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

Following the Fashions: A Basic American Pastime

AJ1Today’s #ColonialCouture post is by Amy Sopcak-Joseph, a doctoral candidate in American history at the University of Connecticut. She is working on her dissertation, “Fashioning American Women: Godey’s Lady’s Book, Female Consumers, and Periodical Publishing in the Nineteenth Century.” Follow her @AmySopcakJoseph.

It’s that time of year again: time to stash away all of your white pants and head to the nearest Starbucks for a PSL. Love it or hate it, that sugary “Pumpkin Spice Latte” is more than just a drink that allows us to ingest autumn. The PSL reached cultural-icon status when it became the trendy accessory of someone “basic”–a term encompassing a larger set of consumer choices linked to appearance, food, and leisure activities that signal an uncritical devotion to trends. Calling someone “basic” became a kind of epithet against people who like things that are mainstream or, as some writers have suggested, feminine.[1] Some women have taken ownership of “basic,” embracing it as an identity (see social media posts enthusiastically tagged #basic).

Is being “basic” really that bad? Is someone superior–morally or intellectually–for not liking things that are mainstream? Judging other people’s consumer choices and assigning them political or cultural meaning is as American as apple (or pumpkin?) pie. In the 1820s, 1830s, and 1840s, when the United States was transitioning from an agrarian economy to a capitalist one, considerable anxiety emerged about the consumer choices of the burgeoning middle class. Not unlike the criticisms of 21st-century women whose tastes and identity might be called “basic,” some found women’s purchases and self-fashioning to be particularly alarming. Ministers and reformers argued that these choices demonstrated women’s uncritical adherence to the “tyranny” or “evils” of fashion, a devotion that could negatively shape the future of the republic. Continue reading

Why We Will Not Go

How and why does a group in a society feel affection for the society they live in, despite the constant abuses faced by them? A great case study to help answer the question is through the anti-slavery movement. Boston abolitionist intellectual Maria Stewart, after the loss of both her husband, James Stewart and intellectual mentor, abolitionist David Walker in 1830, refocused her life on Jesus and fighting for her race. From that foundation, she met and collaborated with  upstart white abolitionist newspaper editor William Lloyd Garrison of The Liberator. Garrison was a major influence on Stewart’s public career because Garrison promoted Stewart as a voice of her people, and the Liberator offered her room to publicly debate the best policies for her race’s future. In one of Stewart’s published writings in the Liberator, she wrote about death to the body of the enslaved, that would also free the soul. “The blood of her murdered ones cries to heaven for vengeance against thee. Thou art almost drunken with the blood of her slain.[1]” The plunder of black bodies effectively built the United States, and based upon Stewart’s interpretation, America became drunk from its excess. Continue reading

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

The Attention Economy of the American Revolution

David RamsayA few months ago, a New York Times investigation uncovered the secret economies of social media bots. C-list celebrities such as Paul Hollywood, John Leguizamo, and Michael Symon, purveyors of “fake news,” and several businesses have boosted their Twitter profiles by purchasing fake follower “bots” and retweets from these accounts. The Times estimated that perhaps as many as 48 million Twitter accounts are bots, with around 60 million similar accounts on Facebook. Continue reading

Review: Coll Thrush, Indigenous London

Review: Coll Thrush, <i>Indigenous London</i>

Coll Thrush, Indigenous London: Native Travelers at the Heart of Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016).

Thrush CoverWander through the Museum of London’s rich galleries, glowing with relics and rites of Roman Londinium, and you’ll spot scraps of the city’s wall half-strewn along the route. Burned in bits or eaten by age, the red-and-white brick arches splay out like the broken teeth of empire, grinding a crooked grin in today’s cityscape. Amid the tidy exhibits and visitors’ whirl, it’s a graphic reminder of what London was and how it has weathered so many centuries’ toll. But, as Coll Thrush’s Indigenous London asks us, “The audience of a museum is always / another sort of collection…Indigenous objects, Indigenous eyes—/ Who sees and what is being seen?” (p. 135). For the scholar rescuing clues from the built environment, the wall raises a complex set of research queries: Who passed through the city limits, and why? How did diverse travelers experience urban life at a sensory level? What did it mean for indigenous visitors to sample London? And how can we expand the historical canon of voices who tell that story in the early modern era?  Continue reading