Guest Post: The Art of Absconding: Slave Fugitivity in the Early Republic

Guest Poster Shaun Wallace (@Shaun_Wallace_) is an Economic and Social Research Council-funded Ph.D. candidate at the University of StirlingHis dissertation examines how reading and writing influenced and aided slave decision-making in the early republic. Shaun holds a B.A. (Hons.) and a MRes. from the University of Stirling and is president of Historical Perspectives, a Glasgow-based historical society run by and for graduate students in the United Kingdom.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 12.43.09 PMA “very ingenious artful fellow” appears a peculiar description of a runaway advertised for recapture. The advertisement, for Harry or Harry Johnstone, featured in Baltimore’s Federal Gazette newspaper, on May 2, 1800, at the request of Nicholas Reynolds, overseer of criminals for Baltimore County. Harry had absconded from Gotham gaol, near Baltimore. Reynolds described Harry as a “tolerable good blacksmith” and a “rough carpenter.” A “very talkative” slave, he was a man of “great address.” On first impression a relatively congenial description; in actuality, Reynolds’s use of the term “artful” condemned the runaway.[1]
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Autumn Reads

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“Valley of the Catawissa in Autumn,” Thomas Moran (ca. 1862)

Fall brings new early American titles to explore. Enjoy our Spring Reads 2015 list, too, and share your finds below!

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Guest Post: Racial Violence and Black Nationalist Politics

Guest poster Keisha N. Blain (@KeishaBlain) is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Iowa. She is a regular blogger for the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS). She is currently completing her first book entitled, Contesting the Global Color Line: Black Women, Nationalist Politics, and Internationalism. This post shares some additional insights into the racial violence Benjamin Park discussed following the Charleston shooting.

Members of the UNIA in Harlem, 1920s. Image: Black Business Network

Members of the UNIA in Harlem, 1920s. Image: Black Business Network

Someone recently asked me why the black women activists I study were so determined to leave the United States. It was a question I had been asked many times before. As I often do, I explained the complex history of black emigration, highlighting how these women’s ideas were reflective of a long tradition of black nationalist and internationalist thought. I acknowledged the romantic utopian nature of these women’s ideas. However, I also addressed the socioeconomic challenges that many of these women endured and explained how the prospect of life in West Africa appeared to be far more appealing—especially during the tumultuous years of the Great Depression and World War II. I spoke about black women’s ties to Africa and the feelings of displacement many of them felt as they longed for a place to truly call home. It was the same feeling of displacement to which the poet Countee Cullen alluded when he asked a simple yet profound question: “What is Africa to me?”

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After the Trail

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Oglala Sioux Shield, ca. 1846

Consider the sixth-grader of 1907. Gertrude F. Greene’s syllabus passed over Plato, sidelined Scottish ballads, and resisted the Alaskan derring-do of The Fur-Seal’s Tooth. At the top of her reading list—first to devour on a snowy winter break from the old Belcher School—she ranked Francis Parkman’s Oregon Trail (1849). In under a century, Parkman had gone from cliffhanger to canon. Why? What might students learn from a 23-year-old romantic historian’s rambles in the Indian country of 1846? Glints of Parkman’s early artistry shone through, but only when you shook up the story a bit. His sketch of life with the Oglala Sioux melded ethnography and emotion, sense and sensation. His Oregon Trail had been greatly curated, edited, and revised in the retelling. And yet Ms. Greene’s sixth-graders missed out on the juicier bits. What Parkman saw (“a strange variety of characters”), what Parkman heard (“harsh and guttaral” dialects), and what Parkman ate (buffalo, fish, dog) on the road filled his private journals, first made available to readers in the 1940s. There, stashed away in the “no-filter” notebooks that Parkman used to piece together his first blockbuster, lay the real adventure. Continue reading

Before the Trail

Francis Parkman's Medicine Chest

Francis Parkman’s Medicine Chest

Pratt must be paid. There was a route to examine one last time, and three shirts to stuff into a knapsack bulging with flannels and history books, powder and shot. The Berkshire Hills trip was a rush job; he needed to return for graduation in late August, 1844. Into the knapsack went a 4” x 2½” dusky-green journal, with shorthand notes in pencil. After a boyhood spent hunting and riding bareback on the Medford frontier, the blue-eyed Harvard senior, 20, knew how to pack for a research errand into the wilderness. Already, he boasted colorful adventures from past summer forays, fine-tuning the field skills that history professor Jared Sparks did not cover in class. Take July 1841: Scaling his first New Hampshire ravine, the rookie historian slipped and swung free, clawing air. As he “shuddered” and clung to the crag, a hard sheaf of pebbles fell, “clattering hundreds of feet” to the sunny gulf below.

 

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Guest Post: 84th Annual Anglo-American Conference Recap, Fashion

Kimberly Alexander holds the Ph.D. in Art and Architectural History from Boston University. A museum professional and scholar, she is adjunct faculty in the History Department at University of New Hampshire. Her book, “Georgian Shoes Stories From Colonial America” will be published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2016.

The 84th Anglo-American Conference of Historians was held in London at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, and the Victoria and Albert Museum. This year’s theme was “fashion.”

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For the first time in its distinguished history, the AACH selected ‘fashion’ as its theme, confirming for many scholars the recognition that the field of fashion history, and its attendant subfields, have attained validation. To quote the conference program:

“Fashion in history is a topic which has come of age in recent years, as scholars have turned to addressing what is chic and what is style over the ages and across different cultures. The history of fashion, and the role of fashion in history, is not just confined to the study of dress and costume, but encompasses design and innovation, taste and zeitgeist, treats as its subjects both people and objects, and crosses over into related disciplines such as the history of art and architecture, consumption, retailing and technology.” Continue reading

Graphic Novels Roundtable Q & A: Ari Kelman, Battle Lines: a Graphic Novel of the Civil War

We continue day three of our graphic novels roundtable with an interview with historian Ari Kelman, who co-authored Battle Lines: a Graphic History of the Civil War. Previously Jessica Parr discussed using graphic novels to explore painful histories and Roy Rogers reviewed Rebels from Dark Horse Comics

Battle-Lines-coverAri Kelman is the McCabe Greer Professor of History at Pennsylvania State University, specializing in the Civil War, Reconstruction, Memory Politics, and Environmental History. In addition to Battle Lines: a Graphic Novel of the Civil War, he is the author of two award-winning books. A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek (Harvard, 2013) was the recipient of the Bancroft Prize, the Avery Craven Award, the the Tom Watson Brown Book Award, and the Robert M. Ultey Prize. A River and Its City: The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans (University of California Press, 2003) won the Abbott Lowell Cummings Prize. Continue reading

Teaching Trauma: Narrative and the Use of Graphic Novels in Discussing Difficult Pasts

Roy Rogers kicked off yesterday’s 4-day roundtable with a review of the graphic novel, Rebel. For day two of our roundtable on graphic novels and history, I will discuss the use of graphic novels in teaching traumatic histories.

51m-NxiSLdL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_As anyone who has taught the history of slavery knows, it can be challenging. It is an important, but also emotionally loaded subject that can provoke spirited responses from students. Some students are resistant to discussing what they view as an ugly event in the past. Others may become defensive. And, for others, the history of slavery may be personal. The challenge becomes presenting the history in a thoughtful way that will engage students, but does not whitewashing history. Other traumatic events—genocide, war, etc.—can present similar pedagogical challenges.

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Personal Networks and a First Draft of the Literary Canon

RufusWGriswoldAntebellum editors were bulk retailers. Whatever else their business involved, it happened at scale, and I’m often astonished by how much prose a nineteenth-century newspaper or magazine editor could churn out in a day. Of course, most of that prose was recycled, and much of it was banal. As a forthcoming article by Ryan Cordell, based on research by the Viral Texts Project at Northeastern University, observes, the most-reprinted antebellum newspaper articles were pieces of “information literature”—not news, but scrapbookable things like an 1853 starch recipe or a clipping about the dietary value of tomatoes.[1] Apparently, antebellum readers welcomed such textual flotsam—but it was especially useful to editors, who needed a steady flood of context-free, easily resized gobbets of writing for their pages.

The bulk-retail principle applied to literary editors, too, and the difference between “literary” and other kinds of antebellum periodical work is hard to define. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking about what that meant for the formation of an American literary canon in the antebellum period.

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The Week in Early American History

TWEAHWelcome to another edition of This Week in American History. It has been a busy, yet troubling two weeks.

We would like to begin by offering our condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of Christopher Schmidt-Nowara, of Tufts University. Dr. Schmidt-Nowara died suddenly in Paris on June 27th. Continue reading