Digital Databases and the Illusion of Comprehension

This post is part of a joint series entitled “Digital Research, Digital Age: Blogging New Approaches to Early American Studies,” the Panorama and the Junto. This joint series stems from  stemming from a conference entitled “Revolutionary Texts in a Digital Age: Thomas Paine’s Publishing Networks, Past and Present,” organized by Nora Slonimsky at Iona College in October 2018. This series will feature one post every day this week, hosted by both the Panorama and the Junto, and Dr. Slonimsky’s introductory post is found here. The first post at the Panorama is by Lindsay Chervinsky, “High Politics and Physical Space: Rethinking How We Commemorate Place.”

The rise of the digital humanities over the past decade has brought attention and support to a wide range of projects. In its most triumphalist form, the narrative about digital humanities suggests that digital projects have made early American materials far more accessible than they ever have been. Where once researchers could only access materials by visiting an archive or perhaps using microfilm or microfiche when available, now we can work from our homes in our pajamas to read manuscript and printed sources from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. And we can gather massive data sets about the past for quantitative or qualitative analysis.

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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

Interview: Alex Gourevitch on Thomas Paine

Alex Gourevitch is an assistant professor of political science at Brown University. At this summer’s SHEAR conference in Philadelphia, he presented (without reading! It’s still a novelty to us historians!) a paper called “Paine and Property: Radicalism and Anti-Radicalism in Property-Owning Democracy.” In today’s interview, he returns to those themes for The Junto.
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The JuntoCast, Episode 8: Thomas Paine and “Common Sense”

The JuntoCastIn this month’s episode, Ken Owen, Michael Hattem, Roy Rogers, and Ben Park discuss Thomas Paine, including reconsidering the importance of his most famous work, “Common Sense,” his life as an eighteenth-century transatlantic radical, and his legacy today compared to that of the other “founders.”

You can click here to listen to the mp3 in a new window or right-click to download and save for later. You can also subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. We would greatly appreciate it if our listeners could take a moment to rate or, better yet, review the podcast in iTunes. As always, any and all feedback from our listeners is greatly welcomed and appreciated.

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“The True Key of the Universe Is Love”

Cayton - Love in the Time of Revolution - UNC Press

During a panel at this summer’s Revolution conference in Philadelphia, someone asked Annette Gordon-Reed whether she sees any hope for a synthesis of contemporary scholarship on race, class, and gender. She answered that she tries to achieve this by talking about people—that is, telling stories about particular lives.

Whether biography represents the culmination of decades of historical scholarship on identity and social power or an admission of its shortcomings is an interesting question. Either way, biography, including biographical microhistory, has a growing place in the field.[1] British and American historians have taken part in the “biographical turn” with special enthusiasm, though it is hardly unique to us.[2] 

With Love in the Time of Revolution: Transatlantic Literary Radicalism and Historical Change, 1793-1818, Andrew Cayton advances biographical historiography by binding it unusually securely to two other trends in early American historiography: studies of print culture, broadly conceived, and studies of the Atlantic world as a system. Cayton builds the family life of Mary Wollstonecraft into the center of a narrative about what it could mean to be a revolutionary intellectual in the Atlantic republic of letters. Continue reading