The Week in Early American History

TWEAHIt’s commencement season around the United States, so we wish a hearty congratulations to all of our readers (and our students) graduating this month. Now, straight on to the links!

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Guest Post: African Americans, Mobility, and the Law

Today’s guest poster is Robert Gamble, Visiting Assistant Professor of History at the University of Kansas. He is currently at work on a manuscript entitled “The Civic Economy: Regulating Urban Space and Capitalism in the Early American Republic,” and has written a chapter on secondhand goods for Capitalism by Gaslight: Illuminating the Economy of Nineteenth-Century America (Brian Luskey and Wendy Woloson, eds.).

The death of Freddie Gray three weeks ago and the ensuing protests prompted many people to seek richer historical context for what happened. Consider that Seth Rockman’s twelve-year-old Common-place essay on rioting in early Baltimore had garnered some one million re-tweets by last Tuesday afternoon, according to his estimate. Justly concerned about half-baked historical parallels, Rockman doubts “the 1830s is [the] most useful context for now.” Certainly, there are more recent sources and contexts to consider: the real estate and lending practices that fortified segregation, reeling public school systems, eroding city tax bases, deindustrialization and the exportation of jobs, transit systems that bypass largely black neighborhoods, a deteriorating housing stock encased in lead paint, the mutual distrust sown by the War on Drugs, militarization of the police, and so on. Baltimore’s bank riot of 1835, though a nice lesson in shifting attitudes toward capitalism and urban order, does little to make the issues of 2015 any more coherent.

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Race, Riot, and Rebellion: A Bibliography

protesting-stamp-actThis morning on the other side of the Atlantic, I woke up early in preparation for a seminar on William Otter, whose History of My Own Times closes the list of our readings in my Revolutionary America class. Essentially, Otter was a brawling, violent, white man in the 1800s, living variously in New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. He jumped from job to job while engaging in various aggressive “sprees” against African Americans, Irishmen, and anyone else who seemed a likely candidate before becoming a burgess of Emmitsburg, Maryland.[1] And instead of getting up to prep this morning, I remained in bed, glued to the #BaltimoreUprising and #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on Twitter, as, I’m sure, were many of you during the late hours of the night. During times like these, it’s part of our jobs as historians to acknowledge that different types of violence have specific meanings that change over time. And so Juntoists have compiled a bibliography for our mutual education. Continue reading