Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your History? A Review of “Historians on Hamilton: How a Blockbuster Musical is Restaging America’s Past ”

7386e4d5eae820a187487f334ae41901Early this morning, two hundred and fourteen years ago, Alexander Hamilton was shot in an infamous duel with rival Aaron Burr. Hamilton died the next day, Burr’s days as a legitimate political candidate were over, and both soon faded into relative historical obscurity. Some centuries later, their tale fell into the hands of Broadway force Lin Manuel Miranda, who was fresh off the success of his first full length production, In the Heights. Hamilton’s life and death were about to make an epic comeback, styled to powerhouse ballads, rap battles, and New York city fanfare. Continue reading

Q&A with Christopher Grasso, author of Skepticism and American Faith: From the Revolution to the Civil War

Christopher Grasso earned his PhD from Yale in 1992, taught at St. Olaf College, and came to William and Mary in 1999.  From 2000 to 2013 he served as the Editor of the William and Mary Quarterly.  He is the author of A Speaking Aristocracy: Transforming Public Discourse in Eighteenth-Century Connecticut (OIEAHC/UNC Press, 1999) and the editor of Bloody Engagements: John R. Kelso’s Civil War (Yale University Press, 2017). His most recent book, Skepticism and American Faith: From the Revolution to the Civil War, was just published by Oxford University Press earlier this month. Dr. Grasso generously agreed to answer a few questions about the book.  Continue reading

Interpreting US History in the UK: The American Museum in Britain

As an American studying American history in the UK, my response to the question of “What are you studying?” often inspires wry smiles, wrinkled brows, and variations of “Why here?” Although I am now fairly adept at justifying my decision, I remain fascinated by the concept of studying a nation’s history beyond its geographic boundaries. With my time in Britain near its end, I traveled to Bath to visit  The American Museum in Britain, a place all too familiar with this topic. The Museum is located in Claverton Manor, a nineteenth-century English country manor on 125 acres of land, and also features a Folk-Art Gallery, an exhibit hall, and gardens.[1] Continue reading

Q&A: Francis Spufford, author of Golden Hill

Today, we conclude our week-long round table on Francis Spufford’s Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York with an interview with Spufford himself. If you missed our earlier posts on the novel, you can find them here. Continue reading

Golden Hill Roundtable: Retracing Mr. Smith’s Steps Through Eighteenth-Century Manhattan

goldenhill“Had a map been drawn . . . of Mr. Smith’s movements through the streets of New-York. . . a tangled hydra indeed would have been revealed,” begins the second chapter of Francis Spufford’s book Golden Hill (53). As my fellow Junto reviewers have discussed, Spufford’s exhilarating read follows Mr. Smith through the escapades and perils of mid-eighteenth-century New York as he attempts to convince those he encounters of his “credit worthiness.” As he meanders through the tangled web of city streets, Smith’s journey from the island’s southern tip to its northern outposts is filled with adventures and twists at every turn. The reader soon learns that many of the men and women he encounters have secrets to hide. There is much to like about Golden Hill. For this urban historian, one of the most enjoyable aspects is the book’s sense of place. Continue reading

Golden Hill Roundtable: Courage and Cowardice?

This guest post is the third entry in our week-long roundtable on Francis Spufford’s novel, Golden Hill. Its author is Hannah Farber, an assistant professor at Columbia University. Her scholarship has appeared in the New England Quarterly, Early American Studies and the Journal of the Early Republic; she is at work on a monograph on marine insurance, tentatively titled Underwriters of the United States.

goldenhillWhat a pleasure it is to wander around mid-eighteenth-century New York City with Francis Spufford, admiring the city’s homes with their “stepped Dutchwork eaves” (17) and their “blue-gray pediment[s] of Connecticut pine” (11). What a pleasure, too, to join him in pawing through the humbler artifacts of daily life in the colonial city. Pap (1). Milk punch (42). A bog-wig (2). Every page of Golden Hill overflows with weird stuff like this, and it’s just great. Continue reading

Golden Hill as Historical Historical Fiction

goldenhillFrancis Spufford’s historical novel Golden Hill introduces us to mid-eighteenth century New York City through the eyes of a London visitor named Richard Smith. For Smith, it’s a strange place. In the book’s first scene, as Tom discussed yesterday, he exchanges some of his own currency for local money. But he is baffled to receive an irregular stack of paper from around the continent divided into various denominations.

I immediately empathized. Only a few days before I began the novel, I had been trying to untangle what I had initially thought would be a fairly straightforward problem for an article manuscript involving colonial wage rates and commodity prices. But I had quickly found myself waist-deep in conversion charts, glossaries, and historical data about the foreign, colonial, and metropolitan currencies that circulated in eighteenth-century Anglo-America. Old tenor, new tenor, pounds, shillings, pence, halfjoes, Spanish dollars—it was a world of currency only slightly less confusing than blockchain. Continue reading