Roundtable: A Letter to Dear America

Today’s Founding Fiction post is by Lindsay M. Chervinsky, a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. Her manuscript is titled, “The President’s Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution.” Follow her @lmchervinsky.

Each book in the Dear America series portrays a diary of a young fictional woman that explores her experience during one specific year in American history. The first-person account shares observations of well-known events or places, as well as the daily struggles of an “average” girl’s life. A number of these diaries take place in #VastEarlyAmerica. A few examples include A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, which tells the story of the Mayflower crossing in 1620; The Winter of Red Snow: The Revolutionary War Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart, which shares one woman’s experience in Valley Forge in 1777; and Look to the Hills: The Diary of Lozette Moreau, which examines the struggles of a French slave girl in the New York Colony in 1763. The series was discontinued in 2004, but Scholastic republished many of the originals in 2010 and continues to produce new volumes today. Continue reading

Roundtable: Telling the Story of the Declaration

Today’s Founding Fiction post is by Emily Sneff, Research Manager of the Declaration Resources Project at Harvard University. The mission of the Declaration Resources Project is to create innovative and informative resources about the Declaration of Independence. To learn more, follow @declarationres.

How do we get kids to read and comprehend the Declaration of Independence? Great authors and illustrators can transform the characters, events, and text of the Declaration (which, as you may expect, registers at about a 12th grade reading level) into true stories that are both entertaining and educational for younger readers. On the Declaration Resources Project’s blog, Course of Human Events, we recently interviewed authors Barbara Kerley (Those Rebels, John & Tom), Steve Sheinkin (King George: What Was His Problem? The Whole Hilarious Story of the American Revolution), and Gretchen Woelfle (Answering the Cry for Freedom: Stories of African Americans and the American Revolution). Their books, and a few other favorites, form an exciting non-fiction reading list for children and young adults. Continue reading

Roundtable: Ambassador in a Hat: The Sartorial Power of Benjamin Franklin’s Fur Cap

Roundtable: Ambassador in a Hat: The Sartorial Power of Benjamin Franklin’s Fur Cap

This Colonial Couture post is by guest contributor Joanna M. Gohmann, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow in 18th– and 19th-Century Art, at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.

Benjamin Franklin (Augustin de Saint Aubin after Charles Nicholas Cochin, 1777, private collection)

Benjamin Franklin (Augustin de Saint Aubin after Charles Nicholas Cochin, 1777, private collection)

While acting as the American ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin wore a fur hat to express his American status. The French enthusiastically accepted Franklin’s use of the topper, seeing it as an embodiment of the ambassador and a symbol of America and the American cause. When he first came to France in 1767, Franklin wore the clothes of a polite, fashionable Frenchman—a fine European suit and powdered wig—as a way to show respect to the French court. When he returned in 1776, he abandoned all the decorum of French dress and instead wore a simple, homespun brown suit, spectacles, and a large fur hat. He cleverly adopted this style as a way to garner attention and appeal to the French for support of the American cause.[1]

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Review: Zara Anishanslin, Portrait of a Woman in Silk

Zara Anishanslin, Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic WorldNew Haven: Yale University Press, 2016.

A silk worm begins wrapping itself round in a cocoon, encasing itself in its fiber. Faceless hands unravel the cocoon, turning it into a single linear thread, the thread then woven together with other linear threads unraveled by other faceless hands until all the threads, warped and wefted, form a connected fabric. Finally, completing the circle, a woman poses for a portrait, wrapped up in yard upon yard of silk, another body encased and shrouded.

It’s a fitting prologue and introduction to Zara Anishanslin’s Portrait of a Woman in Silk, a study in—literally and figuratively—the threads that connected and constructed the eighteenth-century British Atlantic Empire. Anishanslin’s book is not quite like any book that I’ve ever read before. It meanders—but with purpose: from Spitalfields Market in London, to an imagined college in Bermuda, to a parlor in Lancaster crowded with soldiers and military waggoners; from the inner mechanics of the loom, to the symbols within Milton’s Paradise Lost, to the aesthetics of colonial orchards and gardens; from cultural to intellectual to political to spatial to economic to material history. It defies traditional sub-disciplinary designations by design. Anishanslin’s ambitious first book draws inspiration from leading figures in material culture studies—Robert Blair St. George, T. H. Breen, Richard Bushman, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and others—but also draws inspiration from book historians like Robert Darnton, from economic historians, from religious historians, and from historians of transatlantic intellectual and epistolary networks. Continue reading

Men of La Mancha

don-quixote-book-coverIn a certain village of vast early America, whose name I do not recall, a book fell open. Then another. And another. By 1860, many generations’ worth of American readers had imbibed the two-volume work of Spain’s early modern master, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: Don Quixote, or, El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de La Mancha (1605). Cervantes’ metafiction of a mad knight-errant, often hailed as the first Western novel, bustled and blistered with originality. Continue reading

Autumn Reads

the-country-school

Winslow Homer, “The Country School,” 1871

Looks like #VastEarlyAmerica just got even vaster—and that’s a good thing. Here’s our fall preview of new titles. Please share your books/finds in the comments! Continue reading

“In the Service of the Crown ever since I came into this Province”: The Life and Times of Cadwallader Colden

John M. Dixon,  The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden: Empire, Science, and Intellectual Culture in British New York (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2016).

80140100162200LOn December 8, 1747, Gov. George Clinton (1686–1761) told a British statesman that the Assembly of New York “treated the person of the Governor with such contempt of his authority & such disrespect to the noble family where he had his birth that must be of most pernicious example.” He thought he might have to “give it [i.e., his position] up to a Faction.” The extant copy of this letter, held within Clinton’s papers at the William L. Clements Library in Michigan, was written by his most trusted advisor and ally—Cadwallader Colden, the subject of John M. Dixon’s first book, The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden: Empire, Science, and Intellectual Culture in British New York, published in 2016 by Cornell University Press.[1]

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