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

“The Prospect and the Rarities,” a Case for the Early National Garden

“The Prospect and the Rarities,” a Case for the Early National Garden

In 1714, Louis XIV of France obtained a coffee plant from officials in Amsterdam.  The plant’s lineage as a direct descendant of the original tree in Java conveyed key elements of monarchical authority:  the demonstration of the king’s unique access to overseas specimens and his central position in the webs of information, exchange, and power.[1]  That spectacle of cosmopolitanism was on display in the palace garden and by extension the scientific garden established in Paris, the Jardin Royal des Plantes.  Construction of the Jardin Royal des Plantes was proposed by the king’s botanist and doctor, Jean Hérouard, and it streamlined the scientific, medicinal, and economic aims of empire that were prominent among European sovereigns.

My years of thinking about the place of commodities like coffee, sugar, and cotton within production and distribution chains meant that the garden, as both a universal and recognizable form, appeared again and again.  Over time, I’ve come across various kinds of gardens large and small, and I’ve often wondered about their usefulness in serving as an aid to learning, discovery, and as historical case studies. Though generally humble spaces, they hold out possibilities for looking at cultural tales, national flavors, and the circuits of consumption for the early national period of American history. Continue reading

Guest Post: “young appearance”: Assessing Age through Appearance in Early America

Holly+Headshot_2bw[2]Today’s guest post comes from Holly N.S. White (Ph.D., College of William & Mary) who is an assistant editor of Publications and Digital Projects at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and an assistant producer of Ben Franklin’s World: A Podcast about Early American History. She specializes in the history of age, childhood, and youth as well as the histories of gender, family, and law in the early America. My research focuses on the definition and negotiability of age in early American law and society, which is the subject of my forthcoming first book, Negotiating American Youth: Age, Law, and Culture in the Early Nineteenth Century.

Children and adolescents are regularly described as big for their age, small for their age, or mature for their age– but what purpose does it serve to judge a person’s age against their appearance? Today, with birth certificates to prove our age it doesn’t actually mean much. But in early America, where no such formalized, institutionally supported forms of record keeping existed, appearing young or old relative to one’s age could have significant ramifications on a person’s life. Continue reading

On Wednesdays We Wear Prints: Fashion Rules in the African Atlantic

EB1

Stella McCartney Spring/Summer 2018 ready-to-wear fashion collection, Paris, Oct. 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Today’s #ColonialCouture post is by Bronwen Everill, lecturer in history at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge University, and author of Abolition and Empire in Sierra Leone and Liberia, Cambridge Series in Imperial and Post-colonial Studies (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). Follow her @BronwenEverill.

In 2017, Stella McCartney ran into trouble during Paris fashion week. Her faux pas was cultural appropriation: using Nigerian Ankara fabrics, reportedly pretending to have “discovered” them, and dressing her almost exclusively white group of models in the fabric.

In 1791, British traveller Anna Maria Falconbridge complained of the failure of her own attempt to promote cultural appropriation of European fashions, while describing her visit to the Temne, in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Spending time with Clara, the wife of the royal secretary, “I endeavoured to persuade her to dress in the European way, but to no purpose; she would tear the clothes off her back immediately after I put them on. Finding no credit could be gained by trying to new fashion this Ethiopian Princess, I got rid of her as soon as possible.”[1] Now, maybe it’s just me, but I always think Anna Maria would have given Gretchen Wieners a run for her money as Regina George’s BFF. Her book, Two Voyages in Sierra Leone, is full of snarky comments about fashion in Sierra Leone, but it comes across as so much posturing. Continue reading