Review: Craig Bruce Smith, American Honor

Craig Bruce Smith, American Honor: The Creation of the Nation’s Ideals during the Revolutionary Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018).

9781469638836In American Honor, Craig Bruce Smith places morals, virtue, and ethics at the center of the American Revolution. Smith argues that in the late-colonial period, understandings of honor transformed. Instead of something hereditable, honor became based on merit. That “ethical transformation” helped bring about the Revolution. Independence then allowed Americans to realize its potential. In a phrase, you might say the American Revolution was “made on honor, sold on merit.”[1] Continue reading

Q&A: Jeremi Suri, author of The Impossible Presidency

The question of whether the office of the Presidency is too unwieldy with its ever-expanding duties has once again engaged pundits. Most recently, journalist Scott Dickerson’s article raised the issue, a piece which includes the recent study by Jeremi Suri, The Impossible Presidency (New York: Basic Books, 2017). Presidents often used similar rhetorical messages–from Washington to Franklin D.Roosevelt. Suri views one of the mounting obstacles to the presidency as being a discursive problem. Interestingly, the use of language, so central to the presidency, with its surprisingly similar messaging overtime, produced unintended, and often times, inverted outcomes in its collision with capitalism and technology. Suri is currently Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs and Professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs at University of Texas, Austin.   Continue reading

Review: Adam Jortner, Blood From the Sky

Adam Jortner, Blood from the Sky: Miracles and Politics in the Early American Republic (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017).

JortnerThe role of religion in the early republic has received a fair amount of attention in the recent decades. And though there are competing narratives concerning how ministers and denominations took advantage of the post-revolutionary era—the “Hatchites” arguing that they embraced the democratization and empowered the common man, while the “Butlerites” and “Porterfieldites” emphasizing how leaders capitalized on the fear of  a chaotic society—there has been a general point of agreement: religion and politics now took place within a secularized sphere. Expectations of democratic governance led religionists to frame their arguments in a way to match the new republican age. Politics drove religious belief and practice, and not the other way around. Continue reading

Roundtable: Crafting Protest, Fashioning Politics: DIY Lessons from the American Revolution

Roundtable: Crafting Protest, Fashioning Politics: DIY Lessons from the American Revolution

This Colonial Couture post is by Zara Anishanslin, assistant professor of history and art history at the University of Delaware. Her latest book is Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World (Yale University Press, 2016). Follow her @ZaraAnishanslin.

Homespun, Thomas Eakins, 1881, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Homespun, Thomas Eakins, 1881, Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Please, sisters, back away from the pink.”

So women planning to attend the January 2017 Women’s Marches were urged by the writer of an opinion piece in The Washington Post. “Sorry knitters,” she continued, but making and wearing things like pink pussycat hats “undercuts the message that the march is trying to send….We need to be remembered for our passion and purpose, not our pink pussycat hats.”  To back up her point, the author opined that “bra burning” dominated—and thus damaged—popular (mis)conceptions of women’s rights protests in the 1960s. Please, ladies, she exhorted, don’t repeat the mistakes we made in the ‘60s by bringing fashion into politics. Continue reading

Review: Steven Pincus, The Heart of the Declaration

Steve Pincus, The Heart of the Declaration: The Founders’ Case for an Activist Government (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016).

At a time when political events seem to place the very meaning of American democracy under the microscope, it is perhaps unsurprising that so many recent works have looked to re-evaluate the American Founding. Books focusing on the mid-1770s in general have included Kevin Philips’s 1775, Richard Beeman’s Our Lives, Our Fortunes, & Our Sacred Honor, and Joseph Ellis’s American Quartet. Recent books that have looked more specifically at the Declaration of Independence itself include Danielle Allen’s Our Declaration. Robert Parkinson’s The Common Cause, too, has called for a re-evaluation of what motivated those who fought for Independence, though his work calls for a much less celebratory conclusion. Such a list demonstrates the importance of the mid-1770s to America’s national identity. With The Heart of the Declaration, Steven Pincus throws his hat into the ring, too.

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The Strange Death(?) of Political History

The Strange Death(?) of Political History
The glory days

The glory days of American political history?

Historians are back in the news, this time not as a scolds (“this bit of history in popular culture isn’t historical enough”) but as Cassandras. Recently Fredrik Logevall and Kenneth Osgood, writing under the New York Times print edition headline “The End of Political History?,” bemoan the collapse political history as an area fit for study by professional historians.[1] Jobs in political history have dried up, fewer courses in the subject are offered in universities, few people are entering graduate school to specialize in the subject and hence “the study of America’s political past is being marginalized.” To Logevall and Osgood this marginalization has two tragic effects. Firstly, it denies American citizens’ access to the intellectual tools necessary to historicize our contemporary politics and “serve as an antidote to the misuse of history by our leaders and save us from being bamboozled by analogies, by the easy ‘lessons of the past.’” It also denies historians access to political power, the ability to influence policy and policymakers in the mode of C. Vann Woodward and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Continue reading

Q&A: Cassandra Good, Author of Founding Friendships

CGood photoIn April, Tom Cutterham reviewed Cassandra Good’s new book, Founding Friendships: Friendships Between Women and Men in the Early American Republic (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015). Good received her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and is now the Associate Editor of the Papers of James Monroe at the University of Mary Washington. Today, she speaks with The Junto about Founding Friendships and her next project.
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