How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace Presentism

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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

Mann_Page_Elizabeth_Page_John_Wollaston“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.”[1] 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.”[2] 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. 

Benjamin H. Latrobe, Watercolor, ink, and pencil of the proposed Washington mausoleum, c. 1800, Library of Congress.

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

Guest Post: Patriotism, Partisanship, and “The Star-Spangled Banner”: A View from the Early Republic

Billy Coleman is a Postdoctoral Fellow in History at the Kinder Institute for Constitutional Democracy at the University of Missouri. He received his PhD from University College London (UCL), and is currently completing a book manuscript called, “Harnessing Harmony: Music, Power, and Politics in the United States, 1788-1865.”  He is also the US-based book review editor for American Nineteenth Century History and the author of “‘The Music of a well tun’d State’: ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ and the Development of a Federalist Musical Tradition” (Journal of the Early Republic 35, no. 4).

As I type, President Donald Trump is tweeting: “#StandForOurAnthem.” The presidential hashtag was created in response to over two hundred NFL players who this weekend chose to protest racial injustice and police brutality by kneeling, sitting, raising fists, or linking arms in solidarity during the national anthem. Their actions add to what is now a year-long protest movement surrounding “The Star-Spangled Banner,” started initially by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Now, the controversy has expanded significantly in defiance of President Trump’s suggestion that NFL team owners should “fire or suspend” players who “disrespect” their country by refusing to stand for the anthem. Continue reading

Research at the Bodleian: A Guide

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A few summers ago, I wrote a guide to navigating London-area archives, as part of a roundtable The Junto published about research. I have updated that piece, but today, I wanted to share some thoughts on doing research at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford. Continue reading

An Early Americanist in Austenland

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 10.28.06 AMOf course I cannot speak (or type) for everyone, but in the past six years, one specific word has never been far from the forefront of my mind: copyright. While I think that copyright is an incredibly fascinating and complex historical subject —and thus why wouldn’t everyone be talking about it all the time—it is probably because intellectual property was the subject of my dissertation that I spent so much time thinking, reading, and writing about it. I’m now in an exciting, strange, and surreal moment where I’ve defended my dissertation and am conceiving of what the manuscript will look like. And in this window two other words have come up: Austen and de Staël. Continue reading

Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, Jamestown Women

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to watch the new TV series, Jamestown, that recently premiered in the UK. But the television critic Mark Lawson has. Last week he wrote a column that criticised the show, and other recent British period drama, for featuring female characters who were, in his own words, “feisty, cheeky and rebellious.” In the name of historical accuracy, Lawson called out the makers of Jamestown for pandering to 21st-century sensibilities. Apparently, he believes women four hundred years ago raised neither hand nor voice against the patriarchy. Instead, they “willingly accept[ed] sexual and social submission.”

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