The Low Road: Unrevolutionary Bastardy

Today’s guest post is by Hannah Farber, an assistant professor of history at Columbia University. Her manuscript in progress, tentatively titled Underwriters of the United States, explains how the transnational system of marine insurance, by governing the behavior of American merchants, influenced the establishment and early development of the American republic.

Bruce Norris’s new play The Low Road, which had its U.S. premiere in spring 2018 at New York’s Public Theater, asks a very important question. What if a bastard, orphan, son of a whore sets out to seek his fortune in revolutionary America … but instead of becoming a hero and a scholar, he simply reveals himself to be a terrible person?

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Of Course Death Discriminates

The following post contains a discussion of a student death and trans lives. It may be upsetting to readers, so please practice self-care in deciding when and how to read it.

Puck

I’ve wept three times in front of my students this semester, and I am not a public weeper. Continue reading

The Month in Early American History

TMEAH LogoRise and shine, it’s time to relaunch our regular(ish) roundup of breaking news from early America. To the links!

First up, enjoy a walk through life after the American Revolution with this podcast series charting the life and times of William Hamilton of The Woodlands, who “made the estate an architectural and botanical showpiece of early America.” Or put presidential parades in historical context, via Lindsay Chervinsky’s essay on George Washington’s reticence for public pomp and grandeur: “Why, then, did Washington, a man intensely proud of his military service and revered for it, reject the trappings of military honor?” In conference news, the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture unveiled the program for next month’s meeting. Elsewhere in the blogosphere, check out John Fea’s reflections on a decade(!) of posting, and what it means to teach “Public History for a Democracy.” Or flip through the newly digitized papers of polymath Benjamin Franklin. Continue reading

Roundtable: A Proud Taste for Alex & Eliza

Hilary Mantel recently gave the annual BBC Reith Lecture in which she described why she became a historical novelist. Printed in The Guardian, Mantel argued that culture and genes, history and science, put “our small lives in context.” Mantel’s work is of course separated from the theme of this roundtable by two degrees, as she is neither a writer of YA nor of Early America, but the broader question I think she was trying to answer—why we write about what we do—resonate in a conversation on #FoundingFiction. Continue reading

Alexander Hamilton and the Inconvenient 1780s

Miranda HamiltonWhy does Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s fantastically successful Broadway musical about the founder, skip over most of the 1780s in just one song?

The time from the victory at Yorktown to the Constitutional Convention was almost as long as the war itself, yet in the musical it merits barely a verse. Perhaps that’s not so unusual when it comes to public understanding of the founding era. But it’s worth asking what it’s all about. Eliding the 1780s reflects the way the shorthand narrative of the American Revolution goes—straight from victory in the War of Independence on to the new constitution and federal government, “non-stop.” Missing out most of the 1780s is the only way to make the revolution look like a single, coherent event. It smooths over a history that was riven with conflict and alternative possibilities, and makes it look like a straightforward path towards the federal republic that we know emerged. Continue reading