Diego Rivera and Bertram D. Wolfe, “Portrait of America,” 1934
When John Adams looked back on the American Revolution (something he liked to do), he reflected that, “The Revolution was in the Minds and Hearts of the People.” The colonists’ drive to independence marked a new era of American history, Adams thought, when “Thirteen Clocks were made to Strike together; a perfection of Mechanism which no Artist had ever before effected.” Scholars have struggled to frame the experience of the Revolution in picture and on the page. How can we use digital tools to curate collections of revolutionary culture and #vastearlyamerica for use in the classroom?
Casey Schmitt is a PhD candidate in History at the College of William & Mary, where she is writing a dissertation on the Iberian roots of seventeenth-century Anglo-American slave law. This is her second guest post, following her first on the value of storytelling and the use of audiobook primary sources in the classroom here.
A little over a year ago, I switched research interests from the study of eighteenth-century contraband trade between Jamaica and Cartagena de Indias to a comparative study of the codification of slave law in the greater Caribbean. Admittedly not too drastic of a change, I was nonetheless daunted by moving from a historiography containing a select number of significant works to a field where innumerable scholars have dedicated entire careers. Like any graduate student, I began working through the library stacks here at the College of William and Mary, seeking answers to what I thought would be easy questions: Were the legal regimes of European slave societies shaped by their interactions with other slave societies in the Caribbean? Were English slaveholding practices modeled off of successful Portuguese or Spanish examples? Why were there so many institutionalized efforts to codify slave law in the seventeenth century and did these separate legal dialogues unfold in conversation with one another? As you can probably guess, none of these questions have proven as easy to answer as I thought. Continue reading →
I’m pleased to introduce today’s guest poster, Matthew Crow, a regular commenter here at The Junto, who received his PhD at UCLA in 2011 and now teaches at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York.
In his compendium of global archival practices, Memoirs of Libraries, Edward Edwards developed a history of how various peoples had organized their relationship to their pasts. For Edwards, political emancipation in the wake of the great revolutions required broadening public availability of the historical documents archived by the state. Continue reading →
Joel Barlow and Noah Webster graduated from Yale together in 1778 with little sense of what they might do next. Their experience will be familiar to graduates of our own day, except, of course that it was in the middle of a Revolutionary War. “We are not the first men in the world to have broke loose from college without fortune to puff us into public notice,” Barlow wrote to Webster. But if ever virtue and merit were to be rewarded, he went on, “it is in America.” Both men would have their faith in America sorely tested over the following decades, as they struggled to gain entry into established social elites that were themselves experiencing tension and transformation. Continue reading →
This week, The Junto spoke with Lea VanderVelde, the Josephine R. Witte Professor of Law at the University of Iowa College of Law, a Guggenheim Fellow in Constitutional Studies, and principal investigator of the Law of the Antebellum Frontierproject, which “seeks to digitally analyze the legal and economic mechanisms at work on the American frontier in the early 1800s.” She kindly took our questions on her work-in-progress, and why digital research transforms the early American legal history of how the West was run. Continue reading →
We should read each legal document according to the plain sense of the text: the sense that was understood by its authors, or perhaps by the people by whose authority it became law. The task of interpretation is, in essence, a historical one. It should be concerned with past realities, not present conjectures. That is as compelling a definition of originalism as I can muster.
I’m not going to get into originalism deeply here. I just wanted to share a few lines from the pen of Alexander Hamilton. There’s a point where the argument for originalism folds in upon itself logically: the point where originalist historians and lawyers want to show that the authors or ratifiers of the original text intended or understood it to be interpreted according to its original intent or meaning. Originalist historiography then becomes a historiography of originalism itself. Lawyers, in my small experience, tend to like this, because they like doing the history of other lawyers. Continue reading →
Mail service was suspended in New England on Saturday (sadly, a possible harbinger of things to come), but a massive snowstorm (and the pain of shoveling) cannot stop the Junto’s week-in-review post.
It seems odd that the day is passing with relatively little fanfare, but today is actually the 250th anniversary of the Treaty of Paris ending the Seven Years’ War. A momentous occasion with enormous consequences (that were, as often happens, largely unforeseen at the time).