The Past is Always Urgent

This site is a space for me to write about the things, minute and major, that I’m thinking about in the course of my research and teaching.  I regularly tweet references to scraps of historical evidence or profound interpretive arguments, but often there is a lot more to say than 140 characters can contain, and often less than a post for the Omohundro Institute or another blog.

But why “Vast Early America?”   There isn’t anything in my life as a historian that isn’t connected in some way to an expansive view of early American studies.

I wrote more specifically about #VastEarlyAmerica at the beginning of January of 2016 for the Omohundro Institute’s blog.  “Vast Early America” expresses the capaciousness of early America—the geographically expansive, multi-disciplinary study of the early modern world, Atlantic and beyond.  At the Omohundro Institute, Vast Early America expresses our collective commitment to thinking about early America in the broadest and most inclusive sense.  This includes the important pre-history of the United States, but views that pre-history through a wide-angle lens.  “Vastness” isn’t only about space, or even time (early America is a many-centuries field) but also about getting close up to people whose experiences traditional historical accounts have overlooked or subordinated.

But this is an ongoing evolution of early American studies.  We can see an interest in a broad vision from the first issue of the William and Mary Quarterly’s third series in 1944.  As Josh Piker noted, “perhaps the changing horizons of the early American field look less like getting lost than staying the course.”

In its embrace of this expansive vision of early America, the OI reflects the intense creativity and analytical energy of the field.  You can see just how expansive this history is by exploring the OI’s publications, conferences, and other programs.

Like many others in the field, my thinking about “vastness” developed over time; you can read about this evolution in several publications.  In 2011 I guest-edited an issue of the OAH Magazine of History dedicated to “Colonial America.”  In my forward, “What’s Colonial and Which America?” and my introduction, “No Boundaries?  New Terrain in Early American History” but mostly in the great work of the article authors– Juliana Barr, Christopher Hodson and Brett Rushforth, and Paul Mapp–you can see my vantage on the field.

Before that OAH Magazine issue, Christopher Grasso and I, then the Editor and Book Review Editor of the William and Mary Quarterly, pondered some of these historiographical currents in a 2008 essay for the Journal of American History titled “Nothing Says Democracy Like a Visit from the Queen”: Reflections on Empire and Nation in Early American Histories.”


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