The show is very much in the vein of the recent spate of high-serious historical (Mad Men) or faux-historical (Game of Thrones) dramas airing on the finer cable networks (AMC, IFC, HBO). Turn, like its sister-shows, features excellent acting and wonderful set and costume design. Unlike these other shows, however, it adapts for television a historical event that gets a lot of coverage on this blog–the American Revolution.[2] For the series AMC has turned Alexander Rose’s Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring into a tale of conflicted loyalties, love, betrayal, and waterboarding fit, some ways, for our new Golden Age of television. At the same time, much is lost in the adaptation process.

For the more spoilerphobic among our community, this essay will contain spoilers for the pilot episode of Turn.

Continue reading

Just How Free Was Religious Life in the Early American Republic?

Religious liberty, perhaps, is the key legacy of the Revolutionary generation. The new United States was a society where slavery was a growing economic force, gender inequality was becoming entrenched, and the new nation’s expansion relied on the exploitation and expropriation of Native Americans. If there was one freedom, however, on the march in the early republic it was religious freedom. The progress of religious freedom in the United States was also the progress of religion itself. “[T]he number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the state” noted James Madison, that famous advocate of religious liberty, in an 1819 letter.[1] Religious freedom, then, is the American freedom. This has been the animating assumption behind most scholarship on the religious development of late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Continue reading

Gaming History

Historical trappings are extremely popular with video game designers. The Assassin’s Creed (AC) series, for example, has made a great success of combining beautiful recreations of historical scenery with the sort of conspiracy fueled story lines that propel Dan Brown novels and the Nicolas Cage headed National Treasure series to the heights of popularity.[1] The Assassin’s Creed games present a fascinating vision of historical agency, where historical change is explained through a hybrid of extreme individual agency—in the form of the game’s protagonist(s)—and the unending trans-historical battle between competing secret societies.[2] This is a very cyclical vision of history. We (through the player character, Desmond Miles and his ancestors) can battle Evil but the struggle will repeat itself time after time.

As a historian and life-long gamer I find these aspects of my beloved hobby in turns fascinating, endearing, and befuddling.[3] The question of agency—whom or what produces historical continuity and change—is one of the most contested and controversial philosophical and historiographical problems in my profession. Entire fields, such as the history of American slavery and abolition, have been riven by big-stakes arguments over such questions.[4] Few things are better at sparking heated debate (and more than a few eye-rolls) than bringing up the “agency question” in a seminar room or at a conference.

Video game designers and writers wade into this intellectual battlefield in ways that will likely surprise and frustrate most historians. I want to explore how historical agency is represented in modern gaming by looking at two recent games from Paradox Interactive—Europa Universalis IV (2013) and Crusader Kings II (2012). Both are “grand strategy games,” a genre very different from Assassin’s Creed. Born out of war and strategy board games—from the old stand-by Risk to much more complex games like Settlers of Catangrand strategy games allow the player to take control of a nation-state, cultural group, or civilization and shape its future. To make matters more interesting, a video game allows many more facets of the human experience to be modeled than a board game does.[5] Continue reading

The Kitten in the Bookcase


Our new kitten, Rue, sitting on top of a shelf in the “Slavery and Freedom” section of my library. This post was totally not just an excuse to use this photo.[1]

A few months ago my partner and I moved to a new apartment, for the first time since I began living in New York full-time. The best part of moving to me, for purely selfish reasons, was it created an opportunity to fully reorganize my library for the first time in three years. Our old apartment was much smaller than our current place which left my ever-growing doctoral candidate’s library relegated to one and a half bookshelves. This led to all kinds of organizational chaos and housecleaning headaches – with books tucked away in closets, stacked on desks, piled in corners.  Many times while writing I found myself looking for a book for a reference or citation say, for example, my copy of Joanne Freeman’s Affairs of Honor (which always seems to vanish) and I knew, for the life of me, that I had the book somewhere in the apartment, but had no way to even begin to find it without tearing the place apart. At the new apartment I have, thanks to my partner’s beneficence, the space to fully store my library in real bookcases and in some sort of proper organizational scheme.

Continue reading

Cold Water and Living Documents

There is a breed of historians known, colloquially, as “cold water” historians for their drive to pour analytic “cold water” on the politically or historiographical fashionable arguments. Pauline Maier most certainly belongs to this historiographical polar bear club.[1] As anyone who read her New York Times obituary (or any other, really) knows, Maier is famous for describing Thomas Jefferson as “overrated.[2] Her wonderful American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence brings the most powerful weapons of the skeptical historians— context and contingency—to bear on that central document of American political and national identity. Continue reading

What The Oatmeal Missed

NB: This post was originally published in 2013.

Oatmeal imageWhen did you realize Christopher Columbus was a jerk?[1]

I’m not sure if I actually received the “traditional,” Samuel Eliot Morrison and Daniel Boorstin-inflected education on Columbus, during my child and young adulthood.[2] I remember that my high school history course (c. the early 2000s) sped through Columbus and discussed a bit about his bad human rights record. My excellent college-level history courses, of course, provided the standard explaination, found in virtually every modern textbook of repute, of the Columbian Exchange unleashed by early European exploration and conquests in the Americas.[3] I imbibed, during my childhood, the general story about Columbus in American culture—that “he sailed the ocean blue in 1492” and “discovered” America—but, if there were any lies my teachers told me, it certainly wasn’t about the earliest encounters between Native Americans and Europeans in the Caribbean.[4]

Continue reading

Guest Post: Weather Talk

Today’s guest post comes from Cambridge Ridley Lynch, a PhD student at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is currently working on a project that links American weather study with larger shifts in American science and politics.

Thomas Cole - The Oxbow

In their recent recap of the MCEAS’ “Traces of Early America” conference, Sara Damiano and Michael Blaakman spoke of the need to examine “processes, events, ideas, and dynamics that subsequent history has largely obscured, and that often pose significant evidentiary problems for those who wish to write about them.” Clearly, the work presented at the conference did much to flesh out adumbrations left throughout the historical record, often by focusing on close reading of specific events, personages, and texts. But what about a factor that is so ubiquitous so as to hardly be thought of at all, one that every single person in a historical moment and place experiences at the same time, and yet goes largely unremarked upon in historical texts? Naturally, I’m talking about the weather. Continue reading

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