Reading Race in Early America

1280px-brunias_cropped_detail-1024x738.jpgIn the past 10 years, we have seen an embarrassment of riches in scholarship that considers race in Early America (broadly understood). The list below is not exhaustive, but highlights some of the recent scholarship. Feel free to add your own favorite recent scholarship in the comments, and keep your eyes out next month, for our CFP for a roundtable on race in Early America.

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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

Seriously, though, was the American Revolution a Civil War?

On February 18, 2014, Tom Cutterham asked, “Was the American Revolution a Civil War?” According to Cutterham, understanding the Revolution that way might be useful. If we did, he suggested, “we’d better understand the way the modern world—the nexus of state, citizen, and property—was born in and determined by violence.”[1] Continue reading

“Nor Any of the Rights of Citizenship”: Indians, Property, and International Law

In the years after the American victory at Yorktown, a series of debates took place over questions of citizenship and international law. Who counted as an American citizen, and what did that mean? What did the new American republics, and their confederation, owe to those who fell outside that category? In an earlier post, I discussed these matters in regard to one group of outsiders—suspected loyalists. Here I want to continue the theme as it touches a different group—Native Americans. Continue reading

Thomas Hobbes and Post-Revolutionary American Citizenship

Leviathan_by_Thomas_Hobbes“Considered broadly,” says Douglas Bradburn, “the problem of ‘citizenship’ remains one of the most compelling contexts to attempt to understand the process, limits, and meaning of the American Revolution.”[1] This post is a brief exercise in the problem of American citizenship in the immediate post-revolutionary era (and a note towards an article-length project on international law in the new republic). It begins with the dilemma of dealing with the fallout of a civil war like the War of Independence, and it follows the reception of a slightly unexpected figure in the history of American political thought: Thomas Hobbes. Continue reading