Vast Early America


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Karin Wulf

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Writing Fourth: Round-up for July 4th

I love reading July 4th writing.  We should be reading, writing and thinking about history every day, but this holiday particularly inspires and provokes.  There is lots of social media reflection as well as semi-formal and more formal writing out there, and I’ve rounded up some of the blogs and op-eds, mostly by historians,  written for today or shared again to mark the holiday.  I’ve also highlighted some of the archival and digital projects focused on America’s founding that are featuring special materials or collections.  I’ll add to the list throughout the day and this week as the reading accumulates!

Blogs:

On the OI’s Uncommon Sense, Elijah Gould wonders “When Did America Really Become Independent?”  Gould, a historian of international law and politics in the revolutionary period, concludes that “The answer is later than Americans usually think — and the quest for the international recognition that made the new republic independent affected its history every bit as much as the ideals in the Declaration.”  (Joyce Chaplin’s measured suggestions on this topic earlier this year covered by John Fea here and here.)

The AHA blog features a review of the new Museum of the American Revolution by Penn graduate student Anna Leigh Todd.

The Smithsonian National Museum of American History revisited a 2013 post on how soldiers celebrated July 4th in 1776 (hint:  they didn’t).

For a day of hotdogs and apple pies, the Junto shared Rachel Hermann’s piece from 2013 about the problematic notion of “American food.”  (In my house a German aunt’s blueberry kuchen is the ritual favorite.)

Sara Georgini writes about changing religious (even liturgical!) texts during the Revolution, as intercessions for the king were replaced by prayers for the president.  This exercise in “tracking changes” illuminates not only growing discomfort with the king’s religion, but the challenges the Book of Common Prayer would continue to face in the new United States.

News and Op-eds:

Religion in the early United States, and the implications of how we understand that history for invocations of religious freedom today, is pervasive in the major newspapers today.  In the New York Times, Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter Onus offer a synopsis and analysis of Thomas Jefferson’s evolving religious beliefs and a reminder of the value of the civil religion he favored.

In the Washington Post Sam Haselby also writes about the significance of religion for American national beginnings.  Haselby argues that the contemporary debate about a Christian founding is almost entirely about the political stakes of simplifying the much more complex historical record.

Post reporters also offered multiple stories on early American topics for the holiday, including Paula Dvorak writing about Maryland printer Mary Katharine Goddard .  (This is a nice piece, though I confess I’m very tired of the “why doesn’t anyone know?” construction.  Remember this similar framing about Pauli Murray in the New Yorker?  Tiresome.  Historians do know, of course, but public narratives make it tough to put people of color, and any women, front and center, and that’s why “no-one knows.”)

Documentary, Digital History and media projects:

Harvard’s Declaration Resources project, led by Danielle Allen, has multiple resources highlighted for the holiday.  Their blog includes a conversation with three authors of books about the Revolution for young readers, for example.  The free e-book, Fresh Takes on the Declaration of Independence can be downloaded here.   The extensive resources include a careful comparison of versions of the Declaration, and a discussion of the recent scholarly and press coverage of the “Sussex Declaration,” a rare manuscript parchment version of the document housed at the West Sussex Record Office in Chichester, England.

The New York Public Library shared Mark Boonshoft’s blog from earlier this year about the Boston-centricity of the Revolution’s history and the broader New England resistance that sometimes overlooks.  Boon shift highlighted some of the NYPL’s relevant, newly digitized collections such as 8 boxes of papers of the Boston Committee of Correspondence, a volume of minutes for meetings from the Long Island town of Brookhaven, and 7 boxes of papers of Sam Adams.  Irresistible reading.

The Library of Congress reminded all of us just how rough a rough draft can be.  Jefferson’s June 1776 rough draft of the Declaration is here.

Podcasts

Well, I’m only going to mention one at first– on Ben Franklin’s World Liz Covart interviews historians Danielle Allen, Peter Onus, and Patrick Spero on making and declaring independence.  There’s loads of great supplemental content on the OI Reader including texts, bonus audio, annotations and bibliography.  And shhhhh…. I’m sharing just with you that there’s a sneak peak of the OI Reader for iPhones as of today (already on tablets and all Android).  Not really making a big deal about that until September, but let us know what you think!

Also

There are plenty of historians and journalists who have published pieces on the meaning of the fourth in later historical periods or using the holiday to reflect on American patriotism.

For July 4th reflection it’s hard to do better than Frederick Douglass.  The AAIHS editors posted an abridged version of his 1852 speech in Rochester on Black Perspectives.  The Washington Post editorial board also emphasized Douglass this year, in “A 165 year-old Reminder of the Promise of July 4.

The LA Times reached for a slightly earlier 19th century history– the speculations (the work of God?) surrounding  the July 4 deaths of three presidents  (Adams and Jefferson in 1826, James Monroe in 1831.)

I strongly recommend AHA Executive Director Jim Grossman’s piece from 2015 on history and historical analysis as fundamental acts of patriotism— and the challenge of conveying that conjunction.

History is ours collectively.   It is the premise and the promise, but not easy or pretty.  What better way to spend the fourth than in contemplating these truths?

A Star-Spangled Metaphor

The Star Spangled Banner, the garrison flag that was stitched by Baltimore seamstress Mary Pickersgill and flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, is an American icon.  As a metaphor, perhaps it is as tired as the stitches that no longer keep the flag whole.  Backed by layers of structure supplied by the master conservators at the Smithsonian, the flag now rests at a 10 degree angle, under low light.  An online exhibit, “Star Spangled Banner:  The Flag that Inspired the National Anthem,” features an interactive exploration of the flag’s origins, its travels before arriving at the Smithsonian in the early twentieth century, and its recent conservation.

What makes this flag so compelling?  The combination of its origins, its long history as a family keepsake of the Fort McHenry commander and a precious relic of the young American nation, the anthem it inspired with its “broad stripes and bright stars,” and, as a material object, its history of public display all suggest the warm glow of American nationalism.  It pulls with it the colonial revival, the centennial and the bicentennial of the Revolution.  It helped to highlight the War of 1812 commemorations.   In 2013 the Maryland Historical Society sponsored a recreation of the flag that involved over 2,000 volunteers.

Repair Work on the Star Spangled Banner, 1914.  Smithsonian Archives.

What makes it such a powerful metaphor for both the early history and the enduring significance of American national values, however, is the way this tattered flag both embodies and reveals the difficult project of nationalism itself.  It survives and is viewed by more than a million people a year because it has been so carefully rebuilt.  The conservation strategies and technologies of successive eras have been brought to bear on the challenge of preserving this treasure.  Nineteenth-century patching and mending alternated with snipping bits to give as keepsakes.  In 1914, a few years after the flag came to the Smithsonian, expert Amelia Fowler supervised ten women who took eight weeks to attach a linen backing  (with 1.7 million stitches!) to stabilize it.  Decades of monitoring light, heat and dust, in its first fifty years of display at the Arts and Industry building, and then after  1964 when it was moved to a vertically in “Flag Hall” at the National Museum of American History, still left the flag in deteriorating condition.  A major effort from 1994-2008 included the creation of a separate, state of the art conservation lab.

In other words, the Star Spangled Banner was private property for a century, and since the early twentieth century has been an increasingly costly public works project.  Its endurance was first the result of soldiers at Fort McHenry, but since 1814 has been the work of countless professionals and volunteers.  The Star Spangled Banner could not be managed by one family; its endurance has required massive collective action.

But of course there is more to the metaphor than what the flag’s material condition has compelled.  Its layers of meaning go beyond the removal of the 1914 linen backing and the application of two new stabilizing layers nearly a century later.

This tattered flag symbolizes, in Francis Scott Key’s telling,  Americans’ fortitude in battle.  Although only the first stanza of the song is traditionally sung, it has four original stanzas.  The second, like the first, queries then extols the flag’s survival.  The third stanza turns from the victors to the vanquished.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Like the flag, the song was cherished in the nineteenth century ( Oliver Wendall Holmes even wrote a fifth stanza for it at the beginning of the Civil War) but became an American national tradition in the early twentieth century.  Just a few years after the flag was given to the Smithsonian, President Woodrow Wilson ordered it be played at military and other events, and in 1931 a law was passed recognizing the Star Spangled Banner as the American national anthem.

But what Key was writing about was hardly a straightforward account of a successful battle heralded by the flag’s survival.  Key’s history as a slave-owner, his experience with black British soldiers in the months before he observed Fort McHenry under attack, his pro-slavery rhetoric and work as the District Attorney in ante-bellum Washington DC , and the language of the anthem’s third stanza all point to the ways that the flag and the song are deeply embedded in the long history of race and racism in America.  In the Washington Post this week Margaret Jordan joined other voices concerned that “Too many Americans still don’t see Black history as their own.”  Or, put another way, American historical narratives still too rarely account for the braided nature of national failures and achievements.

The history of the Star Spangled banner reveals other layers, other histories:  women’s labor, for example, that made and tended and preserved the flag for centuries.  Native American dispossession, which was a dominant outcome of the War of 1812.  The point is this:  no American history is simple, nor could it be.  America at its best is honest about the past, and aspirational for the future.  The flag among flags can help us do both.

 

 

 

Catching Up with Atlantic Families #AtlFam17

My Spring graduate seminar on Atlantic Families is zooming through the semester– or at least, that’s what it feels like to me.  We’ve read and discussed approaches to the field of “family history,” some inherent contradictions between feminism and history, and the challenge of archival creation and resonances.   Now we’re well into a topical approach to considering how families shaped Atlantic worlds, and how Atlantic world dynamics shaped family structure, choices, and experiences.  Students (in pairs) are doing a terrific job of leading, and framing, the seminar discussions.

Our last readings focused on families and the creation of merchant trade networks and polities.  One of the most challenges books in any semester I’ve taught it is Francesca Trivellato’s The Familiarity of Strangers:  The Sephardic Diaspora, Livorno, and Cross Cultural Trade in the Early Modern Period (Yale, 2009).  I assign Trivellato’s book because it raises questions about how and when family connections, whether of choice or as compelled by law, drive economic action.  In the early modern period, global trade was particularly reliant on cultivating connections that would facilitate credit, and family was a, if not the, primary connection of value.  Trivellato asks whether “trust,” a concept associated with such familial networks, could be mobilized to scale as she looks at the enterprise of the Ergas and Silvera families (and their trade in such items as coral and diamonds).  Mostly a Mediterranean story, this book stretches the “Atlantic Families” concept geographically.  But it’s essential reading for the themes of family, trade, and state-building echoed in the same week’s readings, from Julia Adams on the Dutch state and Susanah Shaw Romney on Dutch settlement in early New York.

This week builds on these themes by looking to British law, particularly coverture, and the role of family strategies in response to law  in the formation of capitalism.  There is important work on early North American women regularly involved in complex finances (by Ellen Hardigan O’Connor and Sara Damiano among others), but this week we focus on England where the scholarship is somewhat denser and deeper.  I’ve assigned Amy Erickson’s essay on “Coverture and Capitalism”  approximately a gazillion times, but find it useful and thought-provoking.  This week I also read some of Erickson’s follow-on work that wasn’t assigned for the course, including an essay on “the Short History of the Mrs.”  Th constant here is that laws of marriage were created in the early modern period to serve– and then shape?–a specific economic and political form.  Thinking about how essential aspects of “family” connect to emerging “economy” is the key.

Assets rec’d by Penelope Nesbitt, widow of James Nesbitt of Barbados, 1749, in the Lascelles Slavery Archive at the Univ. of York

In the course we then start to connect both– economic structures and family strategies in the imperial centers– more directly to slavery and the Atlantic slave trade.  Because there is no history of early modern economy without a history of family.  And there is no history of either without the history of slavery and the slave trade.  A point I’m trying to make by bringing Simon Smith’s book on the Lascelles family is one that’s increasingly dense in both the scholarly literature and in public history in Britain:  Caribbean slavery in particular was deeply entwined with the British economy, and especially so as it turned the corner into modern capitalism– and with family economic strategies.  An on point example is the Lascelles Slavery Archive at the University of York, which draws on Smith’s work to contextualize the digital archive of materials related to the family’s interests in the Caribbean through the twentieth century.  Among the transcribed examples on the site is the sale of four men and one woman in the course of another woman’s, Penelope Nesbitt, settlement of her husband’s estate.  So much one could do with this singular piece of evidence, as the seminar knows from reading Marisa Fuentes on the archives of Barbadian slavery.

The themes of law and the constitution of race through the regulation of family (especially sexuality and marriage)  accelerate in the last third of the course.  Stay tuned!

 

Art, Feminism, and Intellectual Tourism

This week I got to see a painting I’d been admiring and thinking about for thirty years.  Artemisia Gentileschi’s (1593-c. 1656) c. 1638 self-portrait, La Pittura, is part of the “Portrait of the Artist” exhibit at the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace.   (The Standard called the show “dense and varied, often bizarre, consistently intriguing.”  I agree. ) Gentileschi was arguably the most important woman painter of the early modern period, an Italian painter who came to London in the 1630s under the patronage of Charles I, daughter of another Italian painter, and a rape survivor.  The records of her rape case also survive.  When some of Gentileschi’s other work was exhibited at the National Gallery from October to January last year, The Gurdian covered the basic story of how the rape (naturally) influenced her paintings, particularly Susanna and the Elders  and Judith and Holofernes.  The self-portrait, La Pittura, was painted more than a decade later, and makes a different statement.  While Susanna and Judith reflect aspects of the trauma and rage Gentileschi experienced, in La Pittura she portrays herself as the figural representation of painting (as no man could).  Strong, clever (in composition as well as affect), in this painting there is no-one to detract from Gentileschi herself.

I write this as an enthusiast, decidedly not an expert.  The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace is one of my favorite places in London.  I am only ever in London for work, and while the work I’m doing is lots of fun, including lately lots to do with the Georgian Papers Programme, I’m still trying to stick to a work schedule.  But the opportunity to spend a few hours with a painting I first learned about–and fell in love with– as an undergraduate was too good to pass up.

The lovely thing about this gallery is the intimacy.  It’s not only modestly sized (just three rooms for this show) but the art is displayed in close quarters.  No isolated position with obvious lighting, even for Gentileschi’s painting that covers the exhibition catalogue.  Rather, it, like all the other pieces, is positioned on a wall with other (very interesting) pieces.   I was visiting on a rainy Sunday afternoon in early March; perhaps things get more hectic at other times.  I only had to wait for a few other visitors until I could get closer to La Pittura and appreciate Gentileschi’s work alone (except for the gallery guard, who turned out to be a fan of this painting, too).  I spent enough time staring (again, inexpertly) at the components of the painting that I could wonder whether she meant the gold chain she wears to bear the emblem of imitation (the mask, eg, life imitates art) to look like links of tortoise shell?  That chain is so important to the painting’s thematic resonance.   Or, I can speculate about a link to maritime empires anywhere.

There are other of Gentileschi’s paintings that can rivet the attention, but for me this one was always the most compelling.  I’m sure it was such a revelation in part because I first encountered it, and her, as an undergraduate.  I took a took feminist art history with the great Mary Gerrard, who was at the time writing the first major study of Gentileschi.  Gerrard was my first experience with a professor who talked about their own research in any extended way.  That obviously shaped the course material, but it also shaped the way we studied the artists and their work.  This seemed like a front row seat for intellectual creation.  More recently, I’ve read a bit about other scholars’ perspectives on this vitally important artist.  Gerrard was among the very first generation of feminist art historians, and like all feminists in scholarly endeavors there have been retrospective assessments about what constituted feminism then/ now and for scholarly purposes.

Of course what I know about this subject could fit in a thimble.  That’s part of the joy of intellectual tourism–learning a little bit and then a little bit more.  It’s unlike the particular rewards of working in your own field, where you think within the context of much deeper and denser background.  It’s liberating, even a little bit reckless– I don’t know much, but I’m going to offer a thought about this.  After I started writing this post I discovered that “intellectual tourism” is actually a thing.  It refers to exactly the thing I was doing, visiting museums and other cultural sites to simulate thought as well as curiosity.  I’d love to know more about Gentileschi’s experience at court and how the art patronage of Charles I intersected with the North American histories that were unfolding simultaneously, for example.  The Royal Collection Trusts’s catalogue entry describes the likely acquisition of the painting by Charles I (evidenced by inventories of items that were recovered by Charles II) but it seems unclear when she actually painted it and when and whether she gave it to the king (or he requested it).  A technically and topically difficult piece, it would be fascinating to know why he found it compelling, too.

Years later I asked Mary Gerrard to talk to one of my classes on women in early modern Europe and America, and told her how important her class had been, and that it helped to make me an early modernist.  She talked with the students about Gentileschi, about women artists, and about the conventions of art and artists that had typically closed that work to most  women.  I think she thought, with that sort of pained way one approaches enthusiasts, that it was great I was so inspired but, really, I wasn’t much more sophisticated about art and art history than I had been as an undergraduate!  That’s okay by me.  I loved that class then, and I’m still loving it now.

Gerrard also wrote (and taught) about eighteenth-century artists Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun and Maria Cosway.  Both were represented in this show at the Queen’s gallery in interesting ways that could have been the basis of their own post.  In fact tweeting about Cosway, whose prints were part of a wonderful exhibit of women printers at the New York Public Library in 2015-16 and a couple of whose prints are in their digital collections is of course an endlessly complex subject, actually made me start thinking about having a blog.

Mary Knowles, Needlework picture. Royal Collection Trust c. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017.

One more note about art, feminism, and intellectual tourism.  Another piece in this exhibit is by the expert needlewoman Mary Knowles (1733-1807).  A Quaker, abolitionist, and intimate of Queen Charlotte, the Queen asked Knowles to create a needlework portrait of George III in 1771 (after the famous Zoffany).  She did, but then in 1779 she created this marvelous self-portrait in which she, like Gentileschi, is an artist at work.  In this piece, only a close up view of which does it any justice, she is stitching the portrait of the king.  She even very cleverly left a loose thread at his fingers.

 

Timeless, not Harmless

Do teachers, chefs, doctors and lawyers cringe at television depictions of their vocation?  Add this to the things I never thought I’d give more than a passing thought until I watched and then wrote about a show new to NBC this year called Timeless.  I wrote a semi-agonized piece that Perspectives on History, the American Historical Association’s magazine, published earlier this week.  When I started watching and then writing about the show, I was sort of amused by Lucy Preston, the weirdly Wikipedia-light version of a historian who is one of the main characters.  She seemed dopey, but the show’s out of step take on academia (Lucy’s tenure case was put on hold because her department didn’t think she was ready), historians and, well, history, seemed sadly like timeless as well as harmless caricatures.

By the second week in November, though, there wasn’t much left to be amused about.  I’ve never found history a refuge from the contemporary world or politics; like every human production, historical work is embedded in structures of power.  And I’ve always thought that historical research and writing is urgent civic work.  But the counterpoint of Lucy’s only mildly useful –or even informed– historical perspective and global situations so unmoored from critical historical contexts left me semi-paralyzed.  It took weeks before I could finish the essay, and a second full rewrite before I could figure out how to begin to articulate my discomfort with this character.

The basic premise of scholarship–the relationship between evidence and argument and how one assesses the constitution of each and their relationship– is utterly missing from this character’s work on the show.  Lucy mostly offers up dates or other details. Not that in the right moment those aren’t useful, but they’ve got to work in the service of a deeper analysis and larger conclusions.  At first it seemed weird to me that Lucy seemed so detached, except in what struck me as a superficial way, from the moral complexity both of her time traveling and the periods in which she found herself.  Then it started to seem pretty terrifying.

The good news:  I have a better sense of what I’d do if I could time travel.  That means I have a better purchase on the here and now, too.

From “Tempting Fate:  The Historian as Time Traveler” (Perspectives on History, February 2017):  “If you could time travel, would you? As a historian voyaging into history, would you soak up the atmosphere and interact with as many people as possible? Would you consciously fact-check, harvest sources, meditate on the interpretive potential of what you’d experienced, make radical change based on events you knew wouldn’t end well—all of the above? Or maybe you’d devote yourself to the mission of preventing change: “protecting” the history you have learned and taught. These are propositions, each with profound implications, that NBC’s hour-long drama Timeless treats so casually as to be sometimes funny and often painful.”  More

Reading Early Modern Atlantic Families

My Spring graduate seminar at William & Mary on the histories of families in the Early Modern Atlantic World takes up a historical challenge that’s familiar for me, and yet evergreen.  I’ve been reading, thinking, teaching and writing about family history and the intersections of gender, family, and sexuality for more than a quarter of a century.  I started reading family history in a seminar with Toby Ditz when I was in graduate school at Johns Hopkins, and have been talking intensively about comparative issues with some of my fellow JHU students, especially Julie Hardwick, and other colleagues since the 1990s.  With Julie and Bianca Premo I published in a cluster in History Compass, Rethinking Family, Gender, and Sexuality in the Early Modern Atlantic World” in 2010, and in 2013 Julie, Sarah Pearsall and I introduced and guest-edited an issue of the William and Mary Quarterly that followed a 2011 Omohundro Institute conference at the University of Texas.

You think I’d have come to some firm conclusions about family history by now!  I have, but they are mostly about the importance of continuing to explore the complexity of family.  Our introduction to  the WMQ issue on “Centering Families in Atlantic Histories” began with the observation that “every word in our title is open to interpretation.”  Perhaps none more than family and families.  I’m also very clear about the significant relationship between “family” (and here I use those startle quotes to indicate just how historically complex and yet how often flattened for strategic purposes that term is and has been) and the state.

As a field family history has a history and my seminar begins there, in interrogating the legacies and echoes of work by Lawrence Stone and others.  Doubtless a product of the ways I first began to grapple with issues around family, gender, and sexuality we also read a lot of comparative early modern European and colonial British American histories.  I still teach Lyndal Roper’s study of the gendered politics of the reformation The Holy Household: Women and Morals in Reformation Augsburg, for example.  Every time I read it I think about the issues around religion, morality, and gendered forms of civic discipline in new ways.  Lots of new work also informs the syllabus.  Questions about how archives shape what we know and how we know it have been important in many of my classes, but especially so in this one.

As I finalized the reading list this year I wondered if the basic premise (begin with the Stone age) would finally seem unworkable by next year.  Issues and subjects that were formative for me almost thirty years ago are still important, but need to make room for the challenging questions that are shaping the field and my own thinking now.  We shall see.

Meantime, check out the syllabus:  Spring 2017 HIST 715.  Then let me know what you think.  I’d love to hear suggestions about  ways that you would rearrange the topics, change emphasis, and add or subtract readings.  It’s too late for the students in #AtlFam17, as this seminar is stuck with what I’ve assigned, but I’m pretty sure that in addition to me, they and others will be interested in the feedback.

Reading #VastEarlyAmerica in the Georgian Papers

Johannes Kip, Map of Sierra Leone, 1732. University of Florida Map and Imagery Library

What can we learn about #VastEarlyAmerica from the archival collection at the very center of Anglo-imperial power?

Last week the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle opened access to the first tranche of materials in the Georgian Papers Programme.  Because the Omohundro Institute is a primary US partner of the GPP, I’ve been working on the project for two years; we have funded fellowships and digital humanities work, and are deeply engaged in a whole range of this major undertaking.  It’s important for all kinds of reasons I’ve written about over on the OI’s blog.

Now that the archival material is starting to appear online and fellows from the OI and King’s College are starting to write about their research, it’s time to think aggressively about the range of scholarship this archive can support.  As an historian of women and political culture, I’m used to prying information from archives oriented toward men and formal politics. As a scholar of family in the early modern Atlantic, one of my models for thinking about how archives can yield histories of family that decenter colonizers is Ann Marie Plane’s Colonial Intimacies: Indian Marriage in Early New England.

But the papers of George III?

Aside from the important political aspects of the American Revolution, how do we find the history of the world beyond England in the papers of George III? And in the papers of the Georgian monarchs, including George III, newly digitized as part of the Georgian Papers Programme, how do we locate the histories of people and subjects that seem to be on the margins of these most powerful, privileged people in the early modern British Atlantic world? What could we possibly do to learn about people and subjects seemingly far from the center and yet still within the grip of imperial authority and policies?  This is the ultimate reading against the archival grain challenge.

In part it’s easier–easy being relative–because of trailblazing work on turning the archives from a historian’s resource into a historian’s subject of analysis. It’s key to identify these trails, and how we can follow their lead. Scholars have been long indebted to Michel-Ralph Trouillot’s 1995 Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History for illustrating the ways in which the history of the Haiti and its revolution was silenced by the very work of history. Haiti’s archival remnants and the historians for whom Haiti’s history seemed quite literally unthinkable silenced its story.

In just the last year, three publications stand out for me. First, a special issue of Social Text on “The Question of Recovery: Slavery, Freedom and the Archive” edited by Laura Helton, Justin Leroy, Max Mischler, Samantha Seeley and Shauna Sweeney includes a roundtable on archive and methods. Second, an issue of The History of the Present edited by Brian Connolly and Marisa Fuentes explores “From Archives of Slavery to Liberated Futures.” The essays in these two issues alone show the depth and breadth of work that can be done from working in—and working against–established archives. Third, Fuentes delineates in her remarkable new book Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive the ways that the structures of power reflected in archival knowledge can be so easily reproduced in scholarship.   “Epistemic violence originates from the knowledge produced about enslaved women…and that knowledge is what survives in the archives.”  Working against those structures requires an unwavering attention.

I hope we can explore the Georgian Papers with these guides in mind. How is this most elite of institutions shaping what we know, and how we know it?  What is being said, or not, and in what frame, about the slave economy, colonialism, and abolition? Where can we find and map the connections of scientific correspondence with roots in native knowledge and communities? How can we extend the documentary materials on menus and food provisions to show the extensive connections and dependencies on the trade economy around and across the Atlantic? What can we learn about mental health and disability from one of the most fully chronicled (likely bipolar) cases? How can we pull the threads of fashion history to think in new ways about the history of the body and health?  Some of the fellows for the Georgian Papers are already exploring these possibilities.  Suzanne Schwarz has just written about beginning to discover the “Slave Trade, Slavery and Abolition in the Royal Archives, 1785-1810” and in particular divergent perspectives including those of the Duke of Clarence and his role in the African Institution and Sierra Leone.

Beyond the topics we explore, for me a vital question is how we can use this opportunity of archival creation (which is what’s happening as these documents become digitized and cataloged) to consider how we will work with and also how we might shape this archive.  As scholars and librarians working together at the OI, William & Mary and King’s start to map digital projects, I think there is enormous potential in the Georgian Papers for archival and methodological ambition.  Indeed, it will be a key measure of the Georgian Papers Programme that we are able to support that kind of ambition.

NB: The Georgian Papers Programme site for the US, for US-based work, and for #VastEarlyAmerica -focused scholarship and news is georgianpapers-us.wm.edu.

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