Guest Post: Julia de Recour, the Digital Archive, and the Histories of Atlantic Children of Color

Baltimore

Vue du Port de Baltimore, ca. 1834 by Louis Garneray (photo courtesy of the Enoch Pratt Free Library)

Today’s Guest Post comes from Nathan H. Dize, Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of French and Italian at Vanderbilt University.  He specializes in Haitian literature and history. His dissertation, currently entitled “Mortuary Poetics: Power and the Performance of Mourning in the Haitian Literary Imaginary,” explores how Haitian writers and artists revivify the dead through creative acts of mourning to challenge official memories and mythologies of the Haitian past. He is a content curator, translator, and editor of A Colony in Crisis: The Saint-Domingue Grain Shortage of 1789.  He is also the co-editor of the H-Haiti series “Haiti in Translation,” which interviews translators of Haitian writing. Nathan has published articles, reviews, and translations in journals such as sx archipelagos, the Journal of Haitian StudiesFrancosphèresSX SalonContemporary French Civilization, and the Haitian History Journal of which he is also an advisory board member. Follow him on Twitter @NathanHDize.

In September 1782, Julia de Recour boarded the St. Patrick in Cap Français with her mother, a woman of about 40, to join some relations in Baltimore. When she arrived, Charles Biddle writes that she had the “good fortune” of attracting the French First Consul, Charles François Adrien Le Paulmier le Chevalier d’Annemours, who immediately took her as his wife.[1] Biddle describes Julia as a lively French lady and a “spritely brown girl of 16.”[2] Biddle’s account of Julia’s travel on the St. Patrick is shrouded in innuendo, particularly when Julia took to the ship’s deck in the cold to dance and “perform some other monkey tricks.”[3] Without providing more information Biddle writes in his autobiography that we do not know when or where Julia died, but that it is reasonable to believe that she was not living in 1792. As Saidiya Hartman once wrote of the enslaved girl immortalized in William Wilberforce’s speech before the House of Commons in April of 1792, “a few musty lines […] are the entire story of a girl’s life.”[4]

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Review of What the Constitution Means to Me

Today’s guest review is by Hannah Farber, an assistant professor at Columbia University. Her scholarship has appeared in the New England Quarterly, Early American Studies and the Journal of the Early Republic; she is at work on a monograph on marine insurance, tentatively titled Underwriters of the United States.

What the Constitution Means to Me, a play currently running at the New York Theater Workshop offers a hopeful, accessible, and sophisticated vision of a renewal of American Constitutional life.

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Review: Sari Altschuler, The Medical Imagination

Sari Altschuler, The Medical Imagination: Literature and Health in the Early United States (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018)

Today Laurel Daen reviews Sari Altschuler’s The Medical Imagination. Laurel Daen is the 2018-2020 NEH Postdoctoral Fellow at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. Her current book project is about disability, authority, and the formation of the American nation state. Laurel received her PhD from William & Mary in 2016 and was an NEH Long-term Fellow at the Massachusetts Historical Society from 2017-2018.

In the early American republic, physicians wrote poetry to try out their medical theories, writers formulated concepts that made their way into medical texts, and everyday people viewed the disciplines of medicine and literature as fundamentally intertwined. Medicine and literature were mutually constitutive and reinforcing, Sari Altschuler explains in The Medical Imagination, and their relationship was seen as crucial to the production of medical knowledge. For example, medical educators urged their students to read and write fiction with the insistence that these practices would cultivate their “microscopic eye” or ability to detect and decipher disease (4). In addition, many doctors, writers, and doctor-writers used literary forms to conduct medical research, especially about topics that were difficult to test empirically. How, for instance, was one to evaluate the workings of sympathy, the universal force commonly understood to link body part to body part in a functioning human body and person to person in a functioning society? It was through literature that early national physicians and writers engaged with these types of questions, cultivating their skills in “imaginative experimentation”—or use of the imagination to craft and assess models of health (8). Continue reading

Guest Post: “young appearance”: Assessing Age through Appearance in Early America

Holly+Headshot_2bw[2]Today’s guest post comes from Holly N.S. White (Ph.D., College of William & Mary) who is an assistant editor of Publications and Digital Projects at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and an assistant producer of Ben Franklin’s World: A Podcast about Early American History. She specializes in the history of age, childhood, and youth as well as the histories of gender, family, and law in the early America. Her research focuses on the definition and negotiability of age in early American law and society, which is the subject of her forthcoming first book, Negotiating American Youth: Age, Law, and Culture in the Early Nineteenth Century.

Children and adolescents are regularly described as big for their age, small for their age, or mature for their age– but what purpose does it serve to judge a person’s age against their appearance? Today, with birth certificates to prove our age it doesn’t actually mean much. But in early America, where no such formalized, institutionally supported forms of record keeping existed, appearing young or old relative to one’s age could have significant ramifications on a person’s life. Continue reading

Guest Post: Writing Alongside Your Students

Return guest poster Mairin Odle is an Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of Alabama. She is currently writing a book, Skin Deep: Tattoos, Scalps, and the Contested Language of Bodies in Early America.

A few years ago, I was designing a new course, one that would fulfill a writing distribution requirement at my university. I knew I wanted to find ways to engage the class with the creative aspects of writing, not just the mechanics; I wanted to show my students how ideas develop, how revisions matter, and how classrooms could be collaborative spaces where we collectively care about our work rather than churn out assignments. So on the first day of class, I promised them (perhaps rashly) that I would write a final essay alongside them. Continue reading

Wonder and Historical Knowledge: Reflections from the Omohundro Institute Annual Conference

Today’s guest post is by Lindsay Chervinsky, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis in January 2017 and her book, The President’s Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution, will be published by Harvard University Press in fall 2019.

View of the sunset from Jamestown, June 16, 2018

Over the weekend of June 14-17, historians of Early America gathered in Williamsburg, Virginia to attend the Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture’s annual conference and to celebrate the OI’s 75th anniversary. While I always come away from this conference feeling inspired, this year I returned home thinking about audience, historical knowledge, and wonder.

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Guest Review: Benjamin Park, American Nationalisms

Skye Montgomery is a historian of the nineteenth-century United States, specializing in Anglo-American relations and the transformation of American national identity. She is currently completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Skye earned her DPhil in History at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and is revising a book manuscript entitled, Imagined Families: Anglo-American Kinship and the Formation of Southern Identity, 1830-1890.

Benjamin E. Park, American Nationalisms: Imagining Union in the Age of Revolutions, 1783-1833 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018).

nationalisms

In his seminal 1882 lecture, Ernest Renan posed the deceptively straightforward question, “What is a Nation?” Although recent historiography is generally more concerned with answering the adjacent questions of how and why nations come to be, scholars of European history have produced myriad reflections on Renan’s question in the decades since the Second World War. In contrast, however, histories of early America taking nationalism as their primary category of analysis have been relatively few and focused primarily upon understandings of nationalism yoked to the nation-state. Benjamin Park’s new volume, American Nationalisms: Imagining Union in the Age of Revolutions, 1783-1833, offers a convincing explanation for this omission and makes commendable strides towards rectifying it. Continue reading

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