A Very Old Book: The Case for Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Revolution

DraperOhara

Put the poetry down, Don. It’s time to get your Chartism on.

Last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Revolution, 1789-1848, a milestone that was largely overlooked in the more general hubbub over the great historian’s death in October. But it’s an impressive number all the same, and an inescapable reminder that when we return to The Age of Revolution we are dealing with a Very Old Book. The battered cover of my own 1962 Signet paperback (see below), whose author still preferred the high-academic modesty of “E.J. Hobsbawm,” offers a striking visual proof of the antiquities that lie within. It is after all technically possible, and perhaps not as improbable as you may think, for this book to have lain on Don Draper’s desk. When he was still married to Betty Draper.

What can a 21st century early American historian learn from such an artifact? Amid the clamors and confusions of the debate over the New New Political History, why should anyone bother to resuscitate the  Old? Can we learn anything vital about the Age of Revolution in a book written during the Age of Draper? Well, obviously, the answer is yes. Continue reading

The Plantation as Crime Scene: Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained”

Between this and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, it's been a banner year for antebellum shades.

Between this and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, it’s been a banner year for antebellum shades.

“It’s a flesh for cash business—just like slavery.” So the German bounty hunter Dr. Schultz describes his profession to the ex-slave title character near the beginning of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. It’s an apt introduction to the film’s broader portrait of American slavery — a rendering that emphasizes the tortured flesh, the sordid cash, and the gruesome business of bondage at every turn. In this regard, Django Unchained fits comfortably within the familiar canon of Tarantino crime films, which have nearly always probed the intersection between the brutally physical and the cynically transactional.

The old gang’s all here: the vicious mob boss, the wisecracking assassin, the tight-lipped, vengeance-minded hero. So why should anyone, let alone early American historians, bother to consider the historical perspective of a film that in many ways is just Reservoir Dogs with snazzier waistcoats and more primitive sunglasses? Continue reading

Journal Articles in 2012: A Retrospective

AHR

BuzzFeed would point out that God is totally portrait-bombing Pétion and Dessalines here.

“The list,” says Umberto Eco, “is the origin of culture… What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible.” This impossible project has inspired dauntless gallants from Homer to BuzzFeed, and even in our own brief existence, The Junto has already made a valuable contribution to that noblest of list genres, the year-in-review inventory.

Today I’ll attempt to advance the cause of culture with a few notes on the particular infinity of early American history articles published in 2012. Unfortunately I can’t apologize for my own personal and intellectual biases, which lean toward international politics, slavery and abolition, and historiography, all of it within the nineteenth century. A successful list is usually just private prejudice, artfully compressed and shrewdly disguised—Homer, after all, chose to focus on the Achaeans’ black ships and famous spearmen rather than their haircuts or favorite foods; the BuzzFeed guy sems to have a thing for marine mammals. But you should know where I’m coming from before we proceed. Continue reading