Today, we continue “The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution at 50,” our joint roundtable with the S-USIH blog with a post by Kenneth Owen, an Assistant Professor of Early American History at the University of Illinois Springfield, whose research interests focus on political mobilization and organization in the revolutionary and early national eras.
It took me a long time to warm to The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. I don’t think this is an uncommon experience for an early Americanist. Fifty years after its publication, Bailyn’s seminal work still features prominently on graduate and undergraduate reading lists. Yet it is hard to say that the book is beloved. Often, simply mentioning Bailyn’s name can be a pejorative shorthand—an outmoded view of the past that celebrates elites at the expense of the darker underbelly of the Revolution. As an undergraduate, I too railed against the book. How far, I asked with youthful bluster, were minutemen really inspired by the cautionary tale of seventeenth-century Denmark? And yet, like the profession itself, I have found it hard to shake Bailyn’s shadow. How is it that a book that is often only grudgingly admired still occupies such a large part of the field’s mental imagination? Continue reading
At a time when political events seem to place the very meaning of American democracy under the microscope, it is perhaps unsurprising that so many recent works have looked to re-evaluate the American Founding. Books focusing on the mid-1770s in general have included Kevin Philips’s 1775, Richard Beeman’s Our Lives, Our Fortunes, & Our Sacred Honor, and Joseph Ellis’s American Quartet. Recent books that have looked more specifically at the Declaration of Independence itself include Danielle Allen’s Our Declaration. Robert Parkinson’s The Common Cause, too, has called for a re-evaluation of what motivated those who fought for Independence, though his work calls for a much less celebratory conclusion. Such a list demonstrates the importance of the mid-1770s to America’s national identity. With The Heart of the Declaration, Steven Pincus throws his hat into the ring, too.
I can’t say that I was ever the most avid reader, or the biggest fan, of Gawker. But as the trenchant news website was forced to shut down this week as the result of the combined forces of Peter Thiel and Hulk Hogan, I realized that I was being more than a little hypocritical.
After all, as a historian of 1790s culture, I rely heavily on the work of Benjamin Franklin Bache. And if anything embodied the no-holds-barred, gossipy style of Gawker in the 18th century – not to mention the attempted backlash from powerful forces – it was the Aurora General Advertiser. Continue reading
International pageants such as World’s Fairs or Olympic Games are strange beasts of their very nature. While trying to project an image of a modern, vibrant place, they must necessarily also draw on the familiar in order to reach a wide audience. Sometimes this can be done in eye-catching and engaging fashion—think of the 2012 London Olympics, and their juxtaposition of Horse Guard’s Parade with beach volleyball. Thus these international pageants provide a curious mix of looking to the future at the same time as looking at the past. Continue reading
How does a crony capitalist son of a whore, and a militarist pumped up by delusional aspirations of honor, grow up to be feted by liberal scholars? [*]
Since the turn of the millennium, historians have lambasted the phenomenon of Founders Chic as a fundamental distortion of history. Placing the roles of specific, prominent individuals at the heart of sweeping narratives of the founding era meant that popular histories exaggerated the importance of individuals, at the expense of understanding the contribution of less-celebrated Americans or the role of broader societal and historical processes. Yet much of the reception of Hamilton, the hottest ticket on Broadway, seems to suggest that hagiography is acceptable, so long as it’s done to a catchy song-and-dance routine. It’s as if the only problem with Joseph Ellis, David McCullough and Ron Chernow is that they didn’t write to a hip-hop soundtrack. Continue reading
When I consider the non-early-American history books that have had the greatest impact on the way I think, two stand out in particular. One is Ross McKibbin’s The Evolution of the Labour Party, 1910-1924; the other, CLR James’s Beyond A Boundary. The former is the most obviously “academic” of the two; the opportunity to write a Junto post primarily concerned with cricket, however, means that today I’ll focus on the latter.
Both books influenced me for their creativity in approaching politics and society. McKibbin’s insight that “political action is the result of social and cultural attitudes which are not primarily political” has remained with me ever since; a useful reminder that in writing political history, we have to try and find ways of recovering political mindsets not only by looking at what political actors say, but also the many and varied ways they actually do things. James, too, calls for an approach to studying the past that looks beyond a narrow scope of inquiry, in his famous question ‘What do they know of cricket, who only cricket know?’ Continue reading
This is the fifth post in a weeklong roundtable about “The Origins of the American Revolution.” On Monday, Tom Cutterham kicked things off by exhorting historians to stop “separat[ing] economic from constitutional, imperial, political, or even intellectual causes of the revolution.” On Tuesday Jessica Parr raised questions about the convergence of religious and political rhetoric during the Revolution. Mark Boonshoft considered the importance of civil society and associationism, and yesterday Michael Hattem called for sharper attention to the periodization of the Revolution. In today’s post, Ken Owen argues for using politics as the lens with which to sharpen our focus on the disjunctures of the 1760s and 1770s. Tomorrow, the roundtable will conclude with a guest post from Jackie Reynoso.
Revolutionary America was a politicized society. All of the most important conflicts of the American Revolution, from the Stamp Act through Independence to the ratification of the Constitution, were sharply divisive events which demanded citizens take sides. Even neutrals were compelled to give outward displays of support to either patriots or loyalists (often both!). There were very little chances to avoid conflict over such weighty issues—they would reshape and redefine friendships, families, and communities. Continue reading