Guest Post: Review of Bassi, An Aqueous Territory

Today’s review is by James Hill, who received his Ph.D. from the College of William & Mary in 2016 and is currently an Assistant Professor of History at the University of the Bahamas. He has published articles in Early American Studies (Winter 2014) and the Florida Historical Quarterly (Fall 2014). His dissertation, “Muskogee Internationalism in an Age of Revolution, 1763-1818,” analyzes Creek and Seminole diplomacy. This will be followed tomorrow by a Q&A with the author.

Ernesto Bassi, An Aqueous Territory: Sailor Geographies and New Granada’s Transimperial Greater Caribbean World (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016).

For decades, the historiographies of the Caribbean and the mainland Americas largely remained separate, with the modern constructions of nation-states influencing how scholars have framed the geographical parameters of their works, with some notable exceptions (New Spain, Guyana, Suriname). In recent years this has begun to change in the case of North America’s early modern ties to the Caribbean. Scholars such as Jane Landers, J. R. McNeil, and Shannon Lee Dawdy have emphasized transnational and transimperial connections between various Caribbean islands and the territories that eventually encompass the United States. Continue reading

Review: Zara Anishanslin, Portrait of a Woman in Silk

Zara Anishanslin, Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic WorldNew Haven: Yale University Press, 2016.

A silk worm begins wrapping itself round in a cocoon, encasing itself in its fiber. Faceless hands unravel the cocoon, turning it into a single linear thread, the thread then woven together with other linear threads unraveled by other faceless hands until all the threads, warped and wefted, form a connected fabric. Finally, completing the circle, a woman poses for a portrait, wrapped up in yard upon yard of silk, another body encased and shrouded.

It’s a fitting prologue and introduction to Zara Anishanslin’s Portrait of a Woman in Silk, a study in—literally and figuratively—the threads that connected and constructed the eighteenth-century British Atlantic Empire. Anishanslin’s book is not quite like any book that I’ve ever read before. It meanders—but with purpose: from Spitalfields Market in London, to an imagined college in Bermuda, to a parlor in Lancaster crowded with soldiers and military waggoners; from the inner mechanics of the loom, to the symbols within Milton’s Paradise Lost, to the aesthetics of colonial orchards and gardens; from cultural to intellectual to political to spatial to economic to material history. It defies traditional sub-disciplinary designations by design. Anishanslin’s ambitious first book draws inspiration from leading figures in material culture studies—Robert Blair St. George, T. H. Breen, Richard Bushman, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and others—but also draws inspiration from book historians like Robert Darnton, from economic historians, from religious historians, and from historians of transatlantic intellectual and epistolary networks. 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

The Many & the One

Lexington DoolittleLike many, Amos Doolittle struggled to turn in a decent first draft of American history. The 21 year-old engraver, later known as the “Paul Revere of Connecticut,” arrived in Lexington and Concord shortly after April 1775. Anxious to capture the battles’ action and aftermath, he chatted with local residents. He sketched terrain. For Doolittle, a trained silversmith, it was a chance to experiment with a craft he had yet to master. Part of what he produced, a set of four views storyboarding the “shot heard round the world,” hangs in the Boston Public Library’s new exhibit, “We Are One: Mapping America’s Road from Revolution to Independence.” By Doolittle’s lights, Massachusetts makes for a furious and frenzied tableau: gusts of redcoats’ gunpowder hazing the sky, and colonial ranks splintering on the advance. On the American side, it is hardly a picture of union. Patriots scatter, racing blindly to frame’s edge. In his rough draft of Revolution, Amos Doolittle demands that we unlock all hopes of what might come next. Continue reading

Review: Andrew Beaumont, Colonial America & the Earl of Halifax, 1748-1761

Andrew D. M. Beaumont, Colonial America & the Earl of Halifax, 1748–1761. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Andrew Beaumont has written a provoking biography of George Montagu Dunk, second earl of Halifax (1716–1771) that covers the crucial period between 1748 and 1761. This book offers a re-evaluation of how we understand colonial American politics and, by implication, it forces us to reconsider the origins of the American Revolution.It also reorients our understanding of British figures who wanted to centralize the Empire during the eighteenth century. For Beaumont, we should look less at the familiar cast of characters: George Grenville; the Earl of Bute; William Pitt, later Lord Chatham; and Lord North. There are others, of course. But, we are familiar with these men. We know their stories. We know their contributions. Beaumont does not argue that we should look away from these men. Rather, he argues that we should look at other “ambitious men” and how they affected the British Empire. In this book, Beaumont examines the “Father of the Colonies,” the Earl of Halifax. Continue reading

Epilogue or Prologue? The Royal Proclamation Turns 250

If you’ve heard of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, it’s probably in the form of the “Proclamation Line,” the imaginary line of masking tape across the Appalachian Mountains dividing English colonists along the coast from native populations in the interior of North America. According to a group of historians gathered at the Old State House in Boston this past Friday, it may have far greater significance. (Or not.)

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