Guest Post: Reporting from the Edges of Exceptionalism: Early American History in Oceania in 2016

Today’s post is by Taylor Spence, a Lecturer in Monash University’s School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies and a Research Fellow with the Monash Indigenous Centre. Agricultural History will publish Dr. Spence’s next article, “The Canada Thistle: The Pestilence of North American Colonialisms and the Emergence of an Exceptionalist Identity, 1783-1839” (vol. 90, no.3), this fall. He lives in Melbourne and Brooklyn.

Small_picture_of_Rhys_with_book_1983As a local representative of American Empire in Melbourne, Australia, and fifteen years after Michael McGerr and Ian Tyrrell’s spirited exchange in the pages of the American Historical Review, in which they wrestled with the potential gains and losses of a transnational American history, I thought it was time, in the spirit of Alistair Cooke, to send a “Letter to America,” checking in on the topic of American Exceptionalism and the viability of the transnational historical project in Oceania.[1] Reporting from the front lines of the outward-pression of the exceptionalist frontier, I can report that it has only partially been successful: you in the U.S. have much more work to do if you hope to bring Australians to worship at the altar of Washington, Hamilton, and Lincoln. Perhaps a touring company of Hamilton would be in order? But if, in all seriousness, the continued popularity of American history courses at my Australian university and a similar lack of popularity for Australian history courses attests to the successful mystification of a certain segment of the population, the clear-eyed work of Oceanic Early Americanists demonstrates that the U.S. metanarrative is but grist for the mill. For decades, now, these scholars have produced an unabating stream of masterful transnational studies, which are methodically eroding the exceptionalist juggernaut. Continue reading

Historians in an Age of Revolution

Nuit_Debout_-_Paris_-_41_mars_01Do we live in revolutionary times? It’s tempting to imagine so. Bernie Sanders’ promise of “a political revolution” resonated with surprising numbers of Americans, especially the young. The Nuit Debout has captured some of the same spirit in France. Dramatic moments like the Oxi vote in Greece and the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong have followed the so-called Arab Spring and global Occupy movement. In spite of their failures and betrayals, those movements seemed to reveal revolutionary sentiment in east and west.

Yet in a recent interview for Dissent, David A. Bell, a historian of the French Revolution, put something of a counterpoint. “If we look at the broad sweep of modern history from the eighteenth century to the present,” he said, “we see that revolution has lost its salience as a political concept.” Continue reading

Guest Cross-Post: Benjamin Carp, “The Paradox of Paradox”

As all of you are aware, Edmund S. Morgan’s June 1972 Journal of American History article“Slavery and Freedom: The American Paradox” was the victor of “March Madness” tournament for best journal article in American history. This victory shouldn’t have been a surprise, as such a thing is old hat for Morgan. His larger book, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (1975), already won for best book in 2013. The timing was perfect: just a month ago, Benjamin Carp, the Daniel M. Lyons Professor of American History at Brooklyn College, published a fantastic review essay “In Retrospect: Edmund S. Morgan and the Urgency of Good Leadership,” in Reviews in American History (see his #edmorgan100 tweets storified by our own Michael D. Hattem’s here). The OAH’s blog Process History invited Dr. Carp to write his reflections on the article (see here), and they kindly invited us to cross-post it. 

Carp“Slavery and Freedom” is an article about Puritans, even though it doesn’t mention them at all; it’s about what happens when you try to colonize a place without them. Continue reading

The Significance of Old Historiography in American History

Frederick_Jackson_TurnerIn designing courses, professors and teachers face a number of competing claims for time and attention: skill development appropriate to the level of the course, the content described in the course catalog, campus, system, or state requirements for content, the primary sources and scholarship that will promote the best discussions and consideration of the course topic. As many of us have written here at the Junto, not to mention elsewhere, much therefore ends up on the cutting room floor—and some of it painfully so.

Continue reading

Guest Post: Native American History & the Explanatory Potential of Settler Colonialism

Today’s post comes from Bryan Rindfleisch, Assistant Professor of History at Marquette University. Bryan received his Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma in 2014.  He is currently working on a book that examines the intersections of colonial, Native, imperial, and Atlantic histories, peoples, and places in eighteenth-century North America. This is his second post for The Junto. The first can be found here.

51auvvdbpil-_ac_ul320_sr208320_One of the trending themes in Native American history is “Settler Colonialism.” From Patrick Wolfe’s foundational essay, to recent works by historians and literary scholars—Bethel Saler, Jodi Byrd, Gregory Smithers, David Preston, and Lisa Ford, for instance—this theoretical model has attracted significant attention within the field.[1]

In fact, I’ve deployed this concept as the framework for my upper-division class, “A History of Native America, 1491–Present,” at Marquette. But over the past several weeks it has become evident that settler colonialism is a bit of a minefield. Nevertheless, I find it to be an apt, if not critical, theory for researching and teaching Native American history. But it must be understood, and it must be used responsibly. Continue reading

Re-Conceiving the Age of Revolutions in the Age of Obama

Plum PuddingRevolutions: What are they good for?

The organizational concept of “The Age of Revolutions” has been on my mind a lot lately. First, I recently finished a full book manuscript that includes a version of that phrase in its title, so I’ve naturally been engaging with that literature quite a bit. Second, I’m preparing to teach a course titled “Eighteenth-Century Atlantic Revolutions: America, France, and Haiti” this semester, which will begin next week. And finally, I’ve had a review copy of Nathan Perl-Rosenthal’s excellent Citizen Sailors: Becoming American in the Age of Revolution (Harvard UP) sitting on my desk for a few months, struggling to come up with a more professional way to say “Go Out And Buy This Excellent Book Right Now.”  Continue reading

Roundtable: Academic Book Week—What’s an Academic Book Anyway?

Silent SpringIs Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring an academic book? Is Mary Wollestonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman? The list of twenty nominees for “the academic book that has most changed the world,” part of the UK’s Academic Book Week, is a pretty confusing collection. Plato’s Republic is a product of the academy, sure, but is George Orwell’s 1984? In the US, we’re in the middle of University Press Week, which is a much more easily-identifiable category. We should all celebrate the important role of university presses in preserving scholarly endeavour from the rapacious maw of the market. In the face of ever-deeper cuts, they deserve our vigilant support. Continue reading