CFA: SHEAR 2017 Graduate Research Seminars

SHEAR is pleased to open registration for the 3rd annual graduate student research luncheon seminars.  Reserve your spot for a free catered luncheon facilitated by two senior scholars in the field on Friday, July 21, 2017.

These seminars permit grad students and senior faculty to discuss common themes, important areas of research, and the challenges faced by scholars in the field.  Conversations in each group may turn alternately to subjects like archives, methodologies, and important secondary literature in their area. Best of all, these seminars help participants to network amongst like-minded scholars, and to find potential partners for organizing panels for future conferences.

Eligibility:

  • The program and lunch are free, but you must be registered for the conference.
  • You need to be currently enrolled in a graduate program or have received an AY 2016-2017 degree.
  • If necessary, preference will be given to those who did not participate in last year’s graduate seminars and who do not already appear on the conference program.

Sessions:

  • Native Americans and Borderlands led by Alan Gallay (Texas Christian University) and Denise Bossy (University of North Florida)
  • Politics and Diplomacy led by John Belohlavek (University of South Florida) and Gene Allen Smith (Texas Christian University)
  • Race and Slavery led by Graham Russell Gao Hodges (Colgate University) and Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor (Smith College)
  • Science, Disasters, and Popular Culture led by Susan Branson (Syracuse University) and Cynthia Kierner (George Mason University)

Each seminar is limited to 12 students. We aim to assign participants to their first choice; but if that session fills early, we will accommodate participants in other sessions. To apply, please email a dissertation abstract (250 words max) to egertodr@lemoyne.edu or foughtlk@lemoyne.edu by May 15th.  Include your graduate program (advisor, department, university), expected completion date, and your first and second seminar choice.

The Bible in the Political Culture of the American Founding

Daniel L. Dreisbach is a professor at American University in Washington, D.C. He has authored or edited 10 books, including Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers (Oxford University Press, 2017), from which this article is adapted. You can follow him on Twitter.

The American founders read the Bible. Their many quotations from and allusions to both familiar and obscure scriptural texts confirm that they knew the Bible from cover to cover.  Biblical language and themes liberally seasoned their rhetoric. The phrases and cadences of the King James Bible, especially, informed their written and spoken words. Its ideas shaped their habits of mind and informed their political pursuits.

The Bible was an accessible and authoritative text for most eighteenth-century Americans; and effective communicators, especially politicians and polemicists, adeptly used it to reach their audiences. The mere fact that a founder quoted the Bible does not indicate whether that individual was a Christian or a skeptic. Both, including some who doubted the Bible’s divine origins, appealed to Scripture in their political discourse.

The founding generation, in the last third or so of the eighteenth century, drew on diverse intellectual traditions in forming their political thought. Among them were British constitutionalism, Enlightenment liberalism (in manifold forms), and classical and civic republicanism. Deserving to be studied alongside these perspectives, I contend in my book, Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers (2017), is a biblical tradition, both Hebraic and Christian.

In a now-famous study published in the American Political Science Review on the influence of European writers on the political literature of the founding, Donald S. Lutz reported that the Bible was cited more frequently than any European writer or even any European school of thought. The Bible, he found, accounted for approximately one-third of the citations in the literature he surveyed. The book of Deuteronomy alone was the most frequently cited work, followed by Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws, the most cited secular source. In fact, Deuteronomy was referenced nearly twice as often as Locke’s writings, and the Apostle Paul was mentioned about as frequently as Montesquieu.

Are these many references to Christianity’s sacred text merely rhetorical ornaments without substantive significance? Should students of the founding be attentive to the Bible’s influence on the political and legal developments of the period? Did the founders, in short, use the Bible in ways that mattered? One can acknowledge that the founding generation read and referenced the Bible and simultaneously doubt that the Bible exerted consequential influence on the founders’ political and legal projects.

Simply counting and documenting the founders’ many references to the Bible tells us little except that the Bible was a familiar and useful literary resource for this generation. In my book, I move beyond the observation that the founders frequently cited the Bible and examine how the founders used the Bible and how it may have influenced the founding project. Which biblical texts, I ask, appealed to these Americans, and why did they think these texts were pertinent to them in their time and situation?

A study of the founding generation’s uses of the sacred text must be attentive to the purposes for which these Americans invoked the Bible and not merely to the fact that they read and frequently referenced it. The founders used the Bible for diverse reasons, ranging from the primarily literary, rhetorical, or political to the profoundly theological. The Bible was used then, as it is sometimes used today, (1) to enrich a common language and cultural vocabulary through distinctively biblical allusions, phrases, figures of speech, proverbs, aphorisms, and the like; (2) to enhance the power and weight of rhetoric through its identification with a venerated, authoritative sacred text; (3) to identify and define normative standards and transcendent rules for ordering and judging public life; (4) to marshal biblical authority in support of specific political agendas and policy objectives; and (5) to gain insights on the character and designs of God, especially as they pertain to God’s providential oversight of the material world and, more specifically, His dealings with men and nations. Recognition of these distinct uses is important insofar as it is misleading to read spiritual meaning into literary, rhetorical, or political uses of the Bible or vice versa.

How did the Bible inform the founders’ political and legal pursuits? Although the founders held diverse theological views and some doubted Christianity’s transcendent claims and the Bible’s divine origins, I contend that many looked to this religious text for insights into human nature, civic virtue, social order, political authority, and other concepts essential to the establishment of a political society. In various conventions and representative assemblies of the age, as well as in pamphlets, political sermons, and private papers, founding figures appealed to the Bible for principles, precedents, models, normative standards, and cultural motifs to define their community and to order their political experiments. There were influential founders who thought Scripture provided political and legal models – such as republicanism, separation of powers, and due process of law – that they believed enjoyed divine favor and were worthy of emulation in their polities. The Bible, some thought, offered guidance on the selection of righteous political leaders and the rights and responsibilities of citizens, including the right to resist a tyrannical government.

In the Constitutional Convention of 1787, for one example, Benjamin Franklin referenced Jethro’s counsel to Moses, as recorded in the book of Exodus, regarding the selection of Israel’s civic leaders. During a debate on the qualifications for public office, he spoke in opposition to any proposal “that tended to debase the spirit of the common people. . . .  We should remember the character which the Scripture requires in Rulers,” Doctor Franklin said, invoking Jethro’s qualifications for prospective rulers, “that they should be men hating covetousness [Exodus 18:21].” Significantly, Franklin appealed to a biblical standard (“the character which the Scripture requires in Rulers”) in a substantive debate on a constitutional provision, he informed his audience in unambiguous language that his source was “Scripture,” and then he quoted a biblical text.

The political discourse of the founding, for another example, is replete with appeals to the Hebraic “republic” as a model for their own political experiment. In a 1775 Massachusetts election sermon, Samuel Langdon, the president of Harvard College and later a delegate to New Hampshire’s constitutional ratifying convention, opined:  “The Jewish government, according to the original constitution which was divinely established, . . . was a perfect Republic. . . .  The civil Polity of Israel is doubtless an excellent general model . . .; at least some principal laws and orders of it may be copied, to great advantage, in more modern establishments.”

Most of what the founders knew about the Hebrew commonwealth they learned from the Bible. They were well aware that ideas like republicanism found expression in traditions apart from the Hebrew experience, and, indeed, they studied these traditions both ancient and modern.  The republic described in the Hebrew Scriptures, however, reassured pious Americans that republicanism was a political system favored by God.

More generally, but no less significant to the founders’ political vision, many founders believed the Bible was an indispensable handbook for republican citizenship. In a republican government, the founders often asserted, the people must be sufficiently virtuous that their personal responsibility and discipline will facilitate the social order and stability necessary for a regime of self-government. A free, self-governing people, in other words, had to be a virtuous people who were controlled from within by an internal moral compass, which would replace external control by an authoritarian ruler’s whip and rod. The whip and rod were clearly unacceptable for a free, self-governing people.  The Bible played a noteworthy, if unofficial, role in a republican regime insofar as it was a powerful tool of social control and provided instruction on the essential virtues necessary for self-government to succeed.

Believing that “without national morality a republican government cannot be maintained” and that “[t]he Bible contains . . . the most perfect morality, and the most refined policy, that ever was conceived upon earth,” John Adams described the Bible as “the most republican book in the world.” Recognizing Christianity’s vital contributions to the civic virtues required for self-government, John Dickinson similarly remarked: “The Bible is the most republican Book that ever was written.” Such sentiments were ubiquitous in the political rhetoric of the founding.

Drawing attention to the Bible’s contributions to the founding is not meant to diminish, much less dismiss, other intellectual influences on the founders. Rather, acknowledging the Bible’s often ignored role in the founding enriches an understanding of the broad range of ideas that informed the founders’ political thoughts and shaped the political and legal systems they sought to establish. A study of how the founding generation read and used the Bible in politics offers insights into the ideas that shaped the American political experiment in the waning days of the eighteenth century.

CFA: Inaugural SHEAR Second-Book Writers’ Workshop (Extended Deadline)

SHEAR is pleased to announce the creation of the SHEAR Second-Book Writers’ Workshop and to invite applications for its inaugural session at the annual meeting 20 – 23 July 2017 in Philadelphia.

The journey from first to second book can be a difficult one. From choosing a topic for a second book to finding the time and support to research and write, the structure that guides the writing of the dissertation and first book disappears. Many of us struggle with this transition. We wonder if it makes sense to continue a research trajectory clearly laid out in our first project or to try something entirely new. We search for research support at the same time as teaching and service obligations increase. For some scholars, these difficulties are compounded by the obligations of family and child rearing that can make residential fellowships or long-term travel seem impossible. Yet the second book is an essential step in career advancement: a requirement for the promotion to full professorships or even at some institutions, for tenure. Recognizing the unique challenges of this stage, SHEAR has launched a new program designed to support its members at this transitional point in their scholarly careers.

The SHEAR Second-Book Writers’ Workshop will replicate some of the structures of feedback that dissertation writers experience. The goals of the workshop include both practical advice and the motivation that comes from writing for and with your peers. To accommodate the many stages of second book production, the workshop will encourage flexibility in pre-circulated materials. Organized into genre-based groups, the workshop will provide a space for discussion of drafts of book proposals, fellowship applications, chapter drafts, and other documents related to the writing of a second book. A mentor who has successfully published a second book will lead each workshop group.

In 2017, workshops will take place in the afternoon of Thursday, July 20 prior to the plenary session. Committed mentors include: Johann Neem, Matthew Mason, and Amy Greenberg.

To apply to participate, writers of second books should submit via e-mail to Emily Conroy-Krutz (conroyk5@msu.edu) or Jessica Lepler (jessica.lepler@unh.edu) a single .pdf or Word file that contains a one-page CV and a one-page document comprising a description both of your second book project and of the document that you would like to circulate for the workshop. Applications to participate in the workshop should be submitted no later than March 15, 2017, and applicants can expect to hear back by mid-April.

Accepted participants’ materials for pre-circulation will be due June 15.

Evangelical Religion, Honor, and Identity in the Deep South

The Sacred MirrorRobert Elder is an assistant professor of history at Valparaiso University. He is the author of The Sacred Mirror: Evangelicalism, Honor, and Identity in the Deep South, 1790-1860 (2016). Elder is currently working on a biography of John C. Calhoun.

Histories of southern evangelicalism between the Revolution and the Civil War usually hold to a modern historiographical version of the old Puritan declension narrative. In the modern version, early evangelicals initially challenged both slavery and a deeply ingrained honor culture among white southerners, but sometime around 1820 they sold their birthright as social radicals for a mess of hominy in order to win influence and souls, especially white male slaveholding souls. As one historian eloquently put it, “Southern whites came to speak the language of Canaan as evangelicals learned to speak with a southern accent.”[1]

The evangelical transition from opposition to accommodation in the South has some merit, and a compelling narrative arc, but it sets up a binary that obscures as much as it reveals when it comes to honor culture, which most historians of evangelicalism have equated with a sense of pride and a propensity to violence among southern white men. In my book I set out to move beyond the opposition/accommodation binary and this narrow definition of honor in order to describe the more complex ways that the language, practice, and structure of evangelicalism overlapped and intersected with honor culture in the South in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Nothing illustrates this complexity better than a story told by the Methodist minister William Capers, which I tell at the beginning of my second chapter. In his autobiography, Capers vividly describes an incident that occurred at one of the small, backcountry churches that lay along his circuit in the Chester district of South Carolina in the first decade of the nineteenth century. At one of his stops, a place called Carter’s meeting house, a large congregation had gathered, composed of members of the local Methodist society as well as the local community, all interested in the church trial of a woman accused of adultery, which Capers conducted according to the Methodist mode of government. As Capers remembered, “Her father-in-law, and the connections on that side generally believed her guilty,” while the woman’s husband loudly and pitifully proclaimed her innocence, being, as Capers thought, “partially deranged” by the shame of the situation. All the community, including the society members, were “intensely enlisted” on one side or the other of the matter, and when a group of society members chosen by Capers found the woman guilty, the crowd erupted into violence. In the midst of the fight, Capers saw several society members doing their part and the “poor crazy husband fighting his father.”

This story serves as a striking illustration of the way that the practice of church discipline in evangelical churches throughout the South intersected with the concerns of honor, shame, and reputation. And this was not an accidental or isolated occurrence. From the eighteenth century onward, evangelical churches worked their way into the fabric of communal life in the South as public spaces where community opinion coalesced in the form of church verdicts, and where rumors, insults, and reputations were openly probed in ways that don’t fit easily into the opposition/accommodation model. As I argue in the book, I think the best definition of an honor culture is one in which individual identity is largely defined by communal authority and opinion. In a society with few institutions that could plausibly claim to represent “the community,” the united verdict of a church court was an incredibly powerful thing, and churches were inescapably part of the manufacture and maintenance of honor, reputation, and standing in their communities. This process was not without friction, as the ideals of the evangelical community sometimes clashed with the trappings of male honor and the rowdy world of male recreation outside the church. But the areas of congruence were always at least as significant as the areas of conflict, and the assumptions that underlay both honor and evangelical life about the relationship between individual identity and communal authority allowed the church to speak in a way that southerners understood and embraced.

The story also illustrates my larger argument about the nature of evangelicalism during this period. I see my work as an of exploration in a specific historical and cultural location of the arguments that scholars like Charles Taylor have made about the emergence of the modern self, especially the emphasis on personal knowledge as the only true knowledge and the anchor of identity. I argue that southern evangelicalism nurtured both an individualistic sense of the self, as evidenced by its emphasis on conversion, AND a deeply rooted respect for communal authority that is clearly evident, for instance, in church disciplinary records and stories such as the one Capers told. The tension for early southern converts was not, or not only, individual identity vs. community and family (or religion vs. honor), but which community should serve as the community of authority in their lives. That’s very different from our usual notion of evangelicalism, southern and otherwise, as the religious mode of modern individualism. It points to the deep structural harmonies that existed between honor and evangelicalism during this period and suggests that instead of seeing evangelicalism as the harbinger of modern forms of identity, we should see it instead, as Bruce Hindmarsh has argued in the context of early modern England, as embodying a significant alternative to modern identity.

[1] Christine Leigh Heyrman, Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt (University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 27.

CFP: Lenses and Contacts: Framing Early America

Call for Papers

Lenses and Contacts: Framing Early America
McNeil Center Biennial Graduate Student Conference
Philadelphia, 5–7 October 2017

How vast is too vast? How small is too small? Where do you get your frames? In recent years, scholars have been questioning traditional boundaries and envisioning new frontiers. The advent (and departure?) of the Atlantic World has sparked new ways of framing the field and mapping the space of early America. Scholars are also polishing off traditional lenses of analysis such as politics, economics, and intellectual history. This conference will focus on  established historiographical frameworks and new directions. Papers could address topics including but not limited to: spatial lenses, including Atlantic, continental, global, and local; people, places, and ideas on the margins; histories from above and below; perspectives on race, class, gender, and sexuality in early America; ways of knowing, including religion, environmental, scientific, and medical histories; networks and crossings—disciplinary and otherwise.

Graduate students in any relevant discipline are invited to submit proposals, which should include a 250-word prospectus and a one-page curriculum vitae together in one pdf document labeled with the applicant’s last name. Please include your name, your paper title, your institutional affiliation, and your email address at the top of the first page of the proposal. Conference presentations will be limited to twenty minutes. Participants will receive some financial support for travel and lodging expenses. Applicants should e-mail their proposals by 15 March 2017 to mceas@ccat.sas.upenn.edu.

Decisions will be announced in late May 2017.

Introducing The Panorama: Expansive Views from the Journal of the Early Republic

Check out the newly launched The Panorama, the digital forum for the Journal of the Early Republic. The Panorama explores teaching, researching, and communicating about the Early American Republic in an informal and collaborative fashion, supported by, and extending, the scholarship published in the JERThe Panorama is planning roundtables on a variety of subjects over the coming year, each with a series of posts by practitioners in the field; we look forward to having readers join freewheeling and productive conversations in the comments.

In Memoriam: David Jaffee

Sadly, SHEAR lost our good friend, scholar, and teacher David Jaffee on January 20, 2017, after a valiant struggle with pancreatic cancer.  A native New Yorker, David received his B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University. Trained in colonial American history, David soon became interested in American material and visual culture and reinvented himself as a scholar who focused on how objects and images could speak to history. He was Professor and Director of New Media Studies from 2007 to the present at the Bard Graduate Center; from 1987 to 2008, he taught at City College of New York.  The author of People of the Wachusett (1999) and A New Nation of Goods (2010), he was a prolific essayist and workshop instructor who introduced many students to the study of non-literary documents. He is survived by his daughter Isadora Jaffee, his beloved Schneider cousins, and by legions of friends and students inspired by his kindness and generosity. Memorial gifts may be made to the David Jaffee Fellowship in Visual and Material Culture at the American Antiquarian Society, 185 Salisbury St., Worcester, MA 01609 (http://www.americanantiquarian.org/jaffee-fellowship).

A memorial session will be held Sunday, March 26, 2017, 10:30-1:30 at the Bard Graduate Center, 38 West 86th Street (between Columbus and Central Park West) New York, NY; His exhibit on the Crystal Palace will be on view at the Center.

Deadline Extended: SHEAR Dissertation Prize

Deadline for submissions for the SHEAR Dissertation Prize extended to Friday, February 17.

The Society for Historians of the Early American Republic invites submissions for the SHEAR Dissertation Prize. The Prize will be awarded to an exceptional dissertation pertaining to the history of North America from 1776 to 1861. Within that period, the dissertation may treat virtually any aspect of history, including political, social, cultural, or literary history.

Dissertations successfully defended in calendar years 2015 and 2016 are eligible. To submit a dissertation for consideration, please first send a one-page letter of inquiry accompanied by a brief prospectus, sample chapter, and current CV to:

Robert Lockhart, Senior Editor

University of Pennsylvania Press

3905 Spruce Street

Philadelphia, PA 19104

The prize committee will then invite finalists to send complete dissertations for consideration, and the winner will be announced at SHEAR’s annual conference in July, where a workshop with the prize committee will also be held. The author will receive a publishing contract, and the manuscript will be published as a volume in the book series Early American Studies, cosponsored by the McNeil Center for Early American Studies and the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Call for Applications: JER Reviews Editor(s)

The Journal of the Early Republic (JER) seeks applicants for a three-year term editing its book reviews section, effective July 2017. The Editor (or Editors) of Reviews manages the solicitation, review, and acceptance process for book reviews and longer review essays published by the JER. Duties include identifying appropriate titles for review and corresponding with presses to ensure that JER receives review copies, identifying potential reviewers and assigning books to scholars with particular expertise in the subject matter, sending books to reviewers and following up with them until submission, providing editing for style and form for submitted reviews, allotting received reviews to particular issues, and organizing the sequence of reviews within a given issue. Minor institutional support to cover costs of shipping books to reviewers is highly desirable. Please submit letter of application and c.v. to jer@shear.org. Review of applications will begin March 1, 2017.

Zara Anishanslin on Portrait of a Woman in Silk

Zara Anishanslin is Assistant Professor of History and Art History at the University of Delaware. Her book Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World was recently published by Yale University Press.

At first glance, this portrait seems to send a straightforward message. It appears to be yet another example of a colonial American posing as a refined member of transatlantic British culture, signaling her gentility through the metropolitan luxury goods she wears. But the portrait visualizes more than just the likeness of a long-dead woman. And it tells more than a simple narrative of status and emulation. Rather, this thing fashioned of oil paint on a framed canvas is a revelatory object, a seemingly-typical portrait that narrates a much more complex story about global economy and individual lives and labor in an age of rising—and falling—empire.

The woman in the portrait is Anne Shippen Willing (1710-91). The Philadelphia-born granddaughter of Philadelphia’s first mayor, Quaker Edward Shippen and wife of merchant-mayor Charles Willing, she had given birth to six of her eleven children when she posed for this portrait in 1746. The dress she wears is made of silk designed by Londoner Anna Maria Garthwaite (1688-1763), one of early modern Britain’s few women silk designers. Garthwaite designed the bold botanical textile pattern for one of her frequent customers, master weaver Simon Julins (c. 1686/8-1778), in the summer of 1743. Within three years of the pattern’s creation, the woven silk had crossed the Atlantic to Philadelphia. There, Willing had it made into the dress she wore to sit for her portrait by Newport, Rhode Island itinerant painter Robert Feke (c. 1707-c. 1752). This 1746 portrait of a woman in silk brought these four geographically separate lives together in one object. Together, they form a transatlantic network unknown to them but no less evident to us looking back. From the mind of the designer to the hand of the weaver in London, across the Atlantic to the body of the sitter and the eye of the painter in the colonies, we can trace the creation, travel, and histories of this silk and this portrait as they were made, sold, bought, and used.

But this single portrait tells us much more than simply the biography of an object, and the microhistories of this network of four. It also contains macrohistories—of thousands more people, events, and ideas—all similarly connected by things around the British Atlantic. Portrait of a Woman in Silk argues that the production, consumption, and use of commodities in the eighteenth-century British Empire created object-based communities that tied its inhabitants together, while allowing for different views of the Empire. The many histories hidden in this object—created by two women and two men, two colonials and two Londoners—lay bare a mental and material world created by women’s labor as well as men’s, and a transatlantic economy driven as much by colonial Americans as metropolitan producers. Americans were not just avid consumers but also sophisticated producers, motivated to make and buy things by political, cultural, and personal concerns far more complex than emulative refinement alone.

Portrait of a Woman in Silk spans the collective lifespan of the designer, weaver, wearer, and painter who together created the single object at the heart of the book. The chronological accident of their birth and death dates means that this history of the long eighteenth century arcs from the Glorious Revolution to George Washington’s first presidency. Tracing the full life cycle of this network means that the hidden histories captured within this portrait tell tales of what wove the British Empire together, how it unraveled, and how new empires—on both sides of the Atlantic—came to be.

Given this chronology, SHEARites might well be tempted to flip to the end of the book. The last section of the book focuses on the American revolutionary era from 1763-78 and includes a Coda set in 1791. The final chapter discusses the economic and political ramifications of the 1763 Treaty of Paris for silk producers and consumers on both sides of the Atlantic. Focusing on women laborers as well as men, it investigates how protestors in Britain and America alike imbued the wearing and weaving of that most symbolically luxurious of fabrics—silk—with political meaning. This interconnected history is one that encompasses both weavers’ violent protest in London’s streets and scientifically driven efforts—often spearheaded by women—to build American silk manufacture. The chapter ends in 1778, with the American Revolution well underway but hardly settled. This untraditional chronological ending point might be somewhat unsettling to historians of the early republic. But the choice was deliberate—in part to avoid the book seeming like a teleological march toward American independence.

That said, one of the reasons SHEARites should find the book of interest in its entirety, rather than just its last part, is that it adds to our comprehension of how, as John Adams famously put it, “Thirteen clocks were made to strike together.” To understand this history, we must consider the clocks themselves. Chief among the arguments made in Portrait of a Woman in Silk is that not just the four people who together created this single object, but thousands more people, were connected through producing and consuming things like it. Whether they were textiles or clocks, people created both mental and material worlds—imagined communities—through making, buying, and using commodities. We are, for the most part, accustomed to thinking of early American history as regional history. We tend to emphasize differences among New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and the South; differences between systems of labor and slavery; or differences between religion and ethnicity. But from New England to the Lowcountry South, colonists shared the experience of making and buying objects like portraits and silk. Production and consumption of such things allow us to consider connections that cut across regional distinctions in early America. They also recast our traditional chronological notions about the so-called consumer revolution and the imperial marketplace, forcing us to find the roots of revolutionary era patterns of production and consumption not in the 1760s or 1740s, but as far back as the 1720s. Tracing the histories hidden within these objects illuminates the development of a shared colonial identity that might be called “American” (and indeed, at times was so labeled by colonists themselves) that predated the American Revolution by decades.

A last note on why SHEARites might read Portrait of a Woman in Silk is a methodological one. The four identifiable people connected to this silk and this portrait were all literate, all financially solvent, and yet essentially unexplored by historians. Most likely this was in part because each left a very sparse trail in archival documents like letters, diaries, and probate inventories. But each did leave behind was a trove of material and visual culture. Using the things they created and used as historical evidence brought their lives out of the historical shadows. Hidden histories are bound to emerge when, instead of using material culture to answer historical questions, we make the material culture itself the question.