Alejandra Dubcovsky’s Informed Power: Communication in the Early American South (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016) is an ambitious book. She analyzes how information was communicated throughout the early South, a region that was without a regular mail system or print culture prior to 1730. The “early South,” as Dubcovsky acknowledges, is an “ambiguous” term (3). Her “early South” includes much of the lands from the Jamestown settlement south, and from the Mississippi River east. The result is a vibrant blend of Native American peoples, Africans, and European interactions that both complicate and enrich her analysis. Her sources include not only English, French, and Spanish, but also a number of Native American sources, including Timucua. She draws not only on written sources, but linguistic and archaeological evidence as well. This interdisciplinary approach allowed for broader inclusion of non-European networks than appears in many studies. Networks, as Dubcovsky defines them, are a “pattern of ties connecting discrete places or peoples”(4) She discusses a number of different types of networks—economic, political, religious, diplomatic, subaltern—but depicts all nodes as uniform in size. While some might take issue with this approach, the uniformness of the nodes makes sense, given the book’s goal of decentralizing European power structures, and does not detract. Continue reading
Right after I agreed to review Sam Haselby’s The Origins of American Religious Nationalism for the Journal of Religion, Gordon Wood’s review of it appeared in the New York Review of Books. When one of our number gets that kind of exposure with their first book, we should all applaud, but there I was, feeling out-classed before I even opened the book. Now that I’m done with my review, everything about Wood’s makes sense to me—it was big exposure on a big stage for a big book. And I learned something from Wood there, which was to have enough patience with a big book’s faults to appreciate what it’s trying to do. Wood called Origins an “unusual book” with a meandering argument, but nevertheless “a book to be reckoned with.” I have to agree, and (spoiler alert) said as much in my forthcoming JR review. In writing that, though, I realized that if I hadn’t been primed for indulgence by Wood’s review I would have judged Origins more harshly. I think Origins is a good book that’s in too much of a hurry. Without repeating what I’ve written in JR for a religious-studies audience, I want to use this space for something of an historian’s rant about the hurried use of sources in this book. Continue reading
In today’s guest post, Marquette University’s Bryan Rindfleisch reviews Andrew Lipman’s The Saltwater Frontier: Indians and the Contest for the American Coast (2015).
When most people think of European colonization in New England and New Netherland, we think in very terrestrial terms. This familiar narrative includes the fur and wampum trades, treaties and the negotiations over land, and conflicts such as the Pequot War, Kieft’s War, King Philip’s War, and so on. But Andrew Lipman, an assistant professor of history at Barnard College, flips this entire terrestrial story upon its head. He does this with one simple question: “What if we considered this contested region not just as a part of the continent but also as part of the ocean?” In doing so, Lipman recovers the astonishing maritime contexts of seventeenth-century America, where both Indigenous and European peoples encountered, collaborated with, and fought against one another on the water just as much as they did on the land. This, then, is the provocative beginning to Lipman’s Bancroft Prize-winning The Saltwater Frontier: Indians and the Contest for the American Coast (Yale University Press, 2015). Continue reading
Between 1650 and 1750, the courts of Maine, Rhode Island, and Essex County, Massachusetts heard 1,843 cases concerning sexual misconduct. These suits, which concerned matters including rape, sodomy, adultery, and sex outside of marriage, are the subject of Abby Chandler’s new book, Law and Sexual Misconduct in New England, 1650-1750: Steering Toward England (Ashgate, 2015). By examining three jurisdictions not previously studied by historians of law and sexuality, Chandler complicates standard narratives of the extent to which New Englanders adhered to English law. She also engagingly reconstructs the familial and neighborhood conflicts that shaped individual cases.
Transatlantic commerce was the defining feature of the eighteenth century’s imperial economy. The ocean was the conduit by which goods, labour, and capital circulated—goods that included sugar and tobacco, labour that included enslaved men and women, capital that included the remarkable oceangoing ships themselves. On transatlantic circulation hung the wealth and fate of empires, and that in turn depended upon ships and those who sailed them. Nathan Perl-Rosenthal’s new book, Citizen Sailors: Becoming American in the Age of Revolution (which Ben posted about a few weeks ago), does not tell those sailors’ story. Instead, it gives an account of the crucial relationship between sailors and states, and its remaking in the era of Revolution. As the empires and new republics of the North Atlantic world struggled to hold or wrest the reins of commerce, they had to invent new forms of power and identity—forms of power vested, like so much else we could call modern, in paper. Continue reading
Lindsay O’Neill, The Opened Letter: Networking in the Early Modern British World (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015).
Social networks are having a moment in history. They are another approach to understanding how people came together either via proximity, social status, values, or goals, with the analytical focus on what serves as the bond in the relationship(s). Social theorists have ascribed a 4-part process which entails a) similar people coming together, b) influence within these groups making its members more alike, c) people winding up in the same place, and d) shared space making people more alike. In short, networks are primarily about building consensus. For historians, networks are “messy,” “fragile,” “fluid,” and disregard geographic boundaries. Continue reading