About this site

Thanks for stopping by.  Here you can read my research shorts, which I call tidbits, and longer pieces I’ve stashed in the trove. I’ve also shared links to my writing from elsewhere as well as audio and video from recent presentations.

Is the world more complex and challenging than ever?  For some of us, yes; for others of us, the world has always been just this complex and challenging or more so.  The volume of information we can access or that is thrust upon us can make it seem like all of a sudden things are happening, and it’s all new and all newly intense.  History is helpful both for putting the kinds of issues we confront into perspective (this isn’t new, or this actually is new) and for helping us see how we have arrived at this moment.

This is a space to share my musings, my research, and my writing on subjects that range across early America, books and reading, history, the humanities, and libraries.  I’m interested in what we know, and why we know it–how we have come to know some things and not others, which is why I write about archives and libraries and historiography.  I’m passionate about the importance of seeing early America as a complex, diverse, often violent place that sits at the foundation of a great experiment in democracy.  

I’m also a fiend for the synergy of reading and writing.  I want to know more about how and why we read, how that has a specific context and history, and what role books in particular are playing in our world right now.  I read about writing, and I write about reading.

You’ll find here blog posts, tidbits or in the trove, about all of these subjects, tagged by topic, as well as lots of images related both to my research and to my work in one of the world’s great research libraries.

I’m so glad you’re here.  I hope you’ll enjoy what you find, and that you’ll share your responses on social media or by contacting me directly.


Just about every day I come across research tidbits or selections of writing that strike me as interesting or worth more thought than I can give them right then.  But I’d still like to share.  That’s what this space is for.  It’s a bit like a commonplace book, a genre I have read and written about for decades.

What’s Missing

If you spend any time at all in archives of early American material, you will stumble over genealogies. Lots of ways and types of producing

The Watermans in Your Pocket.

“Hannah Waterman Her Book and Hand wrote at Warwick January 14 AD 1770” is a family record book, just 16 pages, comprised of folded and

Benjamin Franklin, Genealogist.

It’s a good day to note that Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, the famous progenitor of the self-made man, the independent, meritorious American (okay we know that’s

Virginia’s Inheritances

This past week the Washington Post published a terrific piece of investigative reporting by Julia Weil on the Coles family and what they inherited in

Family Connection

Nov 16, 2022 Genealogy
Genealogy is not just an activity that people are doing now; obviously genealogical work has a history or I wouldn’t be writing a book about

The Forger’s Family Records

Nov 4, 2022 Uncategorized
With the Netflix documentary, Murder Among the Mormons, putting forger Mark Hofmann back in the news, I’m reminded of an early American connection between family


When I started this blog about 6 years ago, I wanted a space where I could write somewhat casually.  I love writing for other outlets and for specific audiences, including in my position now at the John Carter Brown Library and Brown University and previously at the Omohundro Institute and William & Mary.  But here I’m just writing about whatever strikes me – and without the benefit of an editor!

“Elliot of Kellynch-Hall”

I’m no Austen scholar, and although I’ve been reading Austen for what seems like forever, given the expertise and extraordinary creativity of real Austen fans

Social Media is Listening in Community

I see lots of folks pondering what the major transitions at Twitter will mean for the communities of conversation they built up on that site.

Why “Vernacular Genealogy?”

Nov 4, 2022 Uncategorized
On my new Instagram account I’m posting images of genealogical objects–mostly texts, printed or manuscript, but also art and other materials–that I’ve come across in

Back to blogging

Nov 4, 2022 Uncategorized
I’m back to blogging. Or, more accurately, I’m back to having a space to blog.   Thanks to the good folks at Colour Outside, this site

Under Construction

Jun 16, 2021 Uncategorized
I’ve been writing lots in the last months, most of it for a forthcoming book and some of it elsewhere (Smithsonian, Scholarly Kitchen). I’ve also

Please Have a Big Helping of History

Nov 26, 2020 Uncategorized
I find Thanksgiving an especially challenging holiday. In my family it’s always been billed as the holiday we can all agreed on. With a diversity

Set Forth A Reckoning?: July 4th Roundup

Jul 4, 2020 Uncategorized
As soon as I started this blog, I knew I’d be writing about July 4th writing (and listening, and watching). This is a time of

Centering the Archives of Early America; or, Teaching Vast Early America in a COVID-19 Semester

May 25, 2020 #VastEarlyAmerica, Teaching
Archives and scholarship are crucially linked as historical phenomena and intellectual practices –a relationship essential to understanding the history and historiography of (Vast)

Time’s Convert in Vast Early America: Some Readings and Resources (Part 1)

Jan 1, 2020 Uncategorized
For fans of Deborah Harkness’s All Souls world, 2019 brought two wonderful treats.  For those of us in the U.S., we finally got access to

Vast Early America for 2019

Jul 14, 2019 Uncategorized
Vast Early America is a phrase I coined in 2016 to use as a hashtag, but #VastEarlyAmerica isn’t of my making, of course. This way

Frayed Fourth: A Roundup for 2019

Jul 4, 2019 Uncategorized
It’s a bit of a gray day here in the mid-Atlantic, probably not the best weather for fireworks. July 4th writing, though, is no respecter

Teaching Vast Early America (Take 1)

Jan 1, 2019 Uncategorized
How vast is Vast Early America, and how can we teach it? Long story short: embrace the challenge. A graduate seminar, with

Slavery in New England
(Public Reading Series)

Oct 13, 2018 Uncategorized
This week the Early American Reading Series discussed Wendy Warren’s New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America.

Writing Fourth: A Roundup for 2018

Jul 4, 2018 Uncategorized
Writing about July 4th is a distinct opportunity to assert and to wrestle with American ideas and the practices. A round-up of writing about

Fish Guts. Or, How to read a Book, a Sentence, and a Page.

Feb 16, 2018 Uncategorized
Editor’s Note:  Last month I offered a guide to the quick and dirty business of gutting a book.  Composed mainly for the benefit of graduate


Feb 3, 2018 Uncategorized
In early December a teenage boy who has been a part of our family’s close community for a decade, the same age as my younger

Efficient Reading

Jan 31, 2018 Uncategorized
This blog post’s real title is “How to Gut a (Scholarly) Book in 5 Almost-easy Steps,” but I kind of can’t bear “gut” as a

The Revolution in Bricky Reds

Jan 15, 2018 Uncategorized
In the fall I shared a primary source packet I created for the community reading group I host at the Omohundro Institute throughout the year.

Civic Engagement (with a Source Packet)

Nov 7, 2017 Uncategorized
When learning to discern is endangered, getting general audience readers to engage with primary sources along with historical scholarship is a useful civic action.

Hey! Scholarly Publishing is a Business #NACBS17

Nov 3, 2017 Uncategorized
Some Scholarly Publishing basics (with links) for a grad student audience at the Nov. 2017 meeting of the North American Conference of British Historians. #NACBS17

Writing Fourth: Roundup for July 4th

Jul 4, 2017 Uncategorized
We should be reading, writing and thinking about history every day, but this holiday particularly inspires and provokes. I’ve rounded up some of the

A Star-Spangled Metaphor

Jul 2, 2017 Uncategorized
July 4th is a national holiday that ought to be as straightforward as they come. But it’s not. Because nothing is.

Catching Up with Atlantic Families #AtlFam17

Mar 12, 2017 Uncategorized
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

Art, Feminism, and Intellectual Tourism

Mar 5, 2017 Uncategorized
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

Timeless, not Harmless

Feb 19, 2017 Uncategorized
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

Reading Early Modern Atlantic Families

Feb 11, 2017 Uncategorized
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

Reading #VastEarlyAmerica in the Georgian Papers

Feb 10, 2017 Uncategorized
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

Pacific Views: Early California Population Project

Jan 8, 2017 #VastEarlyAmerica
I think about #VastEarlyAmerica a lot, and I’ve returned many times to Steve Hackel’s work on early California.  When Steve’s book, Children of Coyote, Missionaries of

Serendipity and Digital Collections

Jan 3, 2017 Digital Humanities
One of my favorite things to do on a weekend morning is to scan library websites for newly digitized materials, and for digital collections and

Slavery and (fictional) Georgian Britain

I’ve been reading Imogen Roberts’ Crowther and Westerman series of mysteries set in and around 1780s London.  In part because of the Omohundro Institute’s work

Discoverability, Edwardian Style

Dec 27, 2016 Digital Humanities
(From the OI’s blog, March 29, 2016) Discoverability is an essential concept for modern researchers, and a high priority for authors, librarians, and publishers. Making scholarship

#VastEarlyAmerica and Origins Stories: WMQ 1:1

Sep 20, 2016 #VastEarlyAmerica
(From the OI’s Blog, Feb 22, 2016) What started me thinking more seriously about the first issue of the William and Mary Quarterly was the typescript of


I keep up a decent schedule of writing and speaking in various venues, mostly for my job but also as a research historian. You can read, listen, or view much of that work here.

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