Roundtable: Johnny Tremain and Me

johnnytremain.jpgMore than anything else, people remember the hand. Bring up Johnny Tremain in a group of adults, and for those who read it, they’re most likely to remember the disfigurement that serves as the hinge for much of the novel’s plot, the story within the story of the coming of the Revolution in Boston. A few people have told me that the hand by itself made the book unpalatable; for my part, it always served as a matter of fascination. And it’s one of two things that most stand out for me about the novel (the other being that it was the first place I heard that Biblical injunction that “pride goeth before fall;” make of that what you will). Continue reading

The Origins of the American Revolution: A Roundtable

“The origins and causes of the Revolution remain the two least studied parts of the Revolution in the last thirty years.” So we suggested in these pages back in spring. Was that assessment correct? Where have historians got to in understanding the origins of the revolution; and where do we still need to go? All this week, members of The Junto will weigh in on the question of causes, in an effort to take stock. This is not intended as a definitive overview of current scholarship. Rather, we’ll be exploring our own idiosyncratic approaches to revolutionary origins, and to the recent scholarship that interests us. We invite you to join in the conversation!

Empire on the EdgeBeyond any new discoveries of evidence and perhaps new technological capacities, every new generation of historians has something unique to contribute to the study of the past—a consciousness of its own time and place. History is written on a tightrope between then and now. Even telling the same story again will always come out differently. Each time you walk the tightrope, there’s a slightly different view. In Nick Bunker’s recent trade book, An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America (Knopf, 2014), that slight shift of view comes from the economic crisis that took hold in 2008. At his most interesting, Bunker presents the revolution as a story of concatenating crises, how states try to deal with them, and how they are transformed in the attempt. The dominant context for Bunker’s account is not ideological or cultural. It’s what Sven Beckert would call “war capitalism”—the entwined processes of empire and commerce. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHOn to the links! Continue reading

The JuntoCast, Episode 14: Popular Protest in Early America

The JuntoCastWe’re happy to bring you the fourteenth episode of “The JuntoCast.” Continue reading

George Robert Twelves Hewes and the Politics of Historical Pedagogy

How does an ordinary person win a place in history?

Such is the line that Alfred Young opened his classic The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999). In a way, the phrase captures much of his overall scholarship. Other contributions to this roundtable have/will cover(ed) how he did this in his influential books, essays, and edited collection. In my post, I want to focus on how he translated his approach into a work that is probably read more than any of his other books. Indeed, Shoemaker and the Tea Party is a popular book in the classroom, both undergrad and graduate, since it tells a fascinating tale with an important message.  Continue reading

“Barbarities, Extortions and Monopolies”

American colonists’ protest against the 1773 Tea Act involved more than just the Boston Tea Party; and it was provoked by more than just a tax. What sharpened the edge of colonial frustration was the short shrift given to American business interests in the balancing-act of imperial administration—and the triumph, by contrast, of the East India Company. American merchants and smugglers were the big losers in a larger effort to bail out the struggling corporation. As John Dickinson put it in his second “Letter from the Country,” the British policy aimed “not only to enforce the Revenue Act but to establish a monopoly for the East India Company, who have espoused the cause of the ministry; and hope to repair their broken fortunes by the ruin of American freedom and liberty!”[1] Continue reading

Edutainment and the Boston Tea Party

In recent years, the museum world has become inundated with edutainment sites and exhibits that hope to entice younger, more tech-savvy visitors, as well as people who do not tend to frequent museums, with all the bells and whistles of electronics and media. Videos, audio recordings, touch screens, and smart phone apps attempt to make history relevant to modern-day audiences by drawing them in with high-resolution graphics and multi-sensory experiences. At a time when funding for cultural institutions often takes a back seat, and when technology is everywhere and impossible to ignore, this push to increase revenue, visitation, and visitor interaction is unavoidable and understandable.

I recently ventured to the Boston Tea Party MuseumHistoric Tours of America’s updated and expanded building (to the tune of $28 million) along the Boston waterfront, and one of the most extreme examples of edutainment that I’ve seen. My visit got me thinking about the ways in which history museums use technology and media to attract visitors, and the ways in which this technology can both clarify and obscure the historical information that is presented to the public. After touring the Boston Tea Party Museum I couldn’t help but wonder, when does a museum stop being a museum and become something else entirely?  Continue reading