Geographies of Power on Land and Water: Space, People, and Borders

I recently spoke at an event for Early Career Researchers hosted jointly by the British Group in Early American History, the British American Nineteenth Century Historians, and the Institute of Historical Research about funding initiatives for Americanists based in the UK.[1] I was there to talk about applying for and winning a networking grant (in the UK, it’s called a “networking scheme grant,” which I LOVE because it makes me feel extra sneaky) with my co-investigator, Jessica Roney. On the assumption that some of the advice I offered there might be helpful to our readers, I wanted to rehash some of those ideas in a blog post here today.

But first, I must rant a little bit about the state of immigration in the United Kingdom—a problem not unique here, by any means, but one of relevance to non-British Americanists working in the UK. 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