The Strange Death(?) of Political History

The glory days

The glory days of American political history?

Historians are back in the news, this time not as a scolds (“this bit of history in popular culture isn’t historical enough”) but as Cassandras. Recently Fredrik Logevall and Kenneth Osgood, writing under the New York Times print edition headline “The End of Political History?,” bemoan the collapse political history as an area fit for study by professional historians.[1] Jobs in political history have dried up, fewer courses in the subject are offered in universities, few people are entering graduate school to specialize in the subject and hence “the study of America’s political past is being marginalized.” To Logevall and Osgood this marginalization has two tragic effects. Firstly, it denies American citizens’ access to the intellectual tools necessary to historicize our contemporary politics and “serve as an antidote to the misuse of history by our leaders and save us from being bamboozled by analogies, by the easy ‘lessons of the past.’” It also denies historians access to political power, the ability to influence policy and policymakers in the mode of C. Vann Woodward and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Continue reading

Autumn Reads

the-country-school

Winslow Homer, “The Country School,” 1871

Looks like #VastEarlyAmerica just got even vaster—and that’s a good thing. Here’s our fall preview of new titles. Please share your books/finds in the comments! Continue reading

“In the Service of the Crown ever since I came into this Province”: The Life and Times of Cadwallader Colden

80140100162200LOn December 8, 1747, Gov. George Clinton (1686–1761) told a British statesman that the Assembly of New York “treated the person of the Governor with such contempt of his authority & such disrespect to the noble family where he had his birth that must be of most pernicious example.” He thought he might have to “give it [i.e., his position] up to a Faction.” The extant copy of this letter, held within Clinton’s papers at the William L. Clements Library in Michigan, was written by his most trusted advisor and ally—Cadwallader Colden, the subject of John M. Dixon’s first book, The Enlightenment of Cadwallader Colden: Empire, Science, and Intellectual Culture in British New York, published in 2016 by Cornell University Press.[1]

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Guest Post: It’s Pronounced “Woo-ster”: The OIEAHC’s 22nd Annual Conference Recap

Andrew Johnson (@dajohnsonii) is a doctoral candidate in history at Rice University. His work explores the social and cultural intersections stemming from the trades in captive peoples, both Native American and trans-Atlantic, who happened to find themselves in colonial South Carolina and situates enslaved Native Americans in the more-studied development of slavery in the colony.

2896085I thought going to Worcester for the OIEAHC 22nd Annual Conference was going to be a reprieve from the oppressive heat and humidity of the Houston summer. New England thankfully came through on the weather front, but I also found my long overdue first trip to the conference to be an almost nonstop barrage of intellectual engagement. My work received much more feedback than I had expected and I found myself thinking through every talk and Q&A I heard, which in my experience isn’t always how conferences typically work out. The luck of having my presentation in the first panel meant I was able to get presenting out of the way, giving those attending I didn’t know something to talk with me about for the rest of the conference, and allowing me to concentrate on thinking about other scholars’ work.   Continue reading

Summer Reading 2016

BEACH READINGSummer! That wonderful, studentless, seminar-free oasis of uninterrupted relaxation, when we can all settle down to some quality time with those alluring new acquisitions on our bookshelves—and maybe even tackle some of the glowering doorstops that have remained there unread for all too long. Yes, we know it’s a complete fantasy, but it’s a pleasant one to indulge in while the last few exam scripts are being marked and three months of self-direction are stretching in front of you (and while we wait for Zara Anishanslin and Alan Taylor‘s books to come out!). In that spirit, I thought I’d share the handful of books I’ve been fantasising about reading this summer . We’d love you to pitch in with your own lists in the comments. Continue reading

#WhatComesNext? Book Ideas for the Hamilton Lover in Your Life

HamiltonBooksWith Hamilton’s sweep at the Tonys last night, this year’s phenomenal tide of Hamilton-mania has hit the high-water mark. You’ve cheered each much-deserved award and accolade, you’ve memorized every word of the soundtrack, you’ve devoured the #Hamiltome. Perhaps you’ve kept up with professional historianswide range of responses to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster. Maybe you’re even one of the lucky few who’ve managed to score tickets to the show itself. But now, fans of the musical (and folks who are simply surrounded by them) might well find themselves asking, #WhatComesNext?

The Junto has the answer! Tomorrow afternoon, when you lose the daily ticket lottery yet again, why not start lookin’ for a mind at work? Grab a great history book and drown your sorrows in a flagon of sweet American Revolution knowledge. Here are some picks, creatively paired with favorite characters from the musical. Continue reading

Review: Alejandra Dubcovsky, Informed Power: Communication in the Early American South

61VAwsW64fL._SL500_Alejandra Dubcovsky’s Informed Power: Communication in the Early American South (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016) is an ambitious book. She analyzes how information was communicated throughout the early South, a region that was without a regular mail system or print culture prior to 1730. The “early South,” as Dubcovsky acknowledges, is an “ambiguous” term (3). Her “early South” includes much of the lands from the Jamestown settlement south, and from the Mississippi River east. The result is a vibrant blend of Native American peoples, Africans, and European interactions that both complicate and enrich her analysis. Her sources include not only English, French, and Spanish, but also a number of Native American sources, including Timucua. She draws not only on written sources, but linguistic and archaeological evidence as well. This interdisciplinary approach allowed for broader inclusion of non-European networks than appears in many studies. Networks, as Dubcovsky defines them, are a “pattern of ties connecting discrete places or peoples”(4) She discusses a number of different types of networks—economic, political, religious, diplomatic, subaltern—but depicts all nodes as uniform in size. While some might take issue with this approach, the uniformness of the nodes makes sense, given the book’s goal of decentralizing European power structures, and does not detract. Continue reading