“Trans-American Crossings” Conference Recap

Over the weekend, an international group of scholars met on the campus of Brown University to participate in a conference focused on various forms of enslaved migrations throughout the Americas from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries. Sponsored by the Omohundro Institute and the John Carter Brown Library, the meeting represented the fifth in a series of conferences about the transatlantic slave trade that have been organized by the OI.

For anyone who couldn’t make it to Providence[1], the panels were live-tweeted and can be found #TransAmCrossings. While the tweets of my colleagues give a great sense of the flow of the conversations over the weekend, what follows here are some of my reflections on the broader questions and themes that drove intellectual exchanges during and after the panels. Continue reading

The Low Road: Unrevolutionary Bastardy

Today’s guest post is by Hannah Farber, an assistant professor of history at Columbia University. Her manuscript in progress, tentatively titled Underwriters of the United States, explains how the transnational system of marine insurance, by governing the behavior of American merchants, influenced the establishment and early development of the American republic.

Bruce Norris’s new play The Low Road, which had its U.S. premiere in spring 2018 at New York’s Public Theater, asks a very important question. What if a bastard, orphan, son of a whore sets out to seek his fortune in revolutionary America … but instead of becoming a hero and a scholar, he simply reveals himself to be a terrible person?

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Gawker, Gossip, and the General Advertiser

I can’t say that I was ever the most avid reader, or the biggest fan, of Gawker. But as the trenchant news website was forced to shut down this week as the result of the combined forces of Peter Thiel and Hulk Hogan, I realized that I was being more than a little hypocritical.

After all, as a historian of 1790s culture, I rely heavily on the work of Benjamin Franklin Bache. And if anything embodied the no-holds-barred, gossipy style of Gawker in the 18th century – not to mention the attempted backlash from powerful forces – it was the Aurora General Advertiser. Continue reading

The Charleston Shooting and the Potent Symbol of the Black Church in America

Emanuel landscapeLast night, Dylann Storm Roof entered the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, sat through an hour-long meeting, and then opened fire on those in attendance. Reverend Clementa Pinckney, a state senator, was among nine individuals who were killed. Many are shocked at not only the grisly nature of the shooting, but also its location. “There is no greater coward,” Cornell William Brooks, president of the N.A.A.C.P, declared in a statement, “than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture.” Yet this experience is unfortunately, and infuriatingly, far from new: while black churches have long been seen as a powerful symbol of African American community, they have also served as a flashpoint for hatred from those who fear black solidarity, and as a result these edifices have been the location for many of our nation’s most egregious racial terrorist acts. Continue reading

Ballin’ Ben Franklin, Father Knickerbocker, and Lucky the Leprechaun: Representations of Early American History in NBA Team Logos

3588_philadelphia_76ers-secondary-2015Big news out of Philadelphia earlier this week, as the city’s NBA team, the 76ers, introduced an “updated brand identity.”[1] For now, the team has released the new logo set, though updated uniforms are also reportedly in the works. That new logo set  amounts mostly to slight revisions of existing logos, but also includes a secondary logo featuring a bespectacled Benjamin Franklin donning a blue jacket emblazoned with “76,” red culottes so as to expose knee high and team colored-striped socks, and blue sneakers. Suffice it to say that my excitement about my prospective move to Philadelphia this fall just increased ten-fold. Continue reading

Single-Perspective Narratives and the Politics of Marriage History

scotus-obergefell-ahaEarlier this month, the American Historical Association announced that it had signed a Supreme Court amicus curiae brief in support of legal same-sex marriage.[1] This well-written, scholarship-rich brief was apparently drafted by Nancy Cott, and it was signed by many other distinguished historians of marriage.

In discussions that followed on Twitter, some professional historians who were happy with this brief (as I imagine most were) told me they supported it on the basis of historians’ collective interest in historical accuracy. History has been distorted, they argued, by conservative arguments—specifically, by conservatives’ appeals to what marriage has supposedly always been like. They agreed with the AHA that conservatives have advanced not only an unconvincing interpretation but also a set of demonstrably false claims.[2] Specifically, it seems, they think it’s false to say that marriage historically “serv[ed] any single, overriding purpose.”[3]

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Winter Reads

Just in time for your holiday shopping list, here’s our preview of new titles—share your finds in the comments! Continue reading