Hidden Bureaucratic Forget-me-nots and What to Make of Ubiquity

2015-01-07 15.49.56When wading through account books, muster rolls, and other dry military records, I don’t usually get a sense of the author—there might be a name jotted down, or maybe some distinctive handwriting, but hardly any evidence of personality. Reading through a 1758 orderly book from the Oneida Carry was much the same: a recounting of paroles, provisions, parades, and troop preparations. And then, curiously, tucked between the routine orders and work details, on the bottom of the 51st page:

When This You See Remember me.[1]

An—abruptly elegant—personal appeal hidden in the middle of a bureaucratic record, a record covering the various minutiae of one regiment of the vast British military apparatus but containing no information (other than a name) about the man who had chronicled them all. What on earth was it doing here?

This post began as a simple question about the meaning of private voices in the state record and quickly became something a little more meandering—tracing a phrase, finding its ubiquity in the British Atlantic, and then, in that broader context, pondering how and why it came to be on the page of an official military document. Continue reading

Sailors, States, and the Bureaucracy of Revolution

Nathan Perl-Rosenthal, Citizen Sailors: Becoming American in the Age of Revolution (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2015).

9780674286153-lgTransatlantic commerce was the defining feature of the eighteenth century’s imperial economy. The ocean was the conduit by which goods, labour, and capital circulated—goods that included sugar and tobacco, labour that included enslaved men and women, capital that included the remarkable oceangoing ships themselves. On transatlantic circulation hung the wealth and fate of empires, and that in turn depended upon ships and those who sailed them. Nathan Perl-Rosenthal’s new book, Citizen Sailors: Becoming American in the Age of Revolution (which Ben posted about a few weeks ago), does not tell those sailors’ story. Instead, it gives an account of the crucial relationship between sailors and states, and its remaking in the era of Revolution. As the empires and new republics of the North Atlantic world struggled to hold or wrest the reins of commerce, they had to invent new forms of power and identity—forms of power vested, like so much else we could call modern, in paper. Continue reading