Stonecutting and Religion in America

stonecuttersI’ll just admit it: Freemasonry is one of those things in American history that I have trouble getting my head around. I suppose I understand the importance of guy-time, but many of my closest friends are women. The very idea of secret societies, with initiations and special rings, just seems boyish to me. I would suppose that the boyishness is the point–a search for wonder and enchantment and all of that–except that early in the nineteenth century the Masons banned alcohol at meetings: no stein hoists here. The largest group at midcentury actually required its members to be teetotalers, making enchantment a much harder sell, for my money. More to the point, in the same period enchantment without booze could be had at a Methodist camp meeting, which seems like it would have been quite a lot more interesting, what with women there. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHWelcome to your weekly roundup of early American history headlines. Now that you’ve aced your presidential history knowledge,  and reviewed this reading list of their lives, it’s on to the links! Continue reading

Guest Post: A New Forum Dedicated to the Study of the Dorr Rebellion and Constitutional Reform in Rhode Island

We at The Junto are thrilled to host this guest post from Erik J. Chaput and Russell J. DeSimone, who are the historians-in-residence on the Dorr Rebellion Project Site sponsored by Providence College. Chaput is the author of The People’s Martyr: Thomas Wilson Dorr and His 1842 Rhode Island Rebellion (University Press of Kansas, 2013). DeSimone is the author of Rhode Island’s Rebellion (Bartlett Press, 2009). Chaput and DeSimone have collaborated on a number of projects, including this article on Common-place.org. Chaput and DeSimone welcome feedback on the site. They can be contacted at: echaput@providence.edu and russbook1@cox.net.

The "People's Ticket," with a direct reference to 1776, served as a connection between the American and Dorr Rebellions.

The “People’s Ticket,” with a direct reference to 1776, served as a connection between the American and Dorr Rebellions.

When Rhode Island finally ratified the U.S. Constitution in May 1790, the state sent back to Congress eighteen amendments. These amendments revealed a deep suspicion of the new central establishment, a suspicion that had been increased by the failure to include a bill of rights. The first line of the lengthy third amendment declared that “the powers of government may be reassumed by the people, whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness.” Continue reading

Guest Post: Rediscovering the Pamphlisphere

Today’s guest poster is Ariel Ron, who earned his PhD in history at the University of California, Berkeley, and is currently a visiting research associate at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies.

Henry Carey (National Portrait Gallery)

Three or four years ago, while doing research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library, I stumbled upon a lost cache of some ten-thousand pamphlets. I had been browsing the papers of Stephen Colwell, a nineteenth-century ironmaster and writer, when archivist John Pollack called me into the closed stacks behind the reading room. There he showed me Colwell’s personal pamphlet library, neatly bound into hundreds of volumes. The collection also included three thousand works from the library of Colwell’s friend, Henry C. Carey (see picture to right), without question the most important American political economist of the mid-nineteenth century. The sheer size of the corpus floored me. Continue reading

Lowell Mason’s Family Tree of Teachers

Mason ex.It is well known that Lowell Mason (1792-1872) was a major figure in 19th-century American music education. He pioneered the first public school music curriculum in Boston in the 1830s, and thanks, in part, to his efforts music was a integral part of public education for the next 150+ years. If you studied music in grade school, you can thank (or blame) Mason. My own career as an educator and a musician is indebted to Mason’s innovations. With the fall semester about to begin, I find myself wondering about the intellectual, pedagogical, and personal lineages between teachers and students. What can I learn from Lowell Mason’s “family tree” of teachers? Can tracing our own lineages help us understand what kind of teachers we are? Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHHappy Summer to all of our readers. Another week has come and gone, and we’re back with the latest installment of This Week in Early American History. Feel free to weigh in on posted links or share any interesting stories and newsworthy items we might’ve missed. Let’s jump right into it:

Continue reading

On Popularity and Self-Publishing

My wife is a knitter, and she’s explained to me the subtle difference observed, among those in her guild, when referring to someone’s work as “handmade” or “homemade.”  Both acknowledge the difference between the sweater you spent months on and something mass-produced.  The former, though, implies that for the piece in question that difference is measured in care and craftsmanship, while the latter measures it in imperfections.  It’s the difference between, “You made that yourself?!” and “You made that yourself, huh?” Continue reading

The Plantation as Crime Scene: Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained”

Between this and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, it's been a banner year for antebellum shades.

Between this and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, it’s been a banner year for antebellum shades.

“It’s a flesh for cash business—just like slavery.” So the German bounty hunter Dr. Schultz describes his profession to the ex-slave title character near the beginning of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. It’s an apt introduction to the film’s broader portrait of American slavery — a rendering that emphasizes the tortured flesh, the sordid cash, and the gruesome business of bondage at every turn. In this regard, Django Unchained fits comfortably within the familiar canon of Tarantino crime films, which have nearly always probed the intersection between the brutally physical and the cynically transactional.

The old gang’s all here: the vicious mob boss, the wisecracking assassin, the tight-lipped, vengeance-minded hero. So why should anyone, let alone early American historians, bother to consider the historical perspective of a film that in many ways is just Reservoir Dogs with snazzier waistcoats and more primitive sunglasses? Continue reading