This Colonial Couture post is by guest contributorKimberly Alexander, adjunct professor of history at the University of New Hamphire, Durham. Her forthcoming book is Georgian Shoe Stories from Early America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017), and she is currently the Andrew Oliver Research Fellow at the Massachusetts Historical Society.* Follow her @SilkDamask.
John Leverett’s Buff Coat, ca. 1640
For scholars who are deeply interested in the connections between material culture and social history, textiles can be imagined as significant documents. Contextualizing objects through print culture, and exploring print through materials, allows us to texture the past and to weave “fashion stories” that complicate conventional histories. A favorite site for this work is the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS), home not only to one of the country’s most significant collections of letters, manuscripts and decorative arts, but also houses an important collection of textiles, clothing, and shoes, spanning the broad sweep of Massachusetts history. As the Andrew Oliver Research Fellow for 2016-2017, I have had the special opportunity to investigate pre-1750s textiles within the Society’s collection. Here, the lure of seeing objects, many of which had not been viewed for over 40 years, is particularly exciting. Continue reading →
“The heart of the English Empire in the seventeenth-century Americas was Barbados,” according to Justin Roberts in his recent William and Mary Quarterly article. That claim is perhaps not surprising—Richard Dunn established the social and economic importance of the island over thirty years ago in his seminal work, Sugar and Slaves. However, Roberts takes that point further by exploring the political ramifications of all of that Barbadian wealth in the West Indies. His article also speaks to a larger sea change in the historiography of the seventeenth-century Caribbean. Continue reading →
When most people think of European colonization in New England and New Netherland, we think in very terrestrial terms. This familiar narrative includes the fur and wampum trades, treaties and the negotiations over land, and conflicts such as the Pequot War, Kieft’s War, King Philip’s War, and so on. But Andrew Lipman, an assistant professor of history at Barnard College, flips this entire terrestrial story upon its head. He does this with one simple question: “What if we considered this contested region not just as a part of the continent but also as part of the ocean?” In doing so, Lipman recovers the astonishing maritime contexts of seventeenth-century America, where both Indigenous and European peoples encountered, collaborated with, and fought against one another on the water just as much as they did on the land. This, then, is the provocative beginning to Lipman’s Bancroft Prize-winningThe Saltwater Frontier: Indians and the Contest for the American Coast (Yale University Press, 2015).Continue reading →
Alexandra Montgomery is a PhD Candidate in history at the University of Pennsylvania. She studies Indigenous and European boundary-setting and colonization schemes in the far northeast during the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The following review contains some very mild thematic spoilers.
As both a horror nerd and an Early American historian, I have been excited about writer/direct Robert Eggers’ debut feature The Witch for quite some time. Excited might be a bit of an understatement: the first time I saw a poster in a theatre I shrieked, and I have been faithfully following the strangely endearing and decidedly bizarre Twitter of the film’s sometimes-antagonist goat, Black Philip, for several months. So, naturally, I was thrilled when my friend and fellow Early Americanist Lori Daggar offered to take me and Kelsey Salvesen to a press screening of the film (the film will be released officially on February 19). Continue reading →
In his now classic study of early nationalism, historian Benedict Anderson wrote “I propose the following definition of the nation: it is an imagined political community—and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign. It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion…. Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined….” While Puritan society was not a “nation” in the sense that Anderson meant it, his reflections nonetheless are evident in Ric Burns’ documentary, The Pilgrims. Burns seeks not to merely retell the Thanksgiving story, but to understand why Plimouth Rock and the popular Thanksgiving story (much of which is inaccurate) is such a pervasive part of the American origins story.
My forthcoming book, Law and Sexual Misconduct in New England, 1650-1750: Steering Toward England, uses sexual misconduct trials to examine the ways in which the growing Anglicization of the New England colonies played a role in the daily lives of ordinary colonists. Such trials may seem an unusual source base for studying broader political change, but their frequency and consistency allowed me to track the often subtle shifts toward more Anglicized legal systems. Likewise, both men and women were routinely charged with sexual misconduct, which allowed me to examine these shifts from male and female perspectives. This is the story of two widows in Essex County, Massachusetts, and their very different experiences with the Puritan dominated legal system of the seventeenth century and the Anglicized legal system of the eighteenth century.
Social networks are having a moment in history. They are another approach to understanding how people came together either via proximity, social status, values, or goals, with the analytical focus on what serves as the bond in the relationship(s). Social theorists have ascribed a 4-part process which entails a) similar people coming together, b) influence within these groups making its members more alike, c) people winding up in the same place, and d) shared space making people more alike. In short, networks are primarily about building consensus. For historians, networks are “messy,” “fragile,” “fluid,” and disregard geographic boundaries. Continue reading →