Roundtable: Ambassador in a Hat: The Sartorial Power of Benjamin Franklin’s Fur Cap

This Colonial Couture post is by guest contributor Joanna M. Gohmann, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow in 18th– and 19th-Century Art, at The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.

Benjamin Franklin (Augustin de Saint Aubin after Charles Nicholas Cochin, 1777, private collection)

Benjamin Franklin (Augustin de Saint Aubin after Charles Nicholas Cochin, 1777, private collection)

While acting as the American ambassador to France, Benjamin Franklin wore a fur hat to express his American status. The French enthusiastically accepted Franklin’s use of the topper, seeing it as an embodiment of the ambassador and a symbol of America and the American cause. When he first came to France in 1767, Franklin wore the clothes of a polite, fashionable Frenchman—a fine European suit and powdered wig—as a way to show respect to the French court. When he returned in 1776, he abandoned all the decorum of French dress and instead wore a simple, homespun brown suit, spectacles, and a large fur hat. He cleverly adopted this style as a way to garner attention and appeal to the French for support of the American cause.[1]

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Begging for Bounty

1829-city-scatEvery day they took apart the city, and put it back together again. New Year’s Day was no different. They worked while dawn, then dusk, threaded the sky, to patch up narrow streets. Lamplighters, an urban mainstay heroicized by Maria Susanna Cummins’ fictional “Trueman Flint,” heaved up their wooden ladders to trim wicks and refill oil pans. Along with the dry-dirtman, city scavengers spread out to collect loose trash. The scene might have been Boston, Philadelphia, Charleston, New York, Baltimore, Cleveland, St. Louis—and set anytime from the Revolution to the Civil War. Newspaper carriers, mostly young boys, filtered along the avenues. Tucked in sheets of newsprint, the city’s youngest workers also carried on a curious tradition: the New Year’s address. A rhyming blend of local-color writing and cultural commentary, the New Year’s address recapped the past and looked ahead. Laden with ornamental tombstone borders and often draped over double columns, each address ended with a plea for an annual gratuity. Continue reading

Review: Emily Conroy-Krutz, Christian Imperialism: Converting the World in the Early American Republic

Emily Conroy-Krutz, Christian Imperialism: Converting the World in the Early American Republic (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2015)

Christian Imperialism

In February 1812, eight American missionaries—five ordained clergymen and three of their wives—set sail for India as representatives of the recently established American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). Though the specifics of their mission were ill defined, and none of the eight lasted long in India, their mission marked the propitious beginnings of the foreign mission movement in America. Over the course of the next four decades, more than one thousand men and women were commissioned by the ABCFM to missionize non-Christian peoples far beyond the borders of the early American republic. In Christian Imperialism, Emily Conroy-Krutz analyzes the experiences of the ABCFM missionaries from roughly 1812 to 1848. She argues, as the title of her book implies, that the missionaries were agents of “Christian Imperialism,” a vision and effort to convert (and civilize) “heathen” peoples around the globe that variously worked in concert with and in contest against other forms of early American imperialism. Continue reading

Guest Post: Native American History within #VastEarlyAmerica

Today’s guest post comes from Steven J. Peach, who will graduate in May 2016 with a Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. (Congrats, Steven!) His research examines Creek Indian politics, diplomacy, and power in early America. This is his first guest post for The Junto.

Image 1In 2015, Gordon Wood charged the William and Mary Quarterly with no longer publishing scholarship fixed “exclusively” on the “origins” of the United States. Restricting early America’s geography to the modern limits of the U.S., he argued that articles like that on sixteenth-century Castile make the “boundaries” of early America “mushy.” Not so fast, responded Joshua Piker, the Quarterly’s editor. A few months ago, he refuted Wood by saying that the Quarterly never focused solely on U.S. origins.  (Piker’s refutation is dazzling; if you have not read it, you should!) Piker went on to say that early Americanists must abandon any “misleading coherence or … artificial simplicity” to define the field. Instead, they ought to “get lost” in the “vastness” of early America—or Karin Wulf’s #VastEarlyAmerica.[1] What spaces did early America encompass, then, and how can the field begin to sketch them? Native American history offers a path forward. Continue reading

An Interview with Daniel K. Richter

Daniel K. Richter, from the OAH's website

Daniel K. Richter, from the OAH’s website

Daniel K. Richter is the Richard S. Dunn Director of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies and Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of American History at the University of Pennsylvania. Most recently, he has published Trade, Land, Power: The Struggle for Eastern North America. He has also written Before the Revolution: America’s Ancient Pasts, Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America, and The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Era of European Colonization. He is currently researching English colonization during the Restoration era, for a book tentatively titled The Lords Proprietors: Feudal Dreams in English America, 1660-1689, under contract with Harvard University Press. Today he speaks with The Junto about teaching and directing the McNeil Center, and he offers advice for potential fellowship applicants. Continue reading

History & Story

1134henryadamsOnce or twice upon a chapter, as you work to tell history as story, take comfort in knowing that even American sage Henry Adams sometimes had a not-great writing day. By 1878, the 40-year-old Harvard professor of medieval history was a polished scholar. Hailing from a family that wrote for the archive, he navigated easily the uncatalogued byways of an early Library of Congress. He swept up obscure state records and gathered local maps for his 9-volume History of the United States. As editor of the North American Review, Henry instructed freelancers to write “in bald style.” He sliced his private letters down to acid cultural commentary that, to the modern reader, feels meta-enough to border on code. Continue reading

Finding Its Way: Gordon Wood and the William and Mary Quarterly

007Gordon Wood’s essay, “History in Context,” published in The Weekly Standard in February 2015, whirled up a Twitterstorm. His thoughts on twenty-first-century historians’ scholarship were provocative, and many took umbrage at many of his points. One of Wood’s perhaps overlooked arguments was his statement on the William and Mary Quarterly. “The William and Mary Quarterly,” Wood argued, “now publishes articles on mestizos in 16th-century colonial Peru, patriarchal rule in post-revolutionary Montreal, the early life of Toussaint Louverture, and slaves in 16th-century Castile. The journal no longer concentrates exclusively on the origins of the United States. Without some kind of historical GPS, it is in danger of losing its way.” Was Wood’s assessment—or, perhaps more astutely, diagnosis—correct? Has the William and Mary Quarterly lost its way? To answer this question, let’s build upon yesterday’s post and crunch some numbers. Continue reading