A few months ago, I sketched out this blog series, a new intellectual history of early American women. I was encouraged to see your reading list ideas (here and here) roll in. Over the summer, I canvassed bibliographies and archives, curating a portrait gallery of names, places, and ideas to fill many posts. I made a template, too: Supply a capsule biography; show how each woman fits into the “standard” American history survey class, or why she doesn’t; say where to find and assign her work. There’s one more (experimental!) piece to my series, A Woman’s Work, but you’ll have to keep reading for it. This is a public history project in progress, so please feel free to weigh in with ideas. We will swerve through history, ranging from the 1630s to the 1890s. Later on, I can organize subjects by theme, region, or era. The first few posts spotlight an understudied group: African-American women and the memoirs they made in order to narrate a way out of—or a way through—the “thousand natural shocks” of antebellum life and culture. Let’s begin early America in a new voice. Let’s listen to a free black woman who had little or no real social power until she made it for herself, and in three world markets. Meet Nancy Gardner Prince (1799-1859). Continue reading
I find myself, day to day, thinking harder about the purpose of teaching during an age of social tumult. Having been fortunate enough to teach two different courses on the American South at the University of South Carolina in the last year—Contemporary South for Southern Studies and now the New South for History—I’ve had to confront these pedagogical issues time and again. In particular, these questions of how to teach history during the era of Black Lives Matter relate to broader questions of the purpose and “utility” of teaching and learning history. At the same time, public discourse about American history and race relations depends a great deal on having a populace that has some basic understanding of the long story of racial formation in the United States.
David D. Hall on Charles H. Foster’s The Rungless Ladder: Harriet Beecher Stowe and New England Puritanism (Duke University Press, 1954)
The challenge of identifying a work of intellectual history that merits reappraisal led me initially to Perry Miller’s The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (1939; 1954) and its sequel, The New England Mind: From Colony to Province (1953). But this, I realized, would mean repeating what I have said elsewhere. Instead, I turn to a virtually unknown book, Foster’s The Rungless Ladder: Harriet Beecher Stowe and New England Puritanism, which I had encountered at the beginning of the 1960s as a graduate student in American Studies at Yale. Much has happened in Stowe scholarship in the ensuing decades, not to mention all that has happened in and around “New England Puritanism.” Nonetheless, The Rungless Ladder remains instructive and, as I realized after returning to it, a book that altered my understanding of religion.
Benjamin E. Park is an assistant professor of history at Sam Houston State University. He studies the cultural, religious, and political history of America between the Revolution and the Civil War. This post originally appeared on his personal blog here.
Remember when we were all Atlanticists? Apparently we’ve moved on to something new already.
Whereas it used to be “trendy” to place early America’s history in a strictly Atlantic context—in which an emphasis is placed on the intersections between the United States, Europe, and, to a lesser extent, Africa—there has been an upswing in work recently that places the period into conversation with developments taking place in the non-United States nations of North and South America. Three books that came out this year exemplify this trend: Caitlin Fitz’s Our Sister Republics: The United States in an Age of American Revolutions (Liverlight), James Alexander Dun’s Dangerous Neighbors: Making the Haitian Revolution in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press), and Alan Taylor’s American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804 (Norton). I hope to highlight each of these books soon—there’s always a hope!—but I wanted to point out a few particular elements of this methodological approach. Continue reading
[Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Timothy Messer-Kruse, who is a Professor in the School of Cultural and Critical Studies at Bowling Green State University. He is responding to Andrew Hartman’s recent post on his book The Yankee International: Marxism and the American Reform Tradition, 1848-1876 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1998) — Ben Alpers]
Imagine my surprise this last week upon finding a review of a book I wrote five monographs and eighteen years ago! I’ve often told my graduate students that the mill of academic publishing grinds at a glacial pace, but this must set some record. While I’m flattered and pleased that The Yankee International is still relevant enough to incite critical attention, I’m dismayed that its substance is so unfairly twisted in Andrew Hartman’s review, “Marx and the Alien Left” (Society for U.S. Intellectual History, Aug. 24, 2016)
For a historian supposedly concerned with ideas, publishing a review under the imprimatur of a society dedicated to intellectual history, Hartman flattens and simplifies my discussion of how race fit into Marx’s materialist teleology. He characterizes my lengthy chapter, “Marx and the Republican Tradition of the First International,” that analyzes Marx’s understanding of the world-historic role of the American working class, as concluding crudely that Marx only cared about the white working class. To do so he must obscure the fact that my analysis was rooted in Marx’s philosophy of history that recognized a hierarchy of actual or potential social power among American working classes. (Hartman also overlooks Marx’s fine grained taxonomy of workers that distinguished between wage workers, rural laborers, yeoman farmers, slaves, etc. – thus Marx’s use of the plural term working classes.) My point was not that Marx had some personal racial bias that inflected his writings on America (though being an educated European man of his era he undoubtedly did) but that historical materialism dictated that organizational and tactical priority be given to white wage workers who were ultimately the agents of revolutionary change. Continue reading
This post originally appeared on the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Beehive blog.
The First Lady was lost. Nine miles off the main road, Abigail Adams, 56, hacked her way through the thick woods bordering Baltimore and the “wilderness city” of Washington, D.C. Eager to join husband John in the new capital, Abigail had left Quincy in early November 1800 with two servants. By Saturday the 15th, they had fallen a few days off course. For two hours, a frustrated Abigail circled the same forest paths—a precious gulf of travel time gone, since they only rode in daylight, and local inns were scarce. Abigail (accurately) reckoned that 36 miles of rough and lonely land lay ahead. She forged on, “holding down & breaking bows of trees which we could not pass,” as she told sister Mary Smith Cranch, “untill we met a Solitary black fellow with a horse and cart. We inquired of him our way, and he kindly offered to conduct us.” Abigail hired him on the spot. Following his directions, by Sunday afternoon she reached her new home, “a Castle of a House…in a beautifull Situation” with a “romantic” view of the Potomac River. Continue reading
The Fourth of July is, by happy circumstance, generally a good day for historical editors. Over barbecues and across beaches, from sea to shining sea, folks seem glad to talk about founding-era documents and—critically—the many drafts that manuscripts arise from. Huzzah for the archivists who salvaged the Declaration for its trip down the Delaware, we say, and for the librarians who align digital worlds to parse the Magna Carta next to the Bill of Rights. Setting the revolutionary drafts in global context is one route to the past. Another way to think about the Declaration is to focus on its local legacies, to continue my experiment in producing “small-batch” intellectual history.
For, months before that “memorable Epocha” of 2 4 July 1776, as Pauline Maier showed in American Scripture and in its appendix, many declarations of independence rippled through the colonies. To townspeople, the language of revolution must have seemed both old (English liberties to uphold) and new (popular sovereignty replacing monarchical rule). When they first spoke of an American revolution in print—before Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues drafted a document intended to serve as a “plain” and “common sense” argument that reflected an “expression of the American mind”—what did “we the people” declare? To the drafts! Continue reading
August Meier. Negro Thought in America, 1880-1915. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1963.
Our classics book review series has focused on a wide range of important works in the canon of American intellectual history. August Meier’s Negro Thought in America is no different, being a bedrock text of African American intellectual history. Meier’s book explores an important period in American history: the aftermath of Reconstruction until the height of the Progressive Era. Or, to put it another way, from the Compromise of 1877 until the beginnings of the Great Migration and the death of Booker T. Washington. Continue reading
Embarking on a study of early American women’s intellectual history calls for a strong bibliographical base, and I’m using this post to learn your news and views of useful literature. Hopefully, we can refer to and build on Patrick S. O’Donnell’s excellent list of resources regarding “Women Intellectuals in the European Enlightenment,” published here. Since this nascent project has a public history feel—I’m interested in how women’s lives and intellectual contributions (ca. 1612-1891) are reflected in everything from standard scholarship to city statues and social crusades—I have listed select digital and archival resources for the first phase (1612-1848), below.
This is, of course, only a preliminary list. Paging all historians, librarians, editors, archivists, journalists, and history fans: Please add your recommendations in the comments.
Natalie Ring, The Problem South: Region, Empire, and the New Liberal State, 1880-1930 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012) 288 pages.
Review by Sarah Bowman
Natalie Ring’s The Problem South adds to a rich vein of scholarship analyzing Northern views of the South.[i] Yet The Problem South does not so much exist within this tradition as it helps to expand its boundaries. Where previous work has focused on the “North-South binary” (10), Ring situates the discourse of region and nation squarely within an imperial framework. According to Ring, commentators on the region around the turn of the twentieth century saw the U.S. South as a backward region; they framed the project of reforming it as part of a global problem of uplifting colonial peoples. These imperially-informed notions of internal difference helped establish a definition of the nation itself as prosperous, progressive, and white. Thus, “patterns of domestic imperialism” (93) were essential to “the development of early twentieth-century liberalism and part of the process of nation-state formation” (3). Continue reading