It is not often that historiographical essays have a hero. But, in Al Young’s essay, “American Historians Confront ‘The Transforming Hand of Revolution’,” it’s hard not to see J. Franklin Jameson that way. Jameson was a New Englander by birth and character who helped found the American Historical Association in 1884. Never a prolific historian (or teacher, for that matter), Jameson’s greatest impact—beyond the important structural role he played in the emergence of History as a modern academic and professional discipline in the United States—came in the form of a small collection of four lectures originally written in 1895 but published largely in the form they were given at Princeton 30 years later. That small book, The American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement, is not just the starting point for Young’s assessment of the historiography of the American Revolution in the twentieth century, it is quite literally its genesis. Continue reading
I’ve admired Alfred Young’s wonderful, if unwieldy, Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier (New York: Knopf, 2004) since I first encountered the book in an undergraduate classroom a decade ago. Young’s biography of Sampson, which covers the life, career, and memory of this remarkable woman who “passed” as a man in the Continental Army for seventeen months, shares much in common with its intellectual sibling, The Shoemaker and the Tea Party—the detective-like level of historical research, the concern with the constantly shifting nature of memory, the drive to capture the life of a common person who left an uncommon historical legacy. New concerns, such as the performative and unstable nature of gender, emerge in Masquerade as well. My most striking impression from this latest reread, however, is just how much the book is about the limits of the American Revolution. Continue reading
How does an ordinary person win a place in history?
Such is the line that Alfred Young opened his classic The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999). In a way, the phrase captures much of his overall scholarship. Other contributions to this roundtable have/will cover(ed) how he did this in his influential books, essays, and edited collection. In my post, I want to focus on how he translated his approach into a work that is probably read more than any of his other books. Indeed, Shoemaker and the Tea Party is a popular book in the classroom, both undergrad and graduate, since it tells a fascinating tale with an important message. Continue reading
In 1967, Alfred F. Young transformed his Northwestern doctoral dissertation into a dense saga of New York’s Revolutionary power players and their roiling class wars, entitled The Democratic Republicans of New York: The Origins, 1763-1797 (Chapel Hill: Published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture at Williamsburg, Va., by the University of North Carolina Press). Young’s work, in many ways, spoke both to the colonial past that he studied and to the America of President Lyndon Johnson, a nation beset by party strife over civil rights, the Vietnam War, and a range of social issues. And, tucked away near the volume’s end, Young shared a few bright-lines of inquiry for any student of political history—no matter that his focus here is firmly fixed on New York State. “I have been interested in politics as it is organized by the leaders,” Young writes, “how it appears up front to the voters, how it all turns out in the elections, and what the elected do with political power” (596). Continue reading
This week, The Junto is dedicated to reconsidering the legacy of Al Young. Young died two years ago this week, but we scheduled the timetable unaware of that coincidence. Instead, we originally scheduled it to coincide with Pope’s Day, a topic many of us associate with Al Young. After his passing, the internet was filled with many personal and heartfelt memoriams from colleagues and former students. But this week, my fellow Juntoists and I will reconsider the legacy of Al Young and a body of work with few equals in the history of early American scholarship. Continue reading