Early America en Français

74106_458665741921_87935_nYesterday, Casey Schmitt began our “Archives around the Atlantic” roundtable with an extremely helpful guide to the Archivo General de Indias in Sevilla. If you have not yet read her piece, you will want to do so here. My hope is that my post can be useful to two (potentially overlapping) audiences: one that is interested in general tips for doing research in French archives online, and one that will be lucky enough to be physically present in French archives in the near future.

Here are a few tips for delving into the French Atlantic from the comfort of your own internet: Continue reading

Early America in Español

This week, The Junto will explore, “Archives around the Atlantic.” As research projects frequently plunge early Americanists into far-flung archival settings, over the course of the next five days we will draw from the wide experience of our contributing editors to offer advice for approaching research abroad. It is our hope that this forum and the comments sections below might also tap into the collective expertise of The Junto readership with the common goal of making foreign archives accessible and productive.

Cathedral_and_Archivo_de_Indias_-_SevilleWhile the Archivo General de Indias in Sevilla remains the primary destination for scholars working on projects relating the Spain’s colonial empire, the collections infrequently receive the attention they deserve from historians north of the Río Grande. This, despite Kristen Block and Jenny Shaw’s proclamation that, “colonial records in the Spanish archives reveal a wealth of reportage” about moments in early American history for which few extant documents remain elsewhere.[1] In fact, Block and Shaw’s 2011 article, “Subjects without an Empire: The Irish in the Early Modern Caribbean,” forces a reconsideration of the contours of Anglo-Irish relations in the early Caribbean by reading Spanish and English language documents side-by-side. Uncovering the lived experience of Don Juan Morfa—an Irish translator for the governor of Santo Domingo and linchpin in the defense of the island against Cromwell’s Western Design—depended on reading documents housed in the AGI. Continue reading

Narrative, Biography, and Hagiography: Reflections on Some Challenges in Microhistory

1810weemsthelifeofgeorgewashingtonShortly after the publication of Parlor Politics, Catherine Allgor was invited to reflect not only the political wives she’d written about, but also their husbands. Reflecting on John Quincy Adams, Allgor quipped “I like complicated men.”[1] While tongue-in-cheek, Allgor’s comment undoubtedly reflects why historians decide to study individuals. Unpacking the layers of “complicated men” (and women) can make for a fascinating project. But historians have also had a complicated relationship with biographies. No doubt this is because, like many narrative histories, some of the earliest Early American biographies were written as exercises in nationalism, and/or with hagiographic tendencies.[2] Moreover, when researching and writing on higher-profile individuals, many of the sources we encounter ourselves are of the narrative sort.

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The Question of Narrative

borgesdesmazieres2Should historians embrace the art of narrative, or treat it with more suspicion? In his review of Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton back in July, USIH’s Kurt Newman argued that “the book-length narrative” is not “the proper form for the presentation of a historical argument.” Narrative, he wrote, involves too much selection, too many authorial choices hidden from the reader. “Most importantly,” Newman suggested, “constructing a narrative is almost always tied up with some telos or end,” a teleology that serves as expression or conduit of ideology, pulling us towards the outcome we imagine fits. Narrative, in other words, is something more than reasoned argument. It enlists desire to shape the way we think. Continue reading

Digital Pedagogy Roundtable, Part 4: Funeral Trains and Social Media

This week, The Junto features a roundtable on digital pedagogy, in which we discuss our different approaches to using digital sources in the classroom. Today, Ken Owen shares his experience of an MA class’s project using social media for public history uses. You can also read Part 1 by Rachel Herrmann on source accesibility, Part 2 by Jessica Parr on teaching digital history to non-majors, and Part 3 by Joseph Adelman about working with students on technical knowledge.

Back in April, I had a rather surreal teaching experience. A class project, focusing on tweeting the assassination and funeral train of Abraham Lincoln, attracted a good deal of media attention in central Illinois. My class ended up appearancing in local newspapers, radio, and even with a featured spot on the local news channel. I even had a waiter in a local restaurant recognize me as the ‘Lincoln and twitter professor’. Continue reading

Graphic Novels in the Classroom

This week we’ve discussed the graphic novels as historical fiction, the strengths of using graphic novels to discuss fraught material, and complex process of adapting historical research to sequential art. We would like to end our roundtable discussing more broadly the possibilities of using graphic novels in the classroom.

The first strength of graphic novels is their novelty. Assigning works like Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner or Fetter-Vorm and Kelman’s Battle Lines is a surprise to most students. By not being another monograph or set of primary sources, graphic novels shake up a syllabus. This is good for students, who may be interested in exploring a subject in a more unconventional way, and for teachers, for it forces us to reconsider how to teach subjects we may have taught many, many times. This novelty also adds some additional accessibility for students who might be skeptical of reading more traditional assignments. Continue reading

The Writer Assumes All Responsibility

For the week of July 13-17, The Junto is hosting “Graphic History: Sequential Art & History,” a roundtable examination of relationship between history and graphic novels. We will explore graphic novels as historical fiction, as histories, and their uses in the classroom. For our first entry, Roy Rogers reviews a new comic book series about the American Revolution from award-winning writer Brian Wood. 

What does a historical epic of the American Revolution look like in the twenty-first century? Continue reading