IOTAR50: Paper Politics

French Pamphlets, Newberry Library

All praise to the humble pamphlet, upon which *may* rest the ideological origins of the American Revolution. Frequently buried by history as loose “Bundells of Pamphlets in quarto,” it’s a genre that almost shouldn’t be. Printed on flimsy paper and easily battered by salt spray or avid readers, the popular pamphlet became a clutch genre for British and American revolutionaries to send ideas around the Atlantic World. These publications, along with newsbooks, hardened into the “paper bullets,” that, according to scholar Joad Raymond, flew on and off the page in early modern England’s press.

Even as the genre evolved into weekly newspapers, he writes, “readers recognized the rules of the form.” Pamphlet culture, a dynamic arena for anonymous critics to take an eloquent swipe at matters of church and state, quickly blossomed abroad. Unbound and unfettered, pamphlets seeded colonists with a new political consciousness. Whether 10 pages or 50, these slim booklets amplified republican politics and revolutionary prose. Pamphlets, as Robert G. Parkinson observes, became the “lifeblood” of the American Revolution. “They instructed the colonial public that political and personal liberty were in jeopardy because British imperial reformers sought to strip them of their natural rights, especially the right to consent to a government that could hear and understand them,” he writes. Today, let’s look at that instructional aspect of pamphlet culture, and how Bernard Bailyn’s interpretation of revolutionary tracts has reshaped what we do in public history. Continue reading

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Guest Post: Rediscovering the Pamphlisphere

Today’s guest poster is Ariel Ron, who earned his PhD in history at the University of California, Berkeley, and is currently a visiting research associate at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies.

Henry Carey (National Portrait Gallery)

Three or four years ago, while doing research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library, I stumbled upon a lost cache of some ten-thousand pamphlets. I had been browsing the papers of Stephen Colwell, a nineteenth-century ironmaster and writer, when archivist John Pollack called me into the closed stacks behind the reading room. There he showed me Colwell’s personal pamphlet library, neatly bound into hundreds of volumes. The collection also included three thousand works from the library of Colwell’s friend, Henry C. Carey (see picture to right), without question the most important American political economist of the mid-nineteenth century. The sheer size of the corpus floored me. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

Unearthing the Past - UVA MagazineThis week brings a rich harvest of material on slavery, memory, and public history.

First, we have two fascinating filmed conversations. At the Graduate Center at CUNY, James Oakes talks to  Sean Wilentz about his new book, Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865. And at the New-York Historical Society,  Harold Holzer speaks with Tony Kushner on the subject of Lincoln (and, of course, Lincoln).

Next, we take a look into slavery at Jefferson’s university. In an article in University of Virginia Magazine and a blogpost for Encyclopedia Virginia, Brendan Wolfe contextualizes a recent archaeological discovery.

In the Washington Post, meanwhile, J. Freedom du Lac reports on Colonial Williamsburg’s difficulty recruiting slave interpreters. And how did 19th-century African American portray their own emancipations? Good interviews Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer about their photographic history.

Continue reading