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

Alejandra Dubcovsky, Informed Power: Communication in the Early American South (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016).

61VAwsW64fL._SL500_Alejandra Dubcovsky’s Informed Power: Communication in the Early American South 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

Careful Hands, Epistolary Spaces: Review of The Opened Letter

Lindsay O’Neill, The Opened Letter: Networking in the Early Modern British World (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015).

15272-1Social networks are having a moment in history. They are another approach to understanding how people came together either via proximity, social status, values, or goals, with the analytical focus on what serves as the bond in the relationship(s).[1] Social theorists have ascribed a 4-part process which entails a) similar people coming together, b) influence within these groups making its members more alike, c) people winding up in the same place, and d) shared space making people more alike.[2] In short, networks are primarily about building consensus. For historians, networks are “messy,” “fragile,” “fluid,” and disregard geographic boundaries.[3] Continue reading