Q&A with Nick Bunker, author of Young Benjamin Franklin

[Today we are happy to share a Q&A with Nick Bunker, author of the new Young Benjamin Franklin: The Birth of Ingenuity (Knopf, 2018). Tomorrow our own Sara G. will post her review of the book.]

  1. BunkerStarting with his own autobiography, there have been many treatments of Benjamin Franklin’s life. How did you approach the project when you were aware of this vast literature, and how did you attempt to carve out your own space?

Yes, library shelves are crammed with books about Franklin, but the literature is biased towards the second half of  his life, and his achievements as politician, diplomat, and man of letters. The period up to age 40 has come to be neglected, and the same is true of his scientific career. This is because – for the most part – in chronicling Franklin’s early life biographers have preferred to rely entirely on his autobiography. But written though they are with panache, Franklin’s memoirs are really a sketch or an essay, not a rounded narrative. He mentions his scientific work only in passing and he skips through his youth in an episodic, impressionistic way. So I began by working my way through the autobiography, and Franklin’s early writings, compiling lists of  questions left unanswered, references unexplained, and incidents where other sources might be available. Then I went in search of  material to fill in the gaps.  The central question I was asking was this: just why was Benjamin Franklin so ambitious, and so energetic? In the 1740s an opponent called Franklin “an uneasy spirit” – which he was! – and I wanted to find out why this was so. Continue reading

Roundtable: The History of Childhood & Youth: Juandrea Bates

juandrea-bates-photo.jpgIf you missed previous posts in our new roundtable series on the history of childhood and youth, click here. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for the next few weeks, stop by to read about challenges and realities of researching and teaching childhood and youth across vast early America.

Juandrea M. Bates, Assistant Professor of History and Legal Studies at Winona State University, joins us to discuss her research on Latin American social and legal history with an emphasis on youth, gender, and social movements. Dr. Bates received her Ph.D. in History from the University of Texas at Austin. She is particularly interested in the intersections of inequality, the law, family and childhood in modern Argentina. Both her scholarship and her classes reflect her deep fascination regarding how regular people mobilize and shape the world around them and how marginalized groups struggle to cope with and overcome adversity. Her work has been funded by the University of Texas at Austin, the Mellon Foundation, The Council for Library Information Research and The Department of Education. Right now she is hard at work revising her manuscript, Raising Argentina: Family, Childhood and Popular Participation in Civil Justice in Buenos Aires 1871-1930. Continue reading

Roundtable: The History of Childhood & Youth: Bianca Premo

Photo - 1 (4)The history of childhood and youth in vast early America is a nascent but burgeoning field of inquiry that brings together historians of politics, society, slavery, race, and gender. Over the next three weeks, The Junto will feature a roundtable series with some of the most prominent historians of childhood and youth around the Atlantic as well as emerging scholars in the field. We’ll discuss the challenges and realities of researching and teaching childhood and youth across vast early America.

Today, we are kicking off this roundtable series with an interview of Bianca Premo, a pioneer in the study of children as actors in historical processes. Professor of History at Florida International University in Miami, Dr. Premo is the author of the Enlightenment on Trial: Ordinary Litigants and Colonialism in the Spanish Empire (Oxford University Press, 2017), Children of the Father King, Youth, Adult Authority and Legal Minority in Colonial Lima (University of North Carolina Press, 2005), and co-editor of Raising an Empire: Children in Early Modern Iberia and Colonial Latin America (University of New Mexico, 2007).  She has also written various articles and chapters on children in Latin American history. In addition to a longstanding fascination with childhood and the law, she is increasingly interested in twentieth-century notions of medical subjectivity and age. Continue reading

Puerto Rico and the Regional Caribbean

For early Americanists, the past two decades have seen an increase in scholarship connecting the early modern Caribbean to colonial North America. The Caribbean adds significant depth and dimension to discussions of race, slavery, diplomacy, capitalism, gender, and imperial competition by expanding the historiographies and archival resources common to early American scholarship. Yet, when a colleague stopped by my office asking for readings on seventeenth-century Puerto Rico to assign for a class, I drew a blank. Despite the excellent scholarship on colonial Puerto Rico written in Spanish, English-language scholarship focuses primarily on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.[1]

What made this worse was that last Thursday was the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria’s landfall in Puerto Rico. And, while the devastation and continued struggles on the island garner on-going media attention, the anniversary set me thinking about the place of the Caribbean in our scholarship and our teaching. It seems that, despite increased attention to the Caribbean within the field of vast early America, not all Caribbeans are created equal. And that unevenness demands our attention. Continue reading

Fragmented Stories: Cloth from the Colonies in a 19th-Century Dress Diary

 

KS DiaryDear Junto readers, Thank you for joining us for two weeks of all-new scholarship tracing the historical patterns of #ColonialCouture! Read the whole roundtable here.

Today’s #ColonialCouture finale post is by Kate Strasdin, senior lecturer in cultural studies at the Fashion & Textiles Institute, Falmouth University, whose research focus is on 19th- and 20th-century female dress and haute couture. Follow her @kateStrasdin.

A small industrial town in the North West of England in the middle of the 19th century might seem an unlikely place to start with a narrative concerning dress and the colonies. On September 20 1838, Anne Burton married Adam Sykes in Tyldesley, Lancashire. A small piece of their wedding day is captured on the very first page of a volume that Anne was to keep for almost forty years – a fragment of her wedding dress and the figured silk waistcoat worn by her groom carefully pasted into what was to become her dress diary. Continue reading

Luxurious Tipping Points in Early Massachusetts

BM1

Architectural tile, tin-glazed earthenware. Cross Street Back Lot site, Massachusetts Historical Commission.

Today’s #ColonialCouture post is by Ben Marsh, senior lecturer in history at the University of Kent and author of Georgia’s Frontier Women: Female Fortunes in a Southern Colony (University of Georgia Press, 2012). His current research project is “Silk and the Atlantic World, c. 1500-1840.” Follow him @MarshBen1.

You can find the strangest things in toilets. When Katherine Wheelwright Nanny Naylor (1630-1716) and her remaining two children filled in a brick-lined privy at the back of their yard in Ann Street, perhaps downsizing in the 1690s after having once run her own business from a fine waterfront lot on the north side of Boston Harbour, they inadvertently left a message preserved in the marine clay. When the site was excavated in the 1990s (at the point of being built over by the city’s Central Artery), it flushed up over a hundred fragments of different textiles.[i] This is tipping point three. Continue reading

Priscilla Mullins Alden and the Search for a Dress in Pieces

Priscilla And John Alden

John and Priscilla Alden
Colored Postcard with a Colonial Revival view of the couple

Today’s #ColonialCouture post is by Kimberly Alexander, professor of museum studies and material culture at the University of New Hampshire and author of Treasures Afoot: Shoe Stories from the Georgian Era (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018). She is currently guest curator of “Fashioning the New England Family,” opening at the Massachusetts Historical Society on 5 October 2018. Follow her @SilkDamask.

Bradfords, Brewsters, Aldens, Winslows, Cottons, Winthrops.  Throughout the K-12 experience, these names filled the classes and textbooks of the students who now sit before us in college classrooms, crowding out other names, names like Weetamoo and Rondriquez and Tubman.  But, through the process of mythologizing that distills and filters facts, the men and women of the Mayflower have come to be somewhat flat and lifeless characters, rather than people who inhabited real bodies in a real space.  Consequently, this where even the smallest and seemingly insignificant fragment of material culture can add dimensions that revisit the past as a place of hopes and dreams, struggle and disappointment.[1] Continue reading