In a series of classic science fiction stories, Isaac Asimov imagined a scientific discipline called “psychohistory”: a way to predict the future of an interstellar empire. Psychohistory could not foresee individual choices, but it could supposedly predict collective behavior over the course of millennia. At one point in the Foundation series, however, a charismatic figure named the Mule threatened to upend psychohistory’s predictions: he was a mutant, acting in ways the original model could not anticipate. In the universe Asimov imagined, the Mule alone seemed to possess true individual agency. Resisting a powerful model of human behavior, he offered instead a story about a person.
Paul Finkelman is currently the John E. Murray Visiting Professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, where he teaches Constitutional Law and a seminar on the law of slavery. He received his PhD in U.S. history from the University of Chicago and his BA in American Studies from Syracuse University. He specializes in American legal history, slavery and the Founders, American slave law, modern human trafficking, the Civil War era, U.S. Constitutional history and law, the legal history of race relations, the history of Civil Liberties, the history of the electoral college, Constitution and firearms regulation, and Baseball and Law. He is the author of more than 200 scholarly articles and more than forty books. His next book, Supreme Injustice: Slavery and America’s Highest Court, will be published by Harvard University Press in 2017. His work on legal history and constitutional law has been cited four times by the United States Supreme Court, numerous other courts, and in many appellate briefs. He was an expert witness in the famous Alabama Ten Commandments Monument Case and in the law suit over the ownership of Barry Bonds’ 73rd home run ball. He has also recently worked with HeinOnline to create a free database called Slavery In America and the World: History, Culture, and Law, which he discusses below. This interview was conducted by Candace Jackson Gray at Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD on November 30 and December 1, 2016. Continue reading
2016 sucked in a lot of ways. Future historians will likely give lots of attention to this year and its events, and not with a positive assessment. But while we cope with this new reality, we at least can console ourselves with the fact that it was an excellent year in historical scholarship, especially in the field of early America. This post is a sequel to my Christmas Book List I posted last year, and may very well become an annual tradition. Below you’ll find some of my favorite books from the past twelve months.
However, I should quickly add, these were far from the only excellent volumes to be released. (Like I said: it was a very strong year.) These books reflect my own interests and background. I hope others will share their favorite books, whether mentioned or not, in the comments. Continue reading
This month in class I’m teaching the Puritans, which means that an idea I’ve had for several years has returned, and I’ve been mulling it for a few days. As most of our readers already know, the Bible was easily the most widely owned and widely read publication in the British North American colonies (in particular in New England). Protestant Christian settlers were deeply versed in the Bible – they could cite and quote regularly from a broad range of prophecies, parables, and psalms. But they also read and understood the Bible in historically specific ways, focusing on certain books of the Bible in their study and reflection, quoting certain passages with higher frequency than others. For those of us who are not religious historians (and/or were raised ourselves in traditions in which textual exegesis was not strongly emphasized), figuring out not only the meaning of Biblical passages but also the ways in which specific historical actors used them would require significant reading.
We’re pleased to feature this interview with Dr. Ian McKay, the director of the Wilson Institute for Canadian History at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and Dr. Maxime Dagenais, research coordinator at the Wilson Institute. Dr. McKay is a highly influential historian of Canada, whose books include The Quest of the Folk: Antimodernism and Cultural Selection in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia (1994), Rebels, Reds, Radicals: Rethinking Canada’s Left History (2005), Reasoning Otherwise: Leftists and the People’s Enlightenment in Canada, 1890-1920 (2008), and [with Jamie Swift], Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety (2012). He was named the Wilson Institute’s new director in 2015. Dr. Dagenais is a historian of Canada and the United States and holds a PhD in 19th Century British and French North American history from the University of Ottawa (October 2011). He was formerly a L.R. Wilson postdoctoral fellow at the Wilson Institute for Canadian History at McMaster University and a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania (2014-2016), where he was affectionately known as “Canadian Max.” He is the co-author (with Beatrice Craig) of The Land in Between. The Upper St. John Valley, Prehistory to World War One (2009), and is currently working on a research project on the 1837-38 Canadian Rebellions and the American people. Continue reading
It’s a fun time for me to be a Juntoist. I joined the blog while I was ABD, on the brink of defending my dissertation. I had thoughts about research and writing, many untested theories about teaching, and opinions about where historians needed to eat when visiting archives in different cities. This was a blog for junior early Americanists, and I didn’t think too much about how the blog would grow and evolve over the next several (!) years. Definitions of junior scholars (“early career researchers” here in the United Kingdom) vary across the UK. The Arts and Humanities Research Council’s definition is someone within eight years of the PhD or within six years of their first academic appointment. Within my faculty, ECRs include “level 4” staff within four years of being hired or recently hired. Thus when I passed my probation, was promoted to level 5, and became a permanent member of staff, I became a non-ECR by my faculty’s definition but still eligible to apply for AHRC ECR funding and funding from other schemes. All this is a long way of saying that I’m a Not So Early Early Career Researcher™ about to embark on her first sabbatical, and would like your advice about how to approach this period of leave. Continue reading
A few years ago as a pre-ABD graduate student, I wrote a post for the blog that has proved to have a longer shelf-life than most. That post, “Digital Workflow for Historians,” laid out how I used two programs, Papers and Scrivener, to manage my research and writing process. At the end of that post, I offered to share my project template and Chicago-style Compile (or export) preset. Over three years later, I still get emails on a monthly basis asking for those files. Following a discussion on Twitter last week about using Scrivener, it seemed the time was right to revisit the topic and to show how I ended up using Scrivener throughout the dissertation process, from organizing my research to producing drafts and revisions of chapters. Continue reading