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.

Michael A. Morrison, 1948-2017

11/11/15 MorrisonDear Colleagues,

I write with the sad and shocking news that our dear friend and SHEAR president-elect Michael A. Morrison passed away on Sunday, May 14, 2017, at his residence.

Michael served as a professor in the Department of History at Purdue University from 1991 to 2016, retiring after 25 years. Following his military service as a Sergeant in the United States Air Force, Michael received an A.A. from Henry Ford Community College; a B.A. from the University of Michigan, Dearborn; and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. A beloved educator, Michael taught “Society, Culture and Rock & Roll,” as well as courses on 19th and 20th century U. S. political history. He was the recipient of the College of Liberal Arts Teaching Excellence Award and Purdue University’s Charles B. Murphy Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award. In 1998, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching named him Indiana Professor of the Year.

Michael was co-editor of the Journal of the Early Republic 1994-2004, author of Slavery and the American West: The Eclipse of Manifest Destiny and the Coming of the Civil War,  many articles and book chapters, and editor and co-editor of additional works. His wife, Nancy Gabin, survives him.

A memorial service will be held at a later date.

Carol Lasser
President, Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, 2016-17
Emerita Professor of History, Oberlin College

Other People’s Money: How Banking Worked in the Early Republic

Sharon Ann Murphy,  a professor of history at Providence College, examines the complex interactions between financial institutions and their clientele during the nineteenth century. She is the author of Investing in Life: Insurance in Antebellum America (2010), winner of the 2012 Hagley Prize for the best book in business history. Her newest book is Other People’s Money: How Banking Worked in the Early American Republic.

As I have worked these past few years on my new book Other People’s Money: How Banking Worked in the Early American Republic, I’ve been fascinated by the response from my fellow SHEARites. Almost every person I have talked to about the topic has responded with some version of: “Oh, we so need a book that explains bills of exchange!” This always makes me both chuckle and cringe. While I do indeed explain bills of exchange on pages 47-48, I never anticipated that this would be the main purpose or single highlight of the book. And if that’s the only thing it’s good for, then this is not going to be a very successful book.

Of course, in keeping with the series theme of How Things Worked, a main purpose of this book is to explain how money worked, how banking worked, how the fractional reserve system worked, how banknotes worked, how war finance worked, how Alexander Hamilton became a Broadway star (okay, maybe I don’t quite get there), how discounting worked, how the money multiplier worked, how inflation and deflation work, how panics worked, how incorporation worked, how branch banking worked, how the First and Second Banks of the United States worked, how the Bank War worked, how bimetallism and the gold standard worked, how the game “Robin’s alive” worked, how counterfeiting worked, how savings banks, investment banks, commercial banks, plantation banks, and building & loan associations worked, how free banks and wildcat banks worked (or didn’t work), how public and private banks worked, how note brokers and clearinghouses worked, how the independent treasury worked, how Confederate finance didn’t work, and how the National Banking Acts worked.

Wow. It sounds like I just wrote the encyclopedia of early American finance. But that is certainly not what I set out to write and, I hope, not what this book actually is. Rather, I sought to put finance back into the Early Republic, or – more specifically – to empower the average historian or history student to put finance back in. Most historians have no problem weaving together cultural experiences with political events. We readily examine how race, ethnicity, gender or class impact (or are impacted by) legal or social institutions. We can evaluate foreign policy decisions in terms of domestics concerns without breaking a sweat. The subfield boundaries of the historical profession have become much more fluid, with the best historians interweaving the sources, methods, and conclusions of multiple subfields as appropriate for their topic. And yet, for the average historian, economics and finance are rarely incorporated into these conversations. It is just too opaque, too foreign, too scary to be engaged as part of the analysis. While there is definitely a strong and ever-growing contingent of historians already comfortable embracing financial topics, they are still a very small subset of the overall profession. For the remainder, economic topics are either treated as something separate – somehow outside the bounds of the lived experience of the regular American. Or, when these topics can’t easily be ignored or relegated to the specialists, they are repackaged as something less scary.

Take, for example, the Bank War. For most students of American history, the Bank War is the main—if not the only—encounter with the history of money and banking from the Revolution through the Civil War. At its core, the Bank War was at the center of an extended debate over the acceptable role of banks and banknotes in the American economy. Most people agreed that the existence of banks provided many benefits to their local communities: facilitating exchange, encouraging commerce, enabling the completion of internal improvements projects, and generally creating more opportunities for local inhabitants to increase their wealth. Yet these benefits came at a cost, and Americans were divided over whether the benefits outweighed the costs. Although banks were supposed to promote economic stability, many believed that they were responsible for introducing even more instability into the system through their use of fractional reserve banking. Others questioned the republican implications of granting special privileges to the incorporators of banking corporations and of concentrating wealth in the hands of a few individuals. Yet historians most often tell the story of the Bank War almost exclusively from the perspective of politics. (In their defense, the Bank War did start and end as a political battle of wills between Andrew Jackson and Nicholas Biddle, along with a host of secondary characters.) This political fight, however, had economic causes and consequences that are often lost in the normal telling of that tale. It is difficult to understand the true extent of the passions behind the Bank War without first understanding how the financial system worked during the first century of the nation’s existence.

And beyond the Bank War, money and banking played a critical role in the lives of everyday Americans in the nineteenth century, shaping the society in which they lived and worked. Finance was not outside of their daily lived experiences but rather an integral part of it. Most Americans understood the promises and perils of banknotes as they navigated the monetary system with their regular transactions. They debated the pros and cons of the various banking proposals brought before their state legislatures. They dealt in promissory notes, tobacco warehouse certificates, double-name paper, and (yes) bills of exchange. Sure, some Americans employed these tools more often and understood the elements of the financial system better than others did, but not even the most isolated subsistence farmer was completely outside of the system. Thus an understanding of the financial history of this period is essential if we want to broaden and deepen our overall knowledge of the Early American Republic. My ultimate goal for Other People’s Money is to give historians both adequate background in financial topics as well as the confidence to apply this knowledge in their own work. I want to make finance just another tool in the methodological toolbox, to be taken out and employed competently – if not expertly – where and when the tool is appropriate.

Does this book accomplish all of that? You, my fellow SHEARites, will be the ultimate test. If you find this book useful and informative, that will be good. But if this book makes you rethink how you approach your own research, if it makes you rethink how you structure your syllabi, if it makes you rethink how you advise your undergraduate and graduate students in their projects, then maybe I’ll stop cringing when someone thanks me for (finally) explaining bills of exchange. Heck, if Alexander Hamilton can become a musical icon, then perhaps financial history has a place in the Early Republic after all.

SHEAR 2017: Pre-Registration and Conference Program

Pre-registration is now open for this year’s SHEAR conference in Philadelphia. The conference program is also available.