Diego Rivera and Bertram D. Wolfe, “Portrait of America,” 1934
When John Adams looked back on the American Revolution (something he liked to do), he reflected that, “The Revolution was in the Minds and Hearts of the People.” The colonists’ drive to independence marked a new era of American history, Adams thought, when “Thirteen Clocks were made to Strike together; a perfection of Mechanism which no Artist had ever before effected.” Scholars have struggled to frame the experience of the Revolution in picture and on the page. How can we use digital tools to curate collections of revolutionary culture and #vastearlyamerica for use in the classroom?
With Hamilton’s sweep at the Tonys last night, this year’s phenomenal tide of Hamilton-mania has hit the high-water mark. You’ve cheered each much-deserved award and accolade, you’ve memorized every word of the soundtrack, you’ve devoured the #Hamiltome. Perhaps you’ve kept up with professionalhistorians’ widerangeofresponsesto Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster. Maybe you’re even one of the lucky few who’ve managed to score tickets to the show itself. But now, fans of the musical (and folks who are simply surrounded by them) might well find themselves asking, #WhatComesNext?
The Junto has the answer! Tomorrow afternoon, when you lose the daily ticket lottery yet again, why not start lookin’ for a mind at work? Grab a great history book and drown your sorrows in a flagon of sweet American Revolution knowledge. Here are some picks, creatively paired with favorite characters from the musical. Continue reading →
This past semester I taught a course on “18th Century Atlantic Revolutions: America, France, and Haiti,” which included both undergraduate and graduate students. (I wrote about the assigned readings at my personal blog.) I’d like to highlight a central theme that I emphasized throughout the course as a way to discuss historiographical and pedagogical questions.
To give my grad students a sense of the field’s starting point, I had them read R. R. Palmer’s classic 2-volume The Age of Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800 (1959, 1964; 2014), recently combined and re-published by Princeton University Press. Advancing through the semester and reading much more recent books, the dated nature of Palmer’s book is readily apparent. Most obvious is its avoidance of Haiti. (At an AHA panel on the Age of Revolutions last January, Nathaniel Perl-Rosenthal mention that it’s basically an academic ritual to mention this whenever discussing Age of Democratic Revolution.) Palmer also focuses on high-end (and male-centric) intellectual history, ignores economic interests and intersections, and only engages the nations whose revolutions “succeeded.” This last point is obviously problematic, of course, given what happens in France after their Revolution. But as Janet Polasky’s recent book shows, a more comprehensive view can be gleaned through looking at revolutionary moments that did not have successful outcomes. Like any book published over a half-century ago, even a classic book like Palmer’s, there are plenty of holes to acknowledge. Continue reading →
Is revolutionary Virginia the birthplace of American secularism?
My attention was returned to this critical question by a recent twitter exchange between Annette Gordon-Reed and Sam Haselby (and others) along side a recent piece by Haselby in Aeon. The scuffle between Gordon-Reed and Haselby focuses on the time-is-a-flat-circle question of Thomas Jefferson’s religious beliefs. Was he a secularist? Some variant of Christian? A Unitarian? An atheist? Haselby’s Aeon piece takes a different tack, arguing that the American founding represented a “rogue wave of rationality in a centuries-long sea of Protestant evangelising, sectarianism and God-talk.” Haselby marks out the Founders—particularly Jefferson and James Madison—as “visionary secularists” who created a secular republic, which was eventually co-opt by decidedly non-secular political and cultural forces. He singles out late eighteenth-century Virginia as the primary canvas upon which the great artists of American secularism worked. Continue reading →
Kate Carté Engel is an associate professor of history at Southern Methodist University. She is the author of Religion and Profit: Moravians in Early America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), and she is currently writing a history of international protestantism and the American Revolution.
On May 17, 1773, an advertisement appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette for a new book by English dissenting minister Micaiah Towgood (misidentified in the advertisement as Michael Twogood). The ad is interesting because it is one of only 67 items in that come up in a search of Readex’s American Historical Newspapers database for the period between 1764 and 1789 containing a particular trifecta of terms: “Jesus Christ,” “liberty”, and (to get both religion and cognates like religious and religiously) “religio*”.
On Sunday, the United States Postal Service introduced a stamp commemorating the 250th anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act. Today we are pleased to present an interview with Zachary Hutchins, editor of a new collection of essays from Dartmouth College Press that challenges traditional understandings of the Stamp Act Crisis as (in the words of the USPS) “setting [the colonists] on a path toward revolution and independence.” Zach is an Assistant Professor of English at Colorado State University. In 2014 he published his first book, Inventing Eden: Primitivism, Millennialism, and the Making of New England. A 2016 Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Hutchins is currently completing his second monograph, Before Equiano: A Prehistory of the North American Slave Narrative. Continue reading →
Since moving to Massachusetts, in September 2015, I’ve taken great pleasure in visiting some of Boston’s historic sites. I’ve walked (part of) the Freedom Trail and visited the Old State House, Faneuil Hall, the Granary Burying Ground, the Old South Church, and the Adams crypt in Quincy. A few weeks ago, I took it a step further: I went on a duck boat tour. While on the tour, the on-board historian told passengers that Joseph Warren would have been America’s first president if he was not killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill. *MIC DROP* Continue reading →