Socializing, Speculating, and Speaking French in François Furstenberg’s Philadelphia

François Furstenberg. When the United States Spoke French: Five Refugees Who Shaped a Nation. New York: Penguin, 2014.

Furstenberg CoverOn the Fourth of July, 1794, two former members of France’s Constituent Assembly gazed from a window across New York’s Bowling Green. Both had arrived in the United States just that year. Back in 1789, they had helped to launch a revolutionary movement for liberal and constitutional reforms. But as the Revolution grew ever more violent and threatened to destroy them, they fled France. The United States, they thought, would be a suitable refuge: the republican spawn of the British government whose constitution they so admired, the new nation whose Enlightenment principles would guard them from the threats of the Parisian mob. They must have been unnerved to see “a host of pro-French radicals” marching towards them that day, the rabble-rousing Girondin ambassador Edmond-Charles Genet at the fore, “singing the Marseillaise and other republican songs,” and hurling insults up to the windows where the émigrés stood watching (80). Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHGood morning and welcome to another Week in Early American History. I’m your host, Tom Cutterham. Continue reading

“The True Key of the Universe Is Love”

Cayton - Love in the Time of Revolution - UNC Press

During a panel at this summer’s Revolution conference in Philadelphia, someone asked Annette Gordon-Reed whether she sees any hope for a synthesis of contemporary scholarship on race, class, and gender. She answered that she tries to achieve this by talking about people—that is, telling stories about particular lives.

Whether biography represents the culmination of decades of historical scholarship on identity and social power or an admission of its shortcomings is an interesting question. Either way, biography, including biographical microhistory, has a growing place in the field.[1] British and American historians have taken part in the “biographical turn” with special enthusiasm, though it is hardly unique to us.[2] 

With Love in the Time of Revolution: Transatlantic Literary Radicalism and Historical Change, 1793-1818, Andrew Cayton advances biographical historiography by binding it unusually securely to two other trends in early American historiography: studies of print culture, broadly conceived, and studies of the Atlantic world as a system. Cayton builds the family life of Mary Wollstonecraft into the center of a narrative about what it could mean to be a revolutionary intellectual in the Atlantic republic of letters. Continue reading

A Very Old Book: The Case for Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Revolution

DraperOhara

Put the poetry down, Don. It’s time to get your Chartism on.

Last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Revolution, 1789-1848, a milestone that was largely overlooked in the more general hubbub over the great historian’s death in October. But it’s an impressive number all the same, and an inescapable reminder that when we return to The Age of Revolution we are dealing with a Very Old Book. The battered cover of my own 1962 Signet paperback (see below), whose author still preferred the high-academic modesty of “E.J. Hobsbawm,” offers a striking visual proof of the antiquities that lie within. It is after all technically possible, and perhaps not as improbable as you may think, for this book to have lain on Don Draper’s desk. When he was still married to Betty Draper.

What can a 21st century early American historian learn from such an artifact? Amid the clamors and confusions of the debate over the New New Political History, why should anyone bother to resuscitate the  Old? Can we learn anything vital about the Age of Revolution in a book written during the Age of Draper? Well, obviously, the answer is yes. Continue reading

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