Review: The Larder: Food Studies Methods from the American South

The larderIn his concluding remarks to The Larder: Food Studies Methods from the American South, Ted Ownby hopes it “likely that this book will be one of the last collections of academic essays in which any scholars feel the need to explain or defend their choice of foodways as a topic” (363). Ownby and co-editors John T. Edge and Elizabeth Engelhardt have done as much as they can to realize this aspiration; their collection of essays is timely and scholarly rigorous. By assembling a group of scholars who concentrate “not on food but on foodways”—which comprise the production, preparation, or consumption of food—the editors have delved into questions about food studies and southern studies that bridge boundaries between different disciplines and historical time periods (364). Continue reading

Rethinking the Early American Map

AmeriqueSeptentrionaleIt’s time we remake the North American map.

Open up most any early American history book and flip to the list of tables and figures. Chances are you’ll find—if provided—maps devoid of almost any indigenous peoples. If the book is more recent, perhaps instead you’ll find that the author included two maps: one of European settlements, and one of Native American peoples. Or, just maybe, you happen to have on hand one of the few books to merge all of these together. But look closely and see if you can find the usual tension—an unbalance resulting from the projection of European empire on one hand, and the illustration of limited, isolated, scattered indigenous nations on the other.

How can so many maps of colonial North America display European power and political influence, but not do the same for American Indian polities and groups?

Maybe the better question is, how can we overcome our own historiographical strictures and the limitations of seventeenth and eighteenth-century maps to better portray the American landscape?

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Whither Early American Intellectual History?

Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 21.34.40Last week, I attended the annual conference for the Society of United States Intellectual History, this year held in Irvine, CA. It was a fun time, and I learned enough and met enough people to consider the conference a success (and worth the 12 hour flight from London!). Yet one thing struck me the entire weekend, and was reinforced by Mark Peterson who gave words to my thoughts during his session response: why is there a paucity of work on early America within the recent surge of interest in US intellectual history? Or, to ask a different, but still related, question, why do so few historians of early America do work on intellectual history, or self-identify as intellectual historians? Continue reading

Research in Timelines

TimelineMethodology and note-taking have been popular topics at The Junto, opinions and preferences ranging from Rachel Herrmann’s defense of good-olde-fashioned index cards, to Michael Hattem’s detailed tour of his digital workflow. I’d like to throw my hat into the ring and suggest yet another tool: timeline software.

I’m a visual person, and while a table is technically a “visual,” nothing makes me happier than seeing those rows and columns transform into something a bit more appealing.

Minor admission: I’m years late to the timeline game. But since I began using chronology software this summer—having finally leaped into the archives with little more than a macbook and a dream—my master timeline has become my best friend, my go-to reference guide. Why? Because timelines gives me easy access to, and visualization of, each and every who, what, where, and when of my project. And then some. It’s my very own personalized tool to quickly know (or estimate) where any individual or object in my project is at a given time.

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Locating the Literati: Charles Brockden Brown in Philadelphia

Charles Brockden Brown - NYPL Digital GalleryIt’s hard to write about early American print culture or intellect without thinking a lot about geography. Scholars like Trish Loughran, Richard John, John Fea, John Brooke, and Mary Kelley have suggested, in all sorts of ways, that it’s often wise to understand “the” early American public as a web of fundamentally local reading and writing publics. Intellectual culture meant something different from what it means in an age of mass media. But tricky questions come up when you try to write a local history of ideas or culture. Just how local can we reasonably go? How much detail can we actually use in an intellectual map of the early United States without getting lost in coincidences and irrelevance?

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On Counting: A Reflection on Quantitative Research

Count_von_CountThis summer, I counted. My dissertation, as my Contributor page at The Junto helpfully notes, includes both qualitative and quantitative analysis. And so, to enrich the latter portion of my project, I spent July at the archives, counting. Perhaps more so than most other forms of archival work, counting is an exercise in delayed gratification, the overall picture springing into focus only once the research and subsequent analysis are complete. This meant I had plenty of time to reflect on my methodology as I scanned through microfilm, paged through record books, examined case files, and counted, and counted, and counted. Continue reading

The Plains of Abraham and Annus Mirabilis

Or, how I came to realize my early America might not be so quintessentially American. Year Fifty-Nine Song

According to my calendar—everyone has alerts set to eighteenth-century military actions, right?—today is the 254th anniversary of the French surrender of Quebec. Forget Constitution Day, this is the hottest event of your week.

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Historians Who Love Just a Bit

I’ve never met anybody, living or dead, who fits their name quite as well as Peregrine Foster did. I encountered Peregrine in the papers of his brother, Dwight Foster, at the Massachusetts Historical Society, where I was looking for compilations of meaty correspondence that depicted land speculators at work. Peregrine was the youngest of three; his older brothers were Congressmen from Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Peregrine, though, wasn’t destined for such prominence.

In 1780, at the age of twenty-one, he more or less flunked out of the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (now Brown University), complaining that his homework was eating him. “Though it is but only 23 Days since he began the 1st Vol of Blackstone’s Commentaries,” his oldest brother wrote, “he lost Flesh surprizingly and . . . is persuaded that it is not for his Interest to pursue his Books.”[1] Peregrine wanted to go to sea, but his brothers disapproved. So instead, after a few years of twenty-something idleness, he resolved to venture west in pursuit of a fortune through land speculation. Continue reading

Reading and Magic

interesting narrativeLast week, the Library Company of Philadelphia and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies hosted the Early American Literature and Material Texts Workshop, generously sponsored for the fifth time by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  Led this year by Meredith McGill, the workshop offers a chance each summer for some material-texts scholars to get together and talk about their work and reflect on what attention to the material conditions of texts can bring to the study of, primarily, history and literature.  This year there was a particular focus on materiality as it relates to how we think about form and genre–we had great sessions on nineteenth-century autobiography as a genre, P.T. Barnum, the print transmission of colonial media narratives, and the meaning of format from manuscript to magazine to mp3.  It’s always humbling and exciting to glimpse the high level on which other scholars are thinking about some of the things I’m interested in. Continue reading

History by Freehand: Drawing Your Research

History by Freehand: Drawing Your Research

QuestionMapChances are, if you’ve ever sat next to me during a seminar, lecture, colloquium, workshop, conference, or dinner, you’ve seen me scribbling away on something. Stylus or pen in hand, I’ll create landscapes of crudely drawn people or mountains or ships, encircled and dissected by wavering arrows and question marks.

It’s about time I admit it. I’m a doodler. Continue reading