James Rivington: Printer, Loyalist, Spy?

rivington

A fabulous but somewhat ominous engraving of Rivington hanging in effigy from a tree in New Brunswick, N.J.

Earlier this year, I wrote about the printer of the New-York Journal, John Holt. I focused on his newspaper’s mastheads, arguing that those mastheads were an effective medium through which he could shape political ideas and, subsequently, mobilize support. What I did not fully explain, however, was that he was not the only printer in New York City to change his masthead—James Rivington did it, too.[1] Continue reading

Guest Post: The Revolutions in the Margins of AMC’s “Turn”

Don Johnson is a Ph.D. candidate in History at Northwestern University. His work explores how ordinary Americans experienced the major political and military events of the Revolutionary era in the course of their everyday lives, and how those experiences shaped actions and changed world-views going forward. Don’s dissertation, now nearing completion, examines the social dynamics of six port cities occupied by the British army during the Revolutionary War.

TurnThe AMC series Turn ended its first season last month with mixed reviews. The consensus seems to be that the series, which tells the story of the Culper spy ring during the American Revolution, has a strong cast, good production values, and promising subject matter but ultimately fails both as a drama and as an accurate representation of history. Popular reviews have mostly found the narrative arc slow and frustrating, while the show’s numerous departures from the historical record have inspired an entire blog devoted to separating fact from fiction. As The Junto’s Roy Rogers put it in his review of the first three episodes back in April, these narrative and historical failings made the series in large part “just another morality play—The Patriot in the guise of Mad Men.”

While Turn‘s main storyline falls far short of doing justice to the fascinating story of the Culper spies, in its background characters and neglected subplots lie many of the complex and diverse experiences of ordinary Americans. Continue reading

Digital History in the Surveillance State

nsahqThree days ago, the Washington Post reported the results of an investigation into a large collection of files provided by Edward Snowden. Reviewing 160,000 intercepted electronic conversations and 8,000 other documents, which Snowden apparently accessed on NSA servers after that agency collected them, the Post’s reporters found that nearly half of them contained information pertaining to U.S. citizens. Overall, the article says, the sample showed that the government scooped up information on nine bystanders (as it were) for every “targeted” individual under electronic surveillance. On that basis, the reporters speculate that the NSA may have collected information on as many as 800,000 non-target individuals in 2013.

I don’t intend to comment here on the legality, ethics, or wisdom of the NSA’s programs or the Snowden leaks. But I do think this report is fascinating and important. And I think it’s worth considering from the standpoint of digital history.

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The Week in Early American History

TWEAH

‘TWEAH, two nights before Christmas, when thr’out the blog roll
Not a creature was stirring, not even a troll;
The grades were all posted to Blackboard with care,
In hopes that strong evals soon would be there;
The grad students were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of fellowships danc’d in their heads,
And Ben Park in his ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains on an early Americanist recap.

Continue reading