How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace Presentism

lin-manuel_miranda1

I’m trained as an early American historian, so I never anticipated that one day I’d teach a current-events course. And yet, in Fall 2017, I debuted a course called “Learning from the Past: Early America in the 21st Century.” New to my department, I had to market an early American studies course that would draw enrollments, and the best method I could think of was to convince students that the early American past had relevance to their lives. In graduate school, some of my professors argued that historians should not engage in presentism—that it would make our work seem dated to future generations of scholars. But our own political moment—I started teaching two weeks after far-right protests converged around Confederate monuments in Charlottesville—felt too urgent not to let our own moment into our discussions of the past. Instead of keeping the present in the subtext of my class, I brought it into the text. Continue reading

Guest Post: George Washington’s Mausoleum: Congressional Debates Over the Work of Monuments

Jamie L. Brummitt is a Ph.D. Candidate in American Religion at Duke University and an online instructor for the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). Her dissertation “Protestant Relics: The Politics of Religion & the Art of Mourning” examines the lively relic culture that thrived in political and religious life of the United States from the 1770s to 1870s. 

Benjamin H. Latrobe, Watercolor, ink, and pencil of the proposed Washington mausoleum, c. 1800, Library of Congress.

If the recent acts of iconoclasm in Durham and Charlottesville have taught us anything, it may be this: monuments matter. They matter not just in an ideological sense, but in a material sense. Monuments work as material objects because they embody people, memory, and ideas for better or worse. This post examines the proposed construction of a mausoleum for George Washington’s remains by Congress. The proposed mausoleum was entangled in debates about politics, finances, and the material nature of monuments. Many congressmen argued that a monument to Washington should work with his remains to transfer his virtues to Americans. Continue reading

The JuntoCast, Episode 15: “Founders” in Early America

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