The Month in Early American History

TMEAH LogoRise and shine, it’s time to relaunch our regular(ish) roundup of breaking news from early America. To the links!

First up, enjoy a walk through life after the American Revolution with this podcast series charting the life and times of William Hamilton of The Woodlands, who “made the estate an architectural and botanical showpiece of early America.” Or put presidential parades in historical context, via Lindsay Chervinsky’s essay on George Washington’s reticence for public pomp and grandeur: “Why, then, did Washington, a man intensely proud of his military service and revered for it, reject the trappings of military honor?” In conference news, the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture unveiled the program for next month’s meeting. Elsewhere in the blogosphere, check out John Fea’s reflections on a decade(!) of posting, and what it means to teach “Public History for a Democracy.” Or flip through the newly digitized papers of polymath Benjamin Franklin. Continue reading

Guest Review: Benjamin Park, American Nationalisms

Skye Montgomery is a historian of the nineteenth-century United States, specializing in Anglo-American relations and the transformation of American national identity. She is currently completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Skye earned her DPhil in History at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and is revising a book manuscript entitled, Imagined Families: Anglo-American Kinship and the Formation of Southern Identity, 1830-1890.

Benjamin E. Park, American Nationalisms: Imagining Union in the Age of Revolutions, 1783-1833 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018).

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In his seminal 1882 lecture, Ernest Renan posed the deceptively straightforward question, “What is a Nation?” Although recent historiography is generally more concerned with answering the adjacent questions of how and why nations come to be, scholars of European history have produced myriad reflections on Renan’s question in the decades since the Second World War. In contrast, however, histories of early America taking nationalism as their primary category of analysis have been relatively few and focused primarily upon understandings of nationalism yoked to the nation-state. Benjamin Park’s new volume, American Nationalisms: Imagining Union in the Age of Revolutions, 1783-1833, offers a convincing explanation for this omission and makes commendable strides towards rectifying it. Continue reading

Q&A: Benjamin Park, author of American Nationalisms

ben parkToday’s interviewee hardly needs introduction for readers of The Junto. Ben Park is an assistant professor of history at Sam Houston State University in Texas; he earned his PhD in Britain’s second-best history department, at Cambridge University; and went on to hold a postdoctoral fellowship at the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy. Far more importantly, of course, he is also the founder of this blog, and author of the recent monograph American Nationalisms: Imagining Union in the Age of Revolutions, 1783-1833 (Cambridge University Press, 2018). Ahead of our review of the book tomorrow, I asked him a few questions about it. Continue reading

A President, a Cardinal, and a Soldier walk into a bar…

The Council, Episode One: The Mad Ones by Big Bad Wolf [PC, PS4, XBOX One]

[NB:  This article contains significant story spoilers for the first episode of the video game The Council by Big Bad Wolf]

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What if John Adams had a secret, occult daughter with a period inappropriate haircut?

This is one of the central plot points of the first episode Big Bad Wolf’s historical episodic video game The Council. Set in 1793 the player takes control of a twenty-something blank slate with a cool jacket, named Louis de Richet. Louis is seeking to uncover a mystery relating to Sarah, his ice queen secret agent mother. Invited to a “private island” off the English coast by Lord Mortimer, a British aristo whose aesthetic is a Regency Bond villain mixed with Eyes Wide Shut, Louis is works to uncover why Sarah vanished from one of Mortimer’s smashing shindigs. Mortimer’s shtick, you see, is hosting gatherings of the best and brightest of the late eighteenth century Euro-American world. Once Louis arrives at Mortimer’s latest fete that you discover just how vast The Council’s world is, for guess who is waiting for you by the fire?

None other than George Washington, a historical figure who our readers are likely quite familiar with. Continue reading

Inspiration Roundtable: The Origins of My Origins Story

This is the fourth post in our weeklong roundtable, “Inspiration in Research.” Previous contributors to the roundtable include Whitney Robles, Rachel Herrmann, and Lindsay O’Neill with Ken Owen’s final post of the roundtable coming tomorrow. 

I am very happy to be able to participate in this fascinating roundtable on the inspiration behind research projects and to share my what I suspect are fairly common experiences among our readership. My dissertation, completed back in May, is now a manuscript entitled, Past and Prologue: The Politics of Memory in the American Revolution, that is under contract to Yale University Press. Past and Prologue explores the role of “history culture” and changing historical memories of the colonial and British pasts in the coming of the American Revolution and early efforts to forge a shared national identity in the revolutionary era. It traces that role in shaping the transition from British subject to American citizen through three developments: the deconstruction of colonists’ relationship to the British past before independence; the creation of a newly shared colonial past for the first time during the imperial crisis and the revision of that colonial past after the war; and, the cultural construction of a “deep national past” or American antiquity in the decades following the war. Rather than having “liberated Americans from the past,” I argue, the Revolution actually made the past matter more than ever before. Continue reading

Inspiration Roundtable: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Respect the Historiography

This is the second post in a roundtable about research inspirations. You can read the first essay, a guest post by Whitney Barlow Robles, here.

My dissertation on food and war, which became my first book project on war and hunger, originated at a crossroads between panic and personal interests. I was a sophomore, taking a class on the American Revolution, and the professor was walking us through the process of writing a final paper by requiring a paragraph-long research proposal, followed later in the semester by an annotated bibliography. We were at the point in the semester where research proposals were nearly due, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about. I remember discussing my growing sense of panic at swim practice with a friend, and vacillating between this sense of anxiety, and pleasant anticipation of dinnertime. I swam for the team friendships, and the fact that even bad dining hall food tasted good after a hard workout. As I speculated about our dinner choices, my friend interrupted me, observed that I was obsessed with food, and suggested that I write about it for my history paper. Continue reading

Review: William Hogeland, Autumn of the Black Snake

William Hogeland, Autumn of the Black Snake: The Creation of the U.S. Army and the Invasion That Opened the West (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2017).

It’s fair to say that military history isn’t known for its commitment to social and political critique—at least not the kind of military history you might find at the airport. Autumn of the Black Snake offers much of what readers might want from that kind of book. It is unashamedly narrative-driven; carefully constructed for maximum tension and dramatic payoff; and there’s a fair amount of blood on the page too. But it is also designed to pose a challenge. Just what kind of entity was the newborn United States? From William Hogeland’s perspective, it was less an asylum of liberty than a super-powered successor to colonial land companies like the one that shaped the young George Washington. Continue reading

IOTAR 50: Ideology, Power, and Thrill

Today, we conclude “The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution at 50″ roundtable with a guest post from Eran Zelnik. Zelnik is a PhD candidate at UC-Davis where he is writing “The Comical Style in America: Humor, Settler Colonialism, and the Making of a White Man’s Democracy, 1740-1840,” a dissertation that traces the rise of common white men to cultural dominance in early America.

In his classic study, The Great Cat Massacre, Robert Darnton captured what to me has always seemed as the moment when cultural or intellectual history becomes truly thrilling: “when you realize that you are not getting something—a joke, a proverb, a ceremony—that is particularly meaningful to the natives, you can see where to grasp a foreign system of meaning in order to unravel its meaning.” Fifty years later, Bernard Bailyn’s classic The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution still stands out in my mind as one of the prime examples of such a moment in the historiography of early America. His writing in that piece exudes the intellectual rush Bailyn and many of his students felt as they fleshed out a new promising analysis of what later came to be known as “republican” thought. Leafing through the book one can still feel the sense of excitement Bailyn shares with the reader as he explores the significance of hitherto little-understood intellectual traditions. It might seem counter intuitive for a junior historian with unambiguous leftist tendencies, but it is one of those few books that keep reminding me that history can be exciting. Continue reading

IOTAR50: Intellectual History from the Undistinguished

IOTAR50: Intellectual History from the Undistinguished

We continue “The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution at 50,” our joint roundtable with the S-USIH blog. Today’s post is by Jonathan Wilson, an adjunct faculty member at the University of Scranton and Marywood University. He studies ways that intellectuals—elite and otherwise—articulated American national identity in eastern cities during the early nineteenth century.

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Upon first reading The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, I found it liberating. (That places me alongside Michael and Sara more than Ken this week.) True, Bernard Bailyn’s book was yet another attempt to credit elite white men for an idealistic national founding. From my perspective at the time, however, it modeled a way to study the ideas of relatively ordinary people. Bailyn depicted revolutionary thoughts as the work of communities, not individuals. He showed me that the life of the mind can encompass the inarticulate, the half-said, even the irrational, in ways that historians can analyze. This was powerful.

Continue reading

IOTAR50: Teaching Bailyn’s Ideological Origins

Today, we continue “The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution at 50,” our joint roundtable with the S-USIH blog with a post by Kenneth Owen, an Assistant Professor of Early American History at the University of Illinois Springfield, whose research interests focus on political mobilization and organization in the revolutionary and early national eras.

It took me a long time to warm to The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. I don’t think this is an uncommon experience for an early Americanist. Fifty years after its publication, Bailyn’s seminal work still features prominently on graduate and undergraduate reading lists. Yet it is hard to say that the book is beloved. Often, simply mentioning Bailyn’s name can be a pejorative shorthand—an outmoded view of the past that celebrates elites at the expense of the darker underbelly of the Revolution. As an undergraduate, I too railed against the book. How far, I asked with youthful bluster, were minutemen really inspired by the cautionary tale of seventeenth-century Denmark? And yet, like the profession itself, I have found it hard to shake Bailyn’s shadow. How is it that a book that is often only grudgingly admired still occupies such a large part of the field’s mental imagination? Continue reading

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