Q&A with Joseph Adelman

joe-headshot-croppedToday, The Junto interviews our own Joseph Adelman about his new book Revolutionary Networks: The Business and Politics of Printing the News, 1763–1789. Jordan Taylor’s review of the book appeared yesterday.

Junto: Let’s start off on a hostile note: Why should anyone care about early American newspaper printers?

JMA: Well if you’re going to be hostile, I’m tempted to just say “because I said so.” But assuming that will work about as well here as it does with my kids, let me make the case as best I can. At its core, Revolutionary Networksargues that the material realities of texts matters, and that scholars have tended to elide or simply stipulate their importance. Or, to put it in historiographic terms, we need to integrate book history methods more fully into our understanding of politics in Revolutionary America. So when I started doing research for the book when it was a dissertation, I focused on the production and circulation of texts and the impact those processes had on how American colonists and British officials made political decisions.
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Review: Adelman, Revolutionary Networks

Cover of Revolutionary Networks by Joseph M. AdelmanJoseph M. Adelman, Revolutionary Networks: The Business and Politics of Printing the News, 1763–1789 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019).

Historians often rely on a pair of archetypes to think about early American newspaper printers. First, in colonial British North America, printers evaded regulators by pretending to be “meer mechanics” who simply passed along information as it came to them. When he published the Pennsylvania Gazette in the early eighteenth century, for example, Benjamin Franklin famously protested that “Printers naturally acquire a vast Unconcernedness as to the right or wrong Opinions contain’d in what they print.” Second, historians of the American Revolution and the early U.S. republic often valorize printers as ideologically-driven leaders whose presses pushed forward political causes. Beginning with Isaiah Thomas’s history of printing and David Ramsey’s history of the American Revolution, scholars have often been inclined to treat printers as central heroes of the revolutionary era. Continue reading

Announcing the Launch of Freedom on the Move

fugative add

An ad placed in the Charleston Mercury, Charleston, SC, on July 11, 1829. Accessed via: Freedom on the Move 

Thousands of enslaved African Americans emancipated themselves by taking flight and escaping their enslavers. One way that this form of resistance to slavery can be studied is through the advertisements that enslavers and jailers placed in newspapers in hopes of turning those who had run away back into “property.” The ads allow us a glimpse of both enslavers’ desires and the defiance of the enslaved. In them, it is possible to read pain and suffering in the record of scars and maimed bodies. The ads hold both the grief of separation from kin left behind and the relief of family mentioned at possible destinations. Historians have long used advertisements for fugitives from slavery to study the institution of slavery and the lives of enslaved people. But it can be difficult for the public to access them because the ads exist in multiple formats across multiple archives.

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“The Runaway” Anti-slavery record. New York: Published by R.G. Williams, for the American Anti-Slavery Society, 1835-1837. Accessed via The Fels African Americana Image Project at Library Company of Philadelphia

Freedom on the Move (FOTM), an online project devoted to fugitives from slavery in North America, launches today, February 14, 2019. FOTM asks the public to help in creating a database that makes the stories and lives of fugitives from slavery in North America accessible. The website is designed for use by scholars, researchers, educators, students, genealogist, and the public. After quickly setting up an account, users can begin transcribing digitized versions of advertisements and recording important information included in each ad. Participants can even choose to work on ads from specific time periods or geographic locations. Users can also search for and browse through digitized ads.

Currently, FOTM has about 12,000 newspaper advertisements ready for crowdsourced transcription. The project will include additional ads soon and its organizers hope for future collaborations with additional scholars, archives, and organizations.  FOTM promises to be an invaluable resource in the classroom and for researchers. But beyond the academic applications of the project, organizers hope that the site will facilitate greater access to members of the public outside of the academy. By transcribing and working with the advertisements, participants can both contribute to a growing database of searchable ads and engage with the rich history that each ad presents.

FOTM is a joint project between Cornell University’s Department of History and the Cornell Institute for Social and Economic Research (CISER). Ed Baptist of Cornell University and William Block (Director of CISER) serve as the principal investigators for FOTM. Lead historians on the project include Vanessa Holden of the University of Kentucky, Hasan Jeffries of Ohio State University, Mary Niall Mitchell of the University of New Orleans, and Joshua Rothman of the University of Alabama. The project has received major funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Archives.

To learn more about the project or to begin contributing to FOTM’s crowdsourcing, visit freedomonthemove.org

From Platform to Publisher: Facebook, the Early American Open Press, and Alex Jones

Yesterday, Apple, Facebook, YouTube, and Spotify removed the content of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones from their services. Jones has gained notoriety for propagating outrageous falsehoods on topics including vaccines, school shootings, and uh, *checks notes* space vampires. These decisions to remove Jones’s content come amid a growing public conversation about the extent to which technology and social media companies should act as stewards of truth. Facebook in particular has come under scrutiny for its role in spreading “fake news” in American politics and anti-Muslim propaganda in Sri Lanka, as well as CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s defense of Holocaust deniers’ ability to share verifiably false content on the site. Continue reading

Roundtable: Johnny Tremain and Me

johnnytremain.jpgMore than anything else, people remember the hand. Bring up Johnny Tremain in a group of adults, and for those who read it, they’re most likely to remember the disfigurement that serves as the hinge for much of the novel’s plot, the story within the story of the coming of the Revolution in Boston. A few people have told me that the hand by itself made the book unpalatable; for my part, it always served as a matter of fascination. And it’s one of two things that most stand out for me about the novel (the other being that it was the first place I heard that Biblical injunction that “pride goeth before fall;” make of that what you will). Continue reading

Guest Post: French Imposters, Diplomatic Double Speak, and Buried Archival Treasures

Guest Post: French Imposters, Diplomatic Double Speak, and Buried Archival Treasures

Today’s guest post is by Cassandra Good, Associate Editor of The Papers of James Monroe at the University of Mary Washington, and author of Founding Friendships: Friendships Between Women and Men in the Early American Republic (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015). Follow her @CassAGood. 

Monroe 1The latest volume of The Papers of James Monroe covers a short but important period in Monroe’s life and career: April 1811 to March 1814. Monroe became Secretary of State in April 1811 and was tasked with trying to repair relations with both Great Britain and France. After war with Britain began in June 1812, his focus broadened to military affairs and included a stint as interim Secretary of War. The bulk of the volume, then, is focused on the War of 1812. However, there are a number of other stories revealed here that will be of interest to a range of historians. Continue reading

Begging for Bounty

1829-city-scatEvery day they took apart the city, and put it back together again. New Year’s Day was no different. They worked while dawn, then dusk, threaded the sky, to patch up narrow streets. Lamplighters, an urban mainstay heroicized by Maria Susanna Cummins’ fictional “Trueman Flint,” heaved up their wooden ladders to trim wicks and refill oil pans. Along with the dry-dirtman, city scavengers spread out to collect loose trash. The scene might have been Boston, Philadelphia, Charleston, New York, Baltimore, Cleveland, St. Louis—and set anytime from the Revolution to the Civil War. Newspaper carriers, mostly young boys, filtered along the avenues. Tucked in sheets of newsprint, the city’s youngest workers also carried on a curious tradition: the New Year’s address. A rhyming blend of local-color writing and cultural commentary, the New Year’s address recapped the past and looked ahead. Laden with ornamental tombstone borders and often draped over double columns, each address ended with a plea for an annual gratuity. Continue reading