Guest Post: The Value of Storytelling

We’re thrilled to welcome as our latest guest poster, Casey Schmitt. Casey is a PhD candidate in History at the College of William & Mary, where she is writing a dissertation on the Iberian roots of seventeenth-century Anglo-American slave law under the supervision of Brett Rushforth. Casey holds an MA in history from the University of Utah, where she wrote an excellent thesis on the British Asiento, illicit trade, and the limits of empire in the eighteenth-century Caribbean. Her teaching and research interests center on the inter-imperial nature of the early modern Americas.

As a newly-minted ABD embarking on my first stab at teaching the early American history survey, I find myself buried beneath my own excitement for the material. No one warned me that the biggest obstacle to designing a course would be curbing my own unrelenting enthusiasm. Perhaps no part of that enthusiasm has proven more damaging to my syllabus than my passion for storytelling. Specifically, I approached teaching the early America survey with a litany of historical works of fiction and non-fiction that I wanted to familiarize undergraduates with: 12 Years a Slave, Benito Cereno, Poor Richard’s Almanac, Letters From an American Farmer, among many, many other titles. Before too long I was looking at a weekly reading word count over 150 pages. Yikes. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHO March! You herald spring and blooms and sun!
But lest you fear a change too swift to speak,
I now present our tidings of the week. Continue reading

A Confederacy of Kidnappers: Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave”

django cotton“There are few sights more pleasant to the eye,” wrote Solomon Northup, “than a wide cotton field when it is in bloom. It presents an appearance of purity, like an immaculate expanse of light, newly-fallen snow.” For Quentin Tarantino, such a beguiling simulation of chastity, of endless untroubled whiteness, could merit only one response: blood must be spilt on it. Practically the only scene in which cotton figures in 2012’s Django Unchained comes when an overseer, galloping across a blooming field, receives a rifle shot to the torso. The newly fallen snow of cotton gleams pink with fresh blood. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHThe biggest early-America news in popular culture this week may be the film adaptation of 12 Years a Slave, which will enter wide release in the US on November 1. In an interview with Terry Gross, director Steve McQueen says he wants Solomon Northup’s story to enter public consciousness the way Anne Frank’s diary has. David Blight discussed it with Terry Gross and recommended 12 Years a Slave as “a very good corrective” to ordinary Hollywood treatments of slavery. In the New Yorker, Annette Gordon-Reed uses the film to discuss some of the opportunities and problems slave narratives present to historians. At Grandland, Wesley Morris describes how the film “presents savagery in civil terms.”

Continue reading