Yesterday Princeton historian Sean Wilentz published his latest piece opposing the 1619 Project at The Atlantic. In it, Wilentz argues that he—along with the other historians who signed a letter to the editors of the New York Times Magazine questioning the Project’s conclusions—are taking issue as a “matter of facts” that were presented in the 1619 Project, in particular in the essay authored by Nikole Hannah-Jones, the lead editor for the magazine’s issue, and in the letter of response from the Magazine’s editor, Jack Silverstein.
Category Archives: Commentary
The 400-Year-Old Rivalry
Liz Covart is the Digital Projects Editor at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the Creator and Host of Ben Franklin’s World, an award-winning podcast about early American history.
On June 29 and 30, the oldest rivalry in American sports will play out in London Stadium as the New York Yankees take on the Boston Red Sox. The rivalry between these historic Major League Baseball teams dates to the early twentieth century, when Boston team owner Harry Frazee sold his star player Babe Ruth to the Yankees, but the rivalry between Boston and New York goes back centuries. The great baseball rivalry, in fact, is the latest manifestation of an intense regional competition that developed from the fierce commercial rivalry between England and the Netherlands during the 1650s.
Q&A with L.H. Roper
Today at The Junto, L.H. Roper, professor of history at the State University of New York at New Paltz and coeditor in chief of the Journal of Early American History, joins us to discuss his new book, Advancing Empire: English Interest in Overseas Expansion, 1613-1688. In the book, Roper explores the role of private interest in the establishment of a global English empire during the seventeenth century. With chapters that span America, Africa, and Asia, Roper’s work challenges us to think more critically about state versus individual initiative and emphasizes continuity across a wide geographic scope. The book came out last year and has received attention and praise in several notable reviews, which can be found here, here, and here. Continue reading
Puerto Rico and the Regional Caribbean
For early Americanists, the past two decades have seen an increase in scholarship connecting the early modern Caribbean to colonial North America. The Caribbean adds significant depth and dimension to discussions of race, slavery, diplomacy, capitalism, gender, and imperial competition by expanding the historiographies and archival resources common to early American scholarship. Yet, when a colleague stopped by my office asking for readings on seventeenth-century Puerto Rico to assign for a class, I drew a blank. Despite the excellent scholarship on colonial Puerto Rico written in Spanish, English-language scholarship focuses primarily on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
What made this worse was that last Thursday was the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria’s landfall in Puerto Rico. And, while the devastation and continued struggles on the island garner on-going media attention, the anniversary set me thinking about the place of the Caribbean in our scholarship and our teaching. It seems that, despite increased attention to the Caribbean within the field of vast early America, not all Caribbeans are created equal. And that unevenness demands our attention. Continue reading
From Platform to Publisher: Facebook, the Early American Open Press, and Alex Jones
Yesterday, Apple, Facebook, YouTube, and Spotify removed the content of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones from their services. Jones has gained notoriety for propagating outrageous falsehoods on topics including vaccines, school shootings, and uh, *checks notes* space vampires. These decisions to remove Jones’s content come amid a growing public conversation about the extent to which technology and social media companies should act as stewards of truth. Facebook in particular has come under scrutiny for its role in spreading “fake news” in American politics and anti-Muslim propaganda in Sri Lanka, as well as CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s defense of Holocaust deniers’ ability to share verifiably false content on the site. Continue reading
A Survey of Assumptions
With spring well underway, many of us are experiencing the satisfaction of marking the last grade on the final blue book of the semester, with an eye toward the approaching summer months and the freedom to work on our own research projects. This makes it a foolhardy moment to entice Junto readers into thinking about teaching the survey, but it also presents an opportunity to reflect on our students and how their backgrounds should shape our approach in the classroom. Continue reading
Black Patriotic Masculinity in the Letters of Impressed Sailor Jacob Israel Potter
Black men in early America strived for masculine recognition in their society which did not provide many opportunities for Black men to publicly present themselves as men. In 2007, through The William and Mary Quarterly, maritime historian W. Jeffrey Bolster published “Letters by African American Sailors, 1799-1814,” which is useful in examining how Black men performed masculinity to not only provide for themselves and their families, but also to provide opportunities to be recognized as men. In my first post for The Junto, I decided to focus on the life of one of the Black sailors involved in the letters named Jacob Israel Potter. As an early nineteenth century impressed, or captured, Black sailor from Lewes, Delaware by the British Royal Navy, conceptually speaking, the parameters of freedom were far different for him as a person of African descent than someone white. Generally, Black freedom was always in tension with Black mobility. Scholars like Elizabeth Pryor examine this tension in the lives of Black antebellum activists from the late 1820s until just before the Civil War, but this post, in part, examines this tension with the added caveats of how Black masculinity and Black patriotism coincided with this tension as well. Continue reading
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace Presentism
I’m trained as an early American historian, so I never anticipated that one day I’d teach a current-events course. And yet, in Fall 2017, I debuted a course called “Learning from the Past: Early America in the 21st Century.” New to my department, I had to market an early American studies course that would draw enrollments, and the best method I could think of was to convince students that the early American past had relevance to their lives. In graduate school, some of my professors argued that historians should not engage in presentism—that it would make our work seem dated to future generations of scholars. But our own political moment—I started teaching two weeks after far-right protests converged around Confederate monuments in Charlottesville—felt too urgent not to let our own moment into our discussions of the past. Instead of keeping the present in the subtext of my class, I brought it into the text. Continue reading
Why We Doubt Capable Children: Constructing Childhood in the Revolutionary Era
“My friends and I might still be 11, and we might still be in elementary school, but we know . . . that we have seven short years until we too have the right to vote.” Speaking at the March for Our Lives event, 11-year old Naomi Wadler eloquently reminded us that childhood is ephemeral. Since they are future voters, she warned Capitol Hill to take the words, emotions, and pleas of children seriously. In many ways, she was also speaking to Florida State Representative Elizabeth Porter who recently exclaimed, “The adults make the law because we have the age, we has [sic] the wisdom, and we have the experience.” For many like Rep. Porter, there has been something disturbing in this moment of youth activism. It cuts to the core of social stability based on the patriarchal family order—that children are subordinate, passive members of society. We inherited this idea from the eighteenth-century revolutionary era, a point in time when age became a main determinant in who could be considered a citizen and an adult. Continue reading
Guest Post: George Washington’s Mausoleum: Congressional Debates Over the Work of Monuments
Jamie L. Brummitt is a Ph.D. Candidate in American Religion at Duke University and an online instructor for the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). Her dissertation “Protestant Relics: The Politics of Religion & the Art of Mourning” examines the lively relic culture that thrived in political and religious life of the United States from the 1770s to 1870s.
If the recent acts of iconoclasm in Durham and Charlottesville have taught us anything, it may be this: monuments matter. They matter not just in an ideological sense, but in a material sense. Monuments work as material objects because they embody people, memory, and ideas for better or worse. This post examines the proposed construction of a mausoleum for George Washington’s remains by Congress. The proposed mausoleum was entangled in debates about politics, finances, and the material nature of monuments. Many congressmen argued that a monument to Washington should work with his remains to transfer his virtues to Americans. Continue reading