Francis Spufford’s historical novel Golden Hill introduces us to mid-eighteenth century New York City through the eyes of a London visitor named Richard Smith. For Smith, it’s a strange place. In the book’s first scene, as Tom discussed yesterday, he exchanges some of his own currency for local money. But he is baffled to receive an irregular stack of paper from around the continent divided into various denominations.
I immediately empathized. Only a few days before I began the novel, I had been trying to untangle what I had initially thought would be a fairly straightforward problem for an article manuscript involving colonial wage rates and commodity prices. But I had quickly found myself waist-deep in conversion charts, glossaries, and historical data about the foreign, colonial, and metropolitan currencies that circulated in eighteenth-century Anglo-America. Old tenor, new tenor, pounds, shillings, pence, halfjoes, Spanish dollars—it was a world of currency only slightly less confusing than blockchain. Continue reading
Today’s Founding Fiction post is by Lindsay M. Chervinsky, a post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. Her manuscript is titled, “The President’s Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution.” Follow her @lmchervinsky.
Each book in the Dear America series portrays a diary of a young fictional woman that explores her experience during one specific year in American history. The first-person account shares observations of well-known events or places, as well as the daily struggles of an “average” girl’s life. A number of these diaries take place in #VastEarlyAmerica. A few examples include A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple, which tells the story of the Mayflower crossing in 1620; The Winter of Red Snow: The Revolutionary War Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart, which shares one woman’s experience in Valley Forge in 1777; and Look to the Hills: The Diary of Lozette Moreau, which examines the struggles of a French slave girl in the New York Colony in 1763. The series was discontinued in 2004, but Scholastic republished many of the originals in 2010 and continues to produce new volumes today. Continue reading
Welcome to Founding Fiction, The Junto’s first roundtable exploring how children’s literature and young adult fiction depicts early American history. Between posts, we’ll compile a shelf of favorites to (re)read. Tweet us at #FoundingFiction or comment with your recommendations for Very Early Americanists. Happy summer, let’s dive in!
Today’s post is by Laura Ansley, Ph.D. candidate in history at the College of William & Mary, and managing editor of the Nursing Clio blog. Her dissertation is titled, “Life Problems: Sex Education in the United States, 1890-1930.” Follow her @lmansley.
Phillis Wheatley and Abigail Adams and Peggy Shippen and Harriet Hemings: all early American women whom I learned about from Ann Rinaldi’s young adult fiction. I have been fascinated by history for as long as I can remember, but Rinaldi was one of many authors who helped me to better understand what the best kind of historical study is. While school classes covering the Civil War may have talked about generals and battles, Rinaldi introduced me to characters like Osceola, stepdaughter of Wilmer McLean, who moved his family away from Manassas when the war came to the quieter Appomattox Courthouse—meaning the war started and ended on their doorstep. With her focus on teenage heroines, Rinaldi showed that history wasn’t only about important men. Young women experienced these historical events too, and their stories were also worth telling.
The current issue of the Journal of the Early Republic includes Andrew Cayton’s SHEAR presidential address on the novel’s place in the postrevolutionary Atlantic world: “The Authority of the Imagination in an Age of Wonder.” The essay makes a case for the usefulness of period novels to early-republic historians. Cayton gives us three reasons novels are useful as historical sources:
- “The people we study paid attention to them.” Novels were significant parts of people’s lives, and they illuminate “the shifting structure of discourse and discourse communities” in early-nineteenth-century America.
- “They challenge our preoccupation with categories.” Novels were experiments in defining and redefining people.
- Novels reveal that many people conceived of liberty socially, “as a voluntary location of one’s self within overlapping social networks” (25-26).  Continue reading