SHEAR 2017: Reflections on Creating the Past

This year’s SHEAR conference was my first, and as I reflect upon it I cannot help but note my appreciation for its intellectually invigorating atmosphere. As a junior scholar, it was exhilarating to see this community of historians jump off the pages of print and into the flesh, where they shared their work with candor and zeal. I consider myself fortunate to have attended SHEAR 2017, from which I departed with fresh ideas and lenses for future projects, not to mention the energy and inspiration necessary to reignite projects of the present. For those that were unable to attend this year’s conference, I and a few others provided live-tweet coverage of multiple panels under the #SHEAR2017 hashtag on Twitter.

At the conference I covered three panels, and although they spanned across a vast array of topics — from the complexities of marriage to embroiled frontier legal trials — one panel in particular prompted me to reconsider what these varied presentations all shared in common. It was panel 16, Creating the Past in the Early Republic: Critical Perspectives on the Cultural Production of History and Memory, that inspired me to look at this variety of presentations not as connected through their examination of the same American past, but through the shared present moment in which they were produced. By the time Creating the Past concluded, I found that the panel had shifted my framework for examining the presentations I had and would see at SHEAR; for me, the panel accomplished this in two specific ways.

First, Creating the Past’s discussion of historical methods in the Early Republic asks us to interrogate how we produce history in the present. The presentations of Michael Hattem (Yale University) and Karin Wulf (College of William & Mary) examined histories of antiquarians and genealogists, agents of the past who we still see in our present. The critical eye that both scholars lent to their subjects and to their subjects’ own interpretation of the past provided a crucial take-away for modern scholars of history — specifically one that asks us to take a similarly critical eye to the structures within which we “do” history. This point was perhaps most evident in Hattem’s presentation, which dissected intricate networks of exchange between historians, antiquarians, and their sponsors in the Early Republic. The network was a system of storing and sharing sources that imparted distinct challenges and biases upon historians of this period. As I listened to his paper, I wondered about how future historians will examine and critique our present methods of “doing” history, a question that only tugged at me further during Wulf’s paper on early New England genealogists. I found myself asking how we’ve come to define the parameters of real history in our present moment — a definition that often omits genealogy — and how valid these parameters actually are. How will historians 200 years from now sit in panels and turn a critical eye to our methods? Perhaps the more productive question to ask is whether or not historians of the present can take their ability to scrutinize the past and apply it to the current state of the field.

Second, the panel redefined the way we should consider the connections between the past and the contemporary moment. To this point, I found Whitney Martinko’s (Villanova University) presentation particularly thought-provoking. Focused on rethinking the production of historic space, Martinko’s paper demonstrated that the current of change flows in more directions than one, a departure from the notion of a set past and an influenced present. Through her discussion of how historic spaces can take on near-sacred dimensions, Martinko shows an alternate way of conceiving of understanding the past/present dichotomy. It is an alternative that blurs the distinctions we typically assume of both. Instead of belonging to a static past, Martinko’s historic spaces only become a part of “history” by way of later periods when businessmen, preservationists, and the visiting public bestow value upon them — and it is a type of value that is defined less by the historical past itself, and more by the contemporary moments in which it is interpreted.

This was a notion that held true to me when I thought beyond Martinko’s topic, and it began to bleed into my impressions of the other panels I attended at SHEAR. Even as I departed from the conference, I found myself mulling over fewer questions that were directly about the past itself. Struck by the wonderful complexities introduced by Creating the Past, I instead considered the tensions between different types of history, the growth to be achieved by greater self-reflection within the field, and the weighty influence of the present upon the past. Taken together, these considerations form the base for the newest critical lens I plan to carry with me as I approach fresh scholarship. As for my fellow scholars who are all focused on the past yet stuck living in the present, perhaps you will consider adopting it too.

Makiki Reuvers is a Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on the spaces of interaction between indigenous peoples and settlers on the southern Appalachian frontier in the late 18th century.

CFP: SHEAR 2018 in Cleveland

Call for Papers
SHEAR
Cleveland
18 – 22 July 2018

The 40th annual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic will convene July 18 – 22, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio.

The program committee invites proposals for sessions and papers exploring all aspects of and approaches to the history and culture of the early American republic, c. 1776-1861. We particularly encourage submissions that
• reflect the diversity of the past, but also address the most pressing issues of the present;
• fill gaps in the historical narrative and/or historiography;
• focus on pedagogy, public history, digital humanities, and other alternative methodologies;
• foster audience participation, feature pre-circulated papers, or assess the state of a given field.

Individual proposals will be considered, but the program committee gives priority to proposals for complete panels that include a chair and commentator. Attention should be given to forming panels with gendered, racial, institutional, and interpretive diversity, representing as well different professional ranks and careers. Individuals interested in serving as chairs or commentators should submit a one-page curriculum vitae. Please do not agree to serve on more than one proposed panel. The committee reserves the right to alter and rearrange proposed panels and participants. Please employ the guidelines available under the “Annual Meeting” menu at www.shear.org when preparing your proposal.

All submissions should be filed as one document (Word doc preferred), labeled with the first initial and surname of the contact person (e.g., “SmithJ2018”). All proposals must include

• Panel title and one-paragraph description of panel’s topic
• Email addresses and institutional affiliations for designated contact person and each participant
• A title and description in no more than 100 words for each paper
• A single-page curriculum vitae for each participant, including chairs and commentators
• Indication of any needs for ADA accommodation or requirement
• Indication of any audio-visual requests (please request only if A/V is essential to a presentation)

Deadline for submission is December 1, 2017. Please submit your proposals by email to the program committee co-chairs at mailto:shear2018@gmail.com with “SHEAR2018” in the subject line.

Lorri Glover, St. Louis University, co-chair
Ami Pflugrad-Jackisch, University of Toledo, co-chair
Sean Adams, University of Florida
Christopher Bonner, University of Maryland College Park
Emily Conroy-Krutz, Michigan State University
Vanessa M. Holden, Michigan State University
Johann Neem, Western Washington University
Honor Sachs, Western Carolina University
Christine E. Sears, University of Alabama at Huntsville
Chernoh Sesay, DePaul University
Christina Snyder, Indiana University Bloomington

SHEAR: A Model of Community, Engagement, and Support

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When I was asked to serve as a designated live-tweeter and write a blog post for SHEAR 2017, I was thrilled. I had been to SHEAR once previously and had enjoyed the experience. Moreover, I looked forward to helping share some of the exciting new scholarship on Twitter, having benefitted from others who live tweeted the conference in the past when I was unable to attend.

While at SHEAR, I attended some truly invigorating panels, focusing on everything from transnational speculation and state formation to imagining native futures, from life insurance and minimizing risk to the class dimensions of negotiating marital boundaries, and from the president’s cabinet to how to teach the early republic in the age of Trump. (You can find my live tweets by clicking on the Twitter hashtags #PN15, #PN22, #PN29, #PN36, #PN42, and #PN45.) I left SHEAR invigorated, with great suggestions and inspiration for my own work – and new ideas for teaching the early republic.

Initially, I planned to write a blog post recapping one of the panels I had attended and focusing on some of this new scholarship that was particularly fascinating for me. But, as I planned out this blog post and spoke to friends and colleagues about my experience at SHEAR, I kept returning to one aspect of the conference in particular: the level of engagement, community, and support at SHEAR is unparalleled, particularly for graduate students and early career scholars. I soon realized that this aspect of the conference deserved attention.

Most conferences, even the ones that consciously work to support graduate students, don’t come close to the level of engagement and support that SHEAR provides. When I attended my first SHEAR (in Raleigh in 2015), I was impressed by the turnout to different panels – some were standing room only, though I noted that much of the draw seemed to be “big names” on the panels. This year, I paid more attention to the makeup of the panels and the resulting audiences and was even more impressed. Rarely do you find a conference where senior scholars are not only chairs of panels or participating in roundtables but also actively attending other panels and engaging with the work of graduate students and other early career scholars.

As a graduate student who is in the depths of writing my dissertation, I am greatly appreciative of opportunities to receive this level of feedback, engagement, and advice. Following in Lindsay Chervinsky’s shoes, I’d like to offer a few observations about SHEAR’s high levels of engagement, community, and support and why graduate students and early career scholars in particular benefit from attending.

  1. Support of graduate students. This seems like an easy thing to do, and many conferences offer similar graduate lunches or reduced conference registration rates for graduate students. However, one of the things that stands out about the SHEAR experience as a graduate student is the fact that panels that are largely (or wholly) made up of graduate students are just as well attended as panels with more senior scholars. Not only are the panels well attended, but the audience is engaged, providing graduate students with the opportunity to get some real feedback.
  2. The participants. Like Lindsay said in her blog post about the roundtable that she attended, this aspect of the conference is not as easy to replicate. SHEAR brings together a group of scholars who are excited about new scholarship, open to new and diverse approaches, and supportive of scholars just starting out. From discussions that I was privileged to have with some scholars who have been attending SHEAR for years, I’ve realized that this level of support for new fields and ideas was a conscious effort by many individuals within SHEAR to change the status quo. Because of these individuals, SHEAR is a place where a graduate student or early career scholar working in an area that is new (and perhaps not fully understood by the profession as a whole) can present and receive valuable feedback. Not only that, but reflecting on the president’s plenary reveals that SHEAR’s commitment to supporting new approaches extends to a space typically reserved for very senior scholars.
  3. Support of early career scholars. One need look no further than the second book workshops and the roundtable on how not to write your second book to recognize that SHEAR is committed to supporting the careers of younger scholars. While I may not have attended either of these, I heard from others who did attend how helpful they were – and how invigorating the experience was.
  4. Opportunities to network with senior scholars. What stands out about the opportunities that SHEAR offers for networking with senior scholars in the field is that they are all relatively low-stakes. Perhaps the best example of this (although it is limited to women!) is the Boydston Women’s Breakfast. Having breakfast with a host of other scholars, both early career and established, is an informal way to start to form relationships, to hear about the experiences of older scholars, and to receive some advice. The different receptions that SHEAR hosts feel much the same, with more established scholars open to in-depth discussions with junior scholars – whether about research and writing, life balance, or the job market. In fact, one of the best and most productive conversations that I had at SHEAR was actually a conversation on the shuttle returning from the presidential reception on Saturday night, a conversation that gave me new ideas about how I might apply my research to the job market. Opportunities like this abound for graduate students at SHEAR.

The level of engagement, support, and community at SHEAR deserves recognition. Graduate students and early career scholars in particular have the potential to greatly benefit from attending SHEAR. Moreover, other conferences can and should build on SHEAR’s example and actively work to build an engaged, supportive community of scholars.

Mandy Cooper is a Ph.D. candidate at Duke University. Her dissertation research focuses on the role of families in the larger project of nation building in the decades between the Revolution and the Civil War.

A Roundtable Done Right: The Art of History in an Age of Revolutions

Now that I am back from a very exciting SHEAR weekend, I have been reviewing my notes and processing all of the ideas that percolated during three days of panels. Not only do I have great suggestions for my own work, but I am inspired by other projects and methods I observed over the weekend.

While I enjoyed all of the panels I attended, one in particular grabbed my attention. Panel 20: The Art of History in an Age of Revolution was fantastic. Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw presided over a panel that included Zara Anishanslin (University of Delaware), Jane Kamensky (Harvard University), Cathy Kelly (University of Oklahoma and the Journal of the Early Republic), and Paul Staiti (Mt. Holyoke College). Ann Fabian (Rutgers University) provided an insightful comment at the end.

Yet this was no ordinary panel, it was really more of a roundtable. Each participant shared a piece of art, or a few, from their work and then explained how they use it to unlock a story or approach to history. Anishanslin shared a portrait of Anne Shippen Willing. She explained how she used the portrait to create an imagined community between the subject (Willing), the painter (Robert Feke), the weaver of the silk (Simon Julins), and the artist behind the silk design (Anna Garthwaite). By exploring these individuals, she was able to reveal deep connections between various communities in the eighteenth century Atlantic World. Jane Kamensky showed a portrait of John Singleton Copley and told the story of his life in the middle—the middle of communities, the middle of families, and the middle of empires. Paul Staiti showed a portrait of George Washington and compared many of its features to a famous portrait of King George III. These pictures replaced the images that defined the British Empire and suggested what a republic should look like. Cathy Kelly ended by exploring a republic created from taste by also showing a series of portraits. Kelly argued that “taste” told Americans where to look, how to view things around them, and to read text. For example, a portrait of George Washington guided citizens how to shape their identity and replicate his greatness.

After the short presentations Ann Fabian asked a few questions to start the conversation. How do visuals differ depending on what artist or figure we consider? When analyzing an image and its historical significance, how do you get from looking and seeing to fighting and working? Who and what do visuals leave out? Given the deluge of image in today’s society, are students good interpreters of visuals? How have they surprised you with their interpretations?

The conversation with the audience largely centered around how to use visuals in the classroom and why more historians need to engage with visuals (and do so more effectively). The discussion was riveting and I encourage you reach out to the panels for their thoughts and read the tweets on the panel by many of the audience members. (See #PN20 on Twitter). I also storified my live tweets from this panel.

As an audience member, I had some observations about why this panel was so compelling. This panel was the last of a long day of sessions and stood in between the audience and cocktails. Yet, the audience was captivated, so clearly the panelists did a few things right. I have four take-aways for future panels.

  1. The participants. Unfortunately this suggestion makes the panel hard to replicate. The panelists were special. They are established, successful historians that can speak to both scholarship and teaching. They were funny, engaging, passionate, and some of the smoothest presenters I have seen. The combination of art historians and historians that use art proved to be particularly useful to the conversation as well.
  2. It was clear the panelists had discussed the structure and goals of the panel beforehand. Or the organizer did a fantastic job laying down the law. Each presenter spoke for no more than a few minutes and with the common goal of using art to show research methods, teaching strategies, and make an argument about the “Age of Revolutions.”
  3. The audience asked questions, they did not proselytize or provide comments. I know this complaint is evergreen, but it was refreshing to hear an audience that genuinely wanted to engage the panelists.
  4. The commenter provided open-ended questions for the panelists to consider and the panelists actually responded to them and to one another. They did not ramble off topic. One person did not dominate the conversation. They gave thoughtful, detailed responses, but were mindful of the length at which they spoke.

There has been much discussion in SHEAR and other organizations about how to liven up conferences and move away from the paper presentation format. This panel demonstrated one option for alternative formats that although difficult to recreate, can be wildly successful when done right.

Lindsay M. Chervinsky is a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis in January 2017 and is currently working on her manuscript titled “The President’s Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution.”

SHEAR 2017: HSP Hours & Free Admission

As in the past, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania will open early (10am) on the Thursday of SHEAR, July 20.  On both Thursday and Friday, library admission will be free to registered conference attendees; please show a conference badge or registration confirmation along with a photo ID when you sign in. (General admission is always free for students with ID, and $8.00 for others.)

If you haven’t been to HSP within the last five years, you’ll need to fill out a new registration form; you can download and print the form here to fill out ahead of time if you wish.

HSP has scheduled extra staff for paging but wait times may be longer than usual due to a high volume of researchers.

General Information:

  • Research hours on Thursday and Friday will be 10am to 5:30 pm, with last admission and last call slips accepted at 4:45.
  • You may bring in anything that opens on three sides like a book: laptops, loose papers, notebooks, legal pads, index cards, phones, tablets, etc.
  • No pens, highlighters, food, or drink in the library.
  • Anything that closes like a backpack, briefcase, or purse may not enter the library (except in cases of medical need); HSP has approximately 80 lockers in the lobby, but if you have a room at the Doubletree it would be best to leave bags there if you can.
  • Microfilm machines accept flash drives for saving images from film.
  • Photography without the use of a flash is permitted for non-commercial use.
  • Photocopies are $0.50/page, and may not be available on the same day depending on the volume of researchers.
  • HSP has a café area available for researchers with a fridge, microwave, water cooler, and a Keurig coffee maker (pods available at the front desk for $1.00)

#SHEAR17 Social Media Recommendations

For attendees who use Twitter during the annual meeting this week, we recommend using the official conference hashtag #SHEAR17 to make conversations easy to follow.

In addition, if you tweet about an individual session, we recommend adding a second hashtag in the form #PN[number]. Tweets about, e.g., Panel 53, “The Public Language of Class in America,” should end in the hashtags #SHEAR17 #PN53. Using both tags will make it easier for other users to follow and engage in the conversation.

Please also remember to respect panelists’ wishes regarding social media broadcasting. If they or the session chair ask that a presentation not be shared on social media, please respect their request.

SHEAR 2017: Less Than One Week Away!

Dear SHEARites, it’s less than a week until our 39th annual meeting opens in Philadelphia and I have a few updates and reminders to share with you.

  • Pre-registration is now closed. You may register on-site but please remember that we can accept only cash or checks, no credit cards.
    • Thursday registration from 5:00 to 7:30 pm at Golkin 100, Michael A. Fitts Auditorium, UPenn Law School, 3501 Sansom St.
    • Friday, Saturday, Sunday registration at the DoubleTree
  • For Saturday’s Presidential Address and Awards Reception:
    • Free shuttle vans will make a continuous loop between the DoubleTree and the Independence Seaport Museum, 211 S. Christopher Columbus Boulevard, from 5:00 until 8:00 p.m. Return trolleys will begin shuttling back to the hotel between 9:00 pm until 10 pm.
    • If you prefer to make your own way:
      • Subway: Take the Market Street Line east to 2nd Get off and walk south two blocks to Walnut Street, turn left, and walk across the Walnut Street bridge.  The Independence Seaport Museum is the building on the right once you have crossed the bridge.
      • Bus: Walk to Chestnut Street and take either the 21 or 42 bus east.  Get off at 2nd Street, walk south one block to Walnut Street, turn left, and walk across the Walnut Street bridge.  The Independence Seaport Museum is the building on the right once you have crossed the bridge.
      • Walking from the Doubletree: Walk one block north to Walnut and turn right.  Follow Walnut for fourteen blocks; once you have crossed the Walnut Street bridge, the Independence Seaport Museum is the building on the right.
    • A reminder that HSP is offering free admission to conference-goers next week and the Museum of the American Revolution is offering discounted tickets to registered conference-goers from 19 to 23 July.

I send you traveling mercies and look forward to seeing you in Philadelphia next week. If you need anything before then, please e:mail me at robyn.davis@millersville.edu.

Warmest regards,

Robyn Lily Davis

SHEAR National Conference Coordinator

SHEAR 2017: Conference Pre-Registration Ends This Friday

If you are planning to attend SHEAR’s annual meeting in Philadelphia later this month, remember that pre-registration closes this Friday, July 7. Please also note that on-site registration is possible, but you must pay with cash or check (no credit cards), and there is an additional $30 fee as well.

Indians in the Family: Adoption and the Politics of Antebellum Expansion

Dawn Peterson is an assistant professor of early North American and U.S. history at Emory University. She is the author of the new book Indians in the Family: Adoption and the Politics of Antebellum Expansion (Harvard Univ. Press, 2017).

In 1813, Andrew Jackson invaded the Upper Creek Nation (in what is now the state of Alabama), ordered his troops to “destroy” an entire village of approximately 300 people, and then, in the aftermath, sent a surviving Creek infant home to his plantation household. He told his wife that he felt an “unusual sympathy” for the orphaned child and ordered his son to “adopt” the boy into the family. The child came to be called Lyncoya and lived in Jackson’s plantation household in Nashville for nearly 15 years before dying of tuberculosis around the age of 16. While Andrew Jackson characterized his feelings for Lyncoya as “unusual,” his behavior reveals an understudied post-Revolutionary phenomenon. Between the U.S. Revolution and the Indian Removal Act of 1830, a number of prominent U.S. whites, many of whom were slaveholders, incorporated American Indian children into their homes.

For white adopters, incorporating Native youths in their homes coincided with federal initiatives aimed at assimilating Indian people—and their lands—into the United States’ expanding national borders. In the face of highly organized pan-Indian resistance movements and longstanding transatlantic Native commercial and military alliances, Jeffersonian “civilization” policies emphasized the utility of using non-military strategies to incorporate Indian nations into the United States’ free white populace. Influenced by such popular initiatives, prominent white men—and in a few cases, women—saw their own familial homes as schools in which to educate Native boys and girls in the patriarchal property values, nuclear family structures, and male-headed agricultural practices that underpinned white male citizenship in a pro-slavery settler democracy.

Yet, this is only one part of the story. Many of the children living in white homes were actually sent there by influential Native guardians, who had their own aims in mind. As the United States tried to claim Indian lands for “white” settlement between the 1790s and 1830, this select group of American Indian women and men utilized whites’ adoptive desires to expose children to the language and literacy skills and economic cultures that would potentially support Native sovereignty struggles. By the early 1800s, a small group of Southeast Indians saw white slaveholders’ interests in incorporating Native boys into their plantation homes as especially useful. As U.S. planters rapidly invaded Southeast Indian homelands, these Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Creek women and men sent sons to live in slaveholding households to learn the plantation educations that supported political and economic power in an expanding slaveholding South. In so doing, they hoped to use racial slavery as a means to empower themselves, their sons, and their tribal nations against the white slaveholders who coveted their homelands.

The complex array of commitments exhibited by white adopters, Native guardians, and adopted children reveals the ways that U.S. whites and American Indian people engaged ideas about kinship in the service of both empire and resistance. Even further, it demonstrates how a set of racialized and kin-based ideologies prioritizing white settlement and racial slavery both inspired adoptive impulses on the part of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century elites and set the stage for the territorial contests that would come to a head in the War of 1812 and finally culminate in the Indian Removal Act of 1830. At first, prominent U.S. whites believed that adopting Indians into white families—and, indeed, into a free white “national family”—seemed the most humane and efficient means to open Indian lands for white settlement and plantation slavery. Yet this plan began to deteriorate during the War of 1812. The war by and large ended Indian people’s trans-Atlantic affiliations and effectively crushed pan-Indian military alliances. Even still, Indian people continued to resist incorporation into the United States. Indeed, even adopted and putatively assimilated Indian men and women did not act as U.S. whites hoped they would. These youth frequently returned to their tribal nations, where they supported autonomous indigenous economies and state formations, which, in the Southeast, became increasingly based on the slave-driven production of export agriculture. Scrambling to foreclose upon these pro-slavery sovereignties in the 1820s, leading whites began to eschew Jeffersonian assimilation initiatives, calling for Indians’ expulsion to lands west of the Mississippi. Andrew Jackson himself famously led this charge. According to the logics of his 1830 Removal Act, if Indians refused to join the United States as adopted and assimilated subjects, then they had to leave their eastern homelands.

As our current president seeks to recover the supposedly humanitarian propensities of men like Andrew Jackson, the stories of white adoptions of Native American youths importantly highlight the violence that underpinned everyday interactions between Jackson and other prominent antebellum whites and the people of American Indian and African descent they sought to dominate and control. Indeed, rather than white adopters of Native children acting benevolently, U.S. whites proceeded in ways that they believed would secure their racial authority. In their scramble to maintain white supremacy both within and outside of their homes, however, white adopters unintentionally enabled new Native resistance strategies, ones that would subsequently reshape antebellum federal Indian policy, giving it some of the very contours that persist it to this day.

JER Social Media Rollout: Hashtags to Know and Love

Over at The Panorama, JER editor Cathy Kelly has written a post about the journal’s social media effort. SHEAR members are encouraged you to read about the relevant social media hashtags that the JER will be using and to become acquainted with the journal’s new social media editor, Dr. Nora Slonimsky.