A MOOC Confession

Peter Onuf on BikeI have a confession to make: I have been watching MOOCs. I feel guilty about it, honestly, I do—not so much about the fact that I have been watching them, but more about the fact that I have also been enjoying them.

Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAH

‘TWEAH, two nights before Christmas, when thr’out the blog roll
Not a creature was stirring, not even a troll;
The grades were all posted to Blackboard with care,
In hopes that strong evals soon would be there;
The grad students were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of fellowships danc’d in their heads,
And Ben Park in his ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains on an early Americanist recap.

Continue reading

Pauline Maier and the Republican Revolution

FRTROne of the things that set Pauline Maier apart was the exuberance she brought to the work of history. That joyful zeal is charmingly expressed in the metaphor she used to evoke the intellectual atmosphere in which she wrote her dissertation and first book, From Resistance to Revolution (1972).[1] “In the heady days of the 1960s,” she recalled in 1991, a group of Bernard Bailyn’s graduate students shared the exciting “conviction” that “a great historical paradigm, an interpretation of the Revolution that had stood for most of the century, was collapsing like some great empire, and that another, equally powerful, was already coming into view” (v-vi). It was, indeed, a “‘revolution’ in historical understanding” (ix). Continue reading

Guest Post: On the Anvil of Labor History in the Revolutionary Era

Today’s guest post comes from Peter Kotowski, a Dissertation Fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies and a Ph.D. candidate at Loyola University Chicago.  His research uses the lived experiences of indentured servants to explore Pennsylvania’s development within the Atlantic economy and the extent to which the colony was “the best poor man’s country.”

BillySmith2In the introduction to their 2008 edited collection, Class Matters, Simon Middleton and Billy G. Smith make the bold proclamation that “as a mode of historical analysis of early North America and the Atlantic World, class is dead – or so it has been reported for the last two decades.”[1]  The subsequent collection of essays makes a convincing case that class is not, in fact, dead.  For Smith, this volume was merely a continuation of a decades-long commitment to class as a primary mode of analysis.  It was in the spirit of Smith’s work that dozens of scholars converged on the McNeil Center for Early American Studies in Philadelphia from November 7-9 for what was affectionately dubbed “Billyfest.”
Continue reading

Traces of Early America: Conference Recap

Traces

Today’s post is a joint effort between two contributors to The Junto: Michael Blaakman and Sara Damiano. 

Three years ago, during a graduate-seminar discussion of Prosperos America, Walter Woodward’s study of Puritans and alchemy, John Demos made a bold and challenging point.[1] After a century or so of professional scholarship, many of American history’s most obvious stories have been told in the ways it seems easiest to tell them. One of the greatest tasks for the rising generation of historians, Demos suggested, is to search beneath the surface of things for stories yet untold—for 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. In other words, the next generation of scholars will have to try harder than their predecessors to ask new questions and to find new methods for wringing answers out of the sources. Continue reading

Traces of Early America

Traces

Early American History, interdisciplinarity, digital humanities, invigorating conversation, and early-career camaraderie. What more could anyone ask from the McNeil Center for Early American Studies’s biennial graduate-student conference? The answer is:  you.

Continue reading

Historians Who Love Just a Bit

I’ve never met anybody, living or dead, who fits their name quite as well as Peregrine Foster did. I encountered Peregrine in the papers of his brother, Dwight Foster, at the Massachusetts Historical Society, where I was looking for compilations of meaty correspondence that depicted land speculators at work. Peregrine was the youngest of three; his older brothers were Congressmen from Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Peregrine, though, wasn’t destined for such prominence.

In 1780, at the age of twenty-one, he more or less flunked out of the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (now Brown University), complaining that his homework was eating him. “Though it is but only 23 Days since he began the 1st Vol of Blackstone’s Commentaries,” his oldest brother wrote, “he lost Flesh surprizingly and . . . is persuaded that it is not for his Interest to pursue his Books.”[1] Peregrine wanted to go to sea, but his brothers disapproved. So instead, after a few years of twenty-something idleness, he resolved to venture west in pursuit of a fortune through land speculation. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHHere at The Junto, we’ve spent the last week with our noses buried in one really, really good book. But there’s been much afoot elsewhere, both on the web and beyond.

Continue reading

The Comprehensive Exam: A Reflection, with Qualifiers

BooksThe three or four minutes between when my qualifying exam ended and when I found out I had passed rank among the weirdest of my life. Not because I feared I had failed. In fact, immediately following the exam, which I took last Tuesday and which consisted solely of a two-hour oral interrogation, I encountered a calm and a confidence that I hadn’t known in months. Instead, the moment’s weirdness stemmed from a sort of whiplash. Ideas, arguments, and anxieties had been cramming themselves into every corner of my brain for over a year. Suddenly, they were free—unleashed and dissipated in the space a two-hour conversation. It felt more than a bit anticlimactic. A disappointing question seemed to cloud out any sense of accomplishment or pride: “That was it?” A week later, I’m feeling prouder—and still celebrating—but the question remains. Continue reading

Jay Gitlin’s French Frontier

Jay Gitlin, The Bourgeois Frontier: French Towns, French Traders, and American Expansion. The Lamar Series in Western History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.

Jay Gitlin"Bourgeois Frontier" begins this history of the francophone West with geologist William Keating, on an 1823 scientific expedition to the United States’s western frontier, marveling at the number of French speakers he encountered in the Mississippi basin. Who were these people? And why were so many of them still around, six decades after the Seven Years’ War had supposedly terminated the French presence in North America? The Bourgeois Frontier aims to answer these questions, and to explain why—two centuries later—Americans remain as ignorant of these people as Keating had been. The result is a compelling account of the francophone towns that formed a crescent-shaped constellation along the western fringe of the early American republic. In eight chapters of buoyant prose chronicling the 1760s through the Civil War, Gitlin shows how the French Creoles who inhabited these towns adjusted and adapted as American expansion changed their world. Continue reading