Interview with Donald F. Johnson, 2016 Manuscript Prize Winner

Dr. Don JohnsonAt the 2016 SHEAR conference, Donald F. Johnson, assistant professor of history at North Dakota State University, received the SHEAR Manuscript Prize for his Northwestern University dissertation, “Occupied America: Everyday Experience and the Failure of Imperial Authority in Revolutionary Cities under British Rule, 1775-1783.”

The Republic (TR): How would you summarize the argument of your dissertation?
Donald F. Johnson (DJ): “Occupied America” argues that everyday experiences of military occupation fundamentally changed Americans’ attitudes towards the British Empire in port cities. Occupations began with high hopes on both sides: city residents who remained expected a return to the prosperity of the pre-Revolutionary British Empire, while soldiers and officials expected a pliant population base eager to their allegiance to the king. Although occupation provided opportunities for many civilians to better themselves socially and financially, however, military rule utterly failed to bring about a restoration of imperial authority. Despite its promise, the lived experience of occupation – material hardships brought on by the army, insults to colonists’ perceived position in the Empire, and mismanagement of civil government ultimately alienated many who had once been among the Empire’s most vehement supporters. Thus, when the British army finally evacuated its posts in American port towns, the majority of civilians were happy to see them go.

TR: What led you to choose this topic to research?
DJ:  I was drawn to the topic by watching the failed US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan in the 200s and early 2010s. Touted as nation-building projects and the use of the military as protectors of civil society, these occupations actually sparked or worsened civil wars as they continued. As a student of Revolutionary America, I wondered whether British military occupation in America may have had the same effect, and, after doing a small exploratory study on occupied Charleston, South Carolina, found a much more interesting story.

TR: Which historians and/or writers most influenced your research?

DJ: My first influence has been my doctoral advisor, Tim Breen, who taught me how to ask hard questions of my sources, how to “read between the lines” of primary documents to find previously unheard voices, and how to think like a historian while remaining relatable to a more general audience. Over the course of my research, my biggest influences have been Franklin Jameson’s conception of the Revolution as a social movement, John Shy’s perceptive insights into the social and political dynamics American Revolutionary War, Gary Nash and Benjamin Carp’s studies of the popular politics of Revolutionary cities, David Waldstreicher and Benjamin Irvin’s work on the connection between social ritual and politics, and Ethan Shagan’s insightful study of popular politics during the English Reformation, although countless other works and minds have also informed my own thinking.

TR: Once your dissertation is published, what do you think your next project will be?

DJ:  I’ve got a few projects in mind, but the one that interests me most is an investigation of the Revolutionary War as a transformative event in its own right, rather than simply a War for Independence that followed an already-effected political Revolution. As many scholars have demonstrated recently, the war fundamentally changed the way people in North America thought about their relationship to authority, and these changes did not fall simply along the lines of that elite politicians expected, or their descendants deigned to recollect in their early histories. I’d like to explore how the war itself pushed and twisted the course of the Revolution in different ways, and how taking it seriously as a Revolutionary War, rather than simply a War for Independence, changes our conceptions of that event.

Interview with April R. Haynes, 2016 James H. Broussard Book Prize Winner

April R. Haynes is an assistant professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her book, Riotous Flesh: Women, Physiology, and the Solitary Vice in Nineteenth-Century America, was co-winner of the James H. Broussard Best First Book Prize.

The Republic (TR): For those who haven’t read your book, would you provide a synopsis?

April R. Haynes (AH): Riotous Flesh tells a new story about how proscriptions against the “solitary vice” of masturbation became a dominant sexual discourse in the northern United States between 1830 and 1860. Prior historians have analyzed antimasturbation discourse as a means of instilling white men with the restraint required of republican citizens and middle-class economic actors. I argue instead that white female moral reformers and black abolitionist women led the campaign against the solitary vice as part of their larger quests to dismantle the sexual double standard and racialized ideals of femininity.

Women became interested in the solitary vice because crowds of men and boys rioted outside of lecture halls wherever they gathered to listen to Sylvester Graham speak about sexual physiology. Graham gave women the same advice he offered to men, and some of the women’s lectures were racially integrated. The crowds who tried to shut them down overlapped in significant ways with those who participated in both brothel riots and proslavery riots during the 1830s.

In 1837, moral reformers and abolitionists created the Ladies’ Physiology Society of Boston and began to sponsor lectures on sexual physiology by and for women. Members traveled to small-town female moral reform societies, where they persuaded thousands of women that all bodies—male and female, black and white—were subject to a universal set of God-given laws of life and health. The dominant sexual discourse revolved around binary concepts of race and gender, despite the very real presence of people living beyond those binaries in the antebellum North. Reformers strove to erase the sexual line that purportedly separated these poles. They insisted that each individual possessed both the physiological capacity for desire and the moral imperative to restrain it.

The sexual universalism of evangelical physiology contradicted the twin stereotypes of passionless white “ladies” and licentious black “Jezebels” that rationalized so many aspects of white patriarchy. It sparked an interracial moment in moral reform between 1835 and 1840. Black activists such as Sarah Mapps Douglass, Lavinia Hilton, and Nancy Prince urged white women to stop conflating passivity with innocence and act as politically, morally, and sexually accountable beings—particularly by joining the abolitionist movement. Some white reformers, notably the Grimké sisters, Sarah Townsend Smith, and Paulina Wright Davis, embraced active virtue and spurned passive purity. This distinction became fundamental to the nascent women’s rights movement and blossomed into a call for “sovereignty of self.” But other white moral reformers clung to the doctrine of passionless, with its promise of moral superiority. The female moral reform movement fractured over race and sex in the early 1840s.

When moral reform women were the main popularizers of antimasturbation discourse, few Americans took heed. But as the movement splintered, more and more white women turned inward and focused on their own sexual redemption. The word spread from a small, interracial corps of “ultra” reformers to the predominantly white mass culture. In the process, warnings against the solitary vice became a kind of screen behind which white, middle-class women could discuss a broad range of sexual issues without risking their protections and privileges.

Urban entrepreneurs sold tickets to secular anatomy and physiology lectures by appealing to married women’s longing for reproductive control and sexual satisfaction. It became possible to justify graphic public depictions of “amativeness” (heterosexual desire) by warning against the solitary vice. The amative orgasm in women was increasingly considered natural and healthy—yet all agreed that the masturbatory “paroxysm” caused debility, insanity, and death. The solitary vice made heterosexual desire into a social virtue.

The popular physiology lectures of the 1840s also incorporated scientific racism in the form of comparative anatomy. Lecturers and writers represented white women’s amativeness as essentially moderate, black women’s bodies as tending naturally toward “excess.” The sexual universalism promoted by earlier activists faded from memory. Black women and men responded by creating separate institutions that could empower younger people in their communities to develop their own politics of embodiment. The last chapter of the book details Sarah Mapps Douglass’ education of young black girls for anatomical literacy and sexual health. She counseled them toward amativeness, reproductive autonomy, and self-love—but away from the solitary vice.

The marketing of solitary vice discourse dovetailed with its institutionalization in medical practice, asylum administration, and public schools during the 1850s. As medical feminists and educational reformers, women once again led the charge. But over the next two decades, the focus of antimasturbation discourse shifted away from adults of all genders and toward male youth. The “spermatorrhea” diagnosed by mid-nineteenth century American physicians echoed the masculine “onanism” scare of mid-eighteenth century England. Because of women’s agency, Americans paid more widespread attention to such warnings than they had prior to 1830. But the counterdiscursive possibilities that had inspired women to crusade against the gender-neutral solitary vice had disappeared.

TR: What led you to choose this topic for your book?

AH: While doing dissertation research, I stumbled across evidence of the riots at Graham’s “Lecture to Mothers.” I had heard of his Lecture to Young Men on Chastity, but not of the lecture to women only. At the time, I had no interest in writing about moral reformers. I was interested in sex radicals, and I thought female moral reformers represented the most boring aspects of nineteenth-century sexual culture. But the riots really surprised me. Why would men riot to prevent women from hearing a lecture that counseled chastity? What was so threatening about the possibility that women were learning not to masturbate?

When I began following newspaper coverage of the physiology riots between 1833 and 1837, it became clear that women in multiple cities persisted in organizing those lectures and physically resisted the rioters because they recognized that it wasn’t Graham who was being targeted but themselves. Anti-Graham editors argued that the lectures exposed innocent wives and daughters to indecent words and images, but the women in each city invariably denied that the men in the crowd were their husbands and fathers. Rather, they said that the ringleaders were editors of racy papers, actors at scandalous theaters, and brothel proprietors. To test these claims, I began tracking down some of those editors and the men named by reformers as having “gotten up” a particularly violent 1834 riot. I discovered that the female moral reformers were basically right about the composition of the crowds and the motivations of their enemies. The editors who defended the riots overtly stated that white men deserved sexual privileges over and above white women and people of color. They claimed that the lectures promoted “amalgamation” (interracial intimacy), deprived white women of their “freedom from debasing passion,” and threatened to make men into genderless “monsters.”

So the reform women had a point. This was the last thing I expected to find, so profoundly opposed to the whole moral reform project was I. That tension created a puzzle that I wanted to pursue. How could these smart, activist women have been so right about their enemies and also (in my view) so very wrong in the sexual discourse they ultimately produced?

TR: Americans typically think of this period as prudish and private when it came to sexuality. Is that a misconception?

AH: Yes and no. It is a misconception that sexuality has ever been a strictly private matter in the United States. However, there have definitely been moments of extreme pressure to conform to a specific sexual standard, usually one correlated with purity and righteousness—pressure to perform prudery, as it were. What I tried to do in Riotous Flesh was to trace the process by which one such norm came to be accepted by so many people, at least superficially. Writers across the entire spectrum of political, intellectual, and religious beliefs pronounced that masturbation killed tens of thousands of people each year. These were people who could agree about absolutely nothing else! Even the editors who had sparked the riots against women’s physiology lectures eventually declared their opposition to the solitary vice (they told male readers that it would be better to pay for sex with any woman than to masturbate). In order to manufacture consent on such a scale, publicity was absolutely necessary.

That said, one of the great ironies in the construction of modern heterosexuality has been a consistent refrain that “prudery” must be overcome in order to purge society of its “perversions.” Marriage manuals of the early twentieth century educated readers about how to have “wholesome” sex while denouncing prudish women as frigid. Similarly, moral reformers of the early nineteenth century railed against “false delicacy,” which killed women silently by keeping them addicted to the solitary vice. Women masturbated because they simply had not been taught the dangers of masturbation, reformers said, which was why popular science lectures and medical institutions must teach them.

TR: Did white women and African American women differ in their views on masturbation?

AH: In the 1830s, both groups saw antimasturbation physiology as having the potential to challenge strictures of passionlessness. White moral reformers saw how their opponents manipulated passionlessness to claim that white women need to be protected from sexual information, by violence if necessary. Black abolitionist women in New York City saw an opportunity in the moral reformers’ declaration of war against “licentiousness in all its forms” to urge white women to come out against the “licentiousness of slavery.” They also wanted white women to face the sexual aspects of northern white supremacy, such as the sexual harassment of black domestic workers in white homes. While forging this delicate and temporary alliance, they attended physiology lectures and moral reform meetings and learned to deploy the language of solitary vice to their own ends. If white women who appeared “pure” could secretly be sexually vicious, then the whole racialized virgin/whore dichotomy could be turned on its head. In order to demolish the Jezebel stereotype, the assumption that white women were naturally passionless had to be obliterated—the two ideologies must stand or fall together.

But as growing numbers of white moral reform women became obsessed ridding themselves and their families of the solitary vice, many stopped hearing the deeper call for accountability and activism. They reverted back to a claim of moral superiority, now based on cultivated virtue rather than essential purity. Black abolitionist women, in turn, moved on to other projects. That isn’t to say that they stopped believing that masturbation was physically harmful—Sarah Mapps Douglass told her students that it was—but as a counterdiscourse, the solitary vice lost its utility earlier for them than for white women. It had always been only one of many layers of African American sexual counterdiscourse, anyway. I can only imagine how distressing it must have been for black abolitionist women to watch that particular strand of sexual thought gain such traction while racist ideas about gender and sexuality remained deeply entrenched.

TR: What is your current/next project?

AH: While working on this project, I became very interested in the dynamics between moral reformers, abolitionists and the women they purported to rescue. They used the sexualized word “traffic” to describe both prostitution and slavery. The solution, according to diverse reformers, was to channel formerly trafficked women into waged domestic labor. Doing so often meant geographic displacement, family separation, and public inspection of workers’ bodies—in a way, an authorized form of trafficking. So I have another puzzle regarding intentions and outcomes to work out. I’m currently researching the ways in which some women began marketing the feminized labor of others during a pivotal era in the history of American capitalism, 1789 to 1860.

Interview with Shane White, 2016 SHEAR Book Prize Winner

Shane White is the Challis Professor of History and an Australian Professorial Fellow in the History Department at the University of Sydney specializing in African-American history. His book, Prince of Darkness: The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street’s First Black Millionaire, was this year’s SHEAR Book Prize winner.

The Republic (TR): For those who haven’t read your book, would you provide a synopsis?

Shane White (SW): In Prince of Darkness, I recount the story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton’s life. Hamilton, born in 1808, first turns up in New York in 1828 running counterfeit coin to Haiti for a consortium of merchants. He moves permanently to the city in the early 1830s, struggles for a while, and then begins to establish himself as a guy who can make money for you on Wall Street. He always sailed rather close to the wind. Initially he had a reputation, deserved, for over-insuring boats and then arranging to have them scuttled. He invested his first fortune in real estate, in 1836 buying houses, a 400 foot-long wharf, and land in Poughkeepsie. The 1837 “panic” ruined him and he went bankrupt. But Hamilton bounced back and made another fortune on Wall Street, dispensing advice on what stocks to buy to white investors. Although Hamilton was hardly pure as the driven snow (but then who was on antebellum Wall Street), he also faced considerable discrimination. The second stock exchange in NY passed a resolution in the mid-1840s that anyone who dealt with Hamilton would be expelled. In 1863, during the Draft Riots, a mob invaded his house—the intention of its members had been to hang him from the lamppost out the front of his house on East 29th Street, but he, sensibly had hightailed it over the back fence. When he died in 1875, he was reportedly worth some two million dollars.

TR: What led you to choose this topic for your book?

SW: I have been reading New York nineteenth-century newspapers and court cases for decades and I kept on coming across references to him. It took a while for me to realize that the person I had found running counterfeit coin in 1828 was the same person suing Cornelius Vanderbilt in the 1850s. But once I did, I started to pursue him actively not quite knowing what I was going to do with the material. In the end the challenge of writing a book about someone about whom absolutely nothing was known drew me in and took a couple of years out of my life.

TR: By the time you were finished writing, were you satisfied that you knew the real Jeremiah G. Hamilton?

SW: Absolutely not!! Prince of Darkness is an unusual book. By dint of a lot of hard work, I found surprising amounts of material on some parts of his life. But I haven’t a clue what he was doing for years at a time. And he did not leave a diary or letters somewhere convenient for biographers. I almost never have any indication of what JGH was thinking. This means that there is a lot of “context” in the book. By my lights, and by using JGH’s life, I think the book ends up developing a new version of what it meant to be African American and walking the streets of NYC in the 1830s and 1840s. Some readers like this—others, several “Amazon” commentators come to mind (does anyone but the author of the book in question ever read Amazon readers’ comments?) have been bored to tears by it. On this count I was particularly gratified that the SHEAR prize committee awarded it the best book prize and not the biography award.

TR: Which historians and/or writers most influenced your research for this book?

SW: In my view, there are two major influences on the way I write history. The first is the “Melbourne School” of ethnographic historians, notably Rhys Isaac, Greg Dening, Inga Clendinnen and Donna Merwick. The other important influence is the work of my friend Larry Levine. From these scholars I learned how to approach and exploit sources in such a way that I could write stories about African Americans who had been left out of other historians’ accounts. More specifically, in terms of writing about JGH, I always had in mind such classic books as Natalie Davis, The Return of Martin Guerre (1983), Linda Colley’s The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh (2007), and particularly the wonderful Al Young’s brilliant The Shoemaker and the Tea Party (1999). As well, some of the recent archive-rich work on slavery was helpful: most obviously, James Sweet, Domingo Alvares (2011) and Rebecca Scott and Jean Hébrard Freedom Papers (2012).

TR: What is your current/next project?

SW: At the moment I am half way through writing a book about black confidence men and women. This is another subject where the African American “contribution” has been erased from American history. For most people, confidence men, the “aristocrats” of the criminal world, were white and male. Paul Newman and Robert Redford in The Sting are, for many people, the only con men. My argument is that there were two golden ages of the black con in New York history, one in the 1830s and first half of the 1840s and the other in the 1920s and 1930s. Not coincidentally, both periods were particularly important and exciting in African American history. My conceit is that I can use the patter of con artists, how they fooled their marks, to write African American economic history not from the top down but from the bottom up. My intention, then, is to utilize black confidence men and women as a point of entry into Black Manhattan’s underground economy.

Interview with Mary Sarah Bilder, 2016 James Bradford Biography Prize Winner

Mary Sarah Bilder is Founders Professor of Law at Boston College Law School. Her book, Madison’s Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention, was the inaugural winner of SHEAR’s James Bradford Biography Prize.

The Republic (TR): For those who haven’t read your book, would you provide a synopsis?

Mary Sarah Bilder (MB): Madison’s Notes of the Constitutional Convention remain the standard authority for scholars, historians, journalists, law professors—and with the rise of originalist constitutional argument–lawyers and judges. They created the narrative we inherit of the Convention. Madison’s Hand argues that the Notes do not date in their entirety to the summer of 1787, but were revised by Madison as he changed his understanding about the Convention, the Constitution, and his own role. It explores the manuscript as a text and also as a historical object, an artifact. Over fifty years, Madison transformed the Notes from an incomplete political diary, taken in part for Thomas Jefferson, to a seemingly impartial and objective account of the writing of the Constitution. In the summer of 1787, Madison only completed the Notes through August 21. In the fall of 1789, he wrote the remaining section using rough notes and a secret personal copy of the official Convention journal. He then revised the manuscript and even replaced certain of his speeches in part to accord with Jefferson’s new vision of republican politics. Madison ultimately decided not to publish the Notes in the 1790s and continued to revise them in the decades after his retirement from the presidency. Madison understood his revisions as repeated efforts to create a record—his record—of what he saw as significant in the Convention. Yet each revision—small and large—increased the distance from the summer of 1787. The story of Madison’s composition of the Notes emphasizes his inability—and that of his fellow delegates—to perceive the extraordinary document that the Constitution would become. Tracing Madison’s composition of the Notes guides us back to a moment when the substance and fate of the Constitution remained uncertain.

TR: What led you to choose this topic for your book?

MB: I had never intended to write on any of the Founders. Some years ago I thought I would try and write an article on the Framers as lawyers. In attempting to develop a list, I ran across misidentified law notes by James Madison in the Library of Congress. I wrote an article about Madison and his legal note-taking referring to him as a Demi-Lawyer, a person who never professionally identified as a lawyer. I enjoyed writing about notes and genre (I was an English major as an undergrad and my Ph.D. is from an interdisciplinary program). I thought I would write about Madison’s Convention notes the way a literary scholar might write about a text. I started by trying to find a version of the Notes that represented what they had looked like in the summer of 1787. As I became more familiar with the sources, I realized that there were significant mysteries about the manuscript. In exploring those mysteries, digital technologies allowed me to compare manuscripts at different archives and to take inexpensive watermark photographs. I was fortunate to have the significant cooperation of the Library of Congress and other archives that held Madison manuscripts.

TR: Madison’s Hand won SHEAR’s Bradford Prize for Biography, but it isn’t a traditional biography. How does your book expand historians’ definition of that genre?

MB: Unfortunately, we don’t have a good word for a book that explains how a manuscript/text developed from initial stages to iconic status—and how that also helps us understand the author’s development and the changing historical moment. As I was working on this project, I read Adam Nicolson’s God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, which has somewhat of a similar goal. But explaining one’s project as “about the making of a manuscript” doesn’t come off as particularly methodologically sophisticated. Moreover, texts don’t make themselves and so the author is always present. I’m indebted to Jack Rakove who first suggested that the book was really a biography. The word completely captured what I was attempting to do. (At one point, I wrote a part of the introduction attempting to coin a new word to describe a biography of a text (e.g., librography, manuscriptography, scriptography)—but soon decided that biography was expansive enough to incorporate the story of a text. A biography is the story of someone’s life – and a book like mine tells that story through the lens of a particular piece of the person’s writing. It allows the historian to think about the ways in which our images of people are created through the texts they leave – which are themselves self-curated.  For me, the biography label has special meaning. The first article I ever published was called “The Shrinking Back: The Law of Biography” (1992), using literary theories of biography to argue that quotations of copyrighted material used for history or biography were “facts.” It has been fun to come full circle.

TR: What is your current/next project?

MB: I was sorry not to be able to write about women in this book in any meaningful manner. My first book had a chapter on women and colonial constitutionalism. This summer, I’ve been reading around in the wonderful scholarship written over the past several decades about women and politics in the revolutionary period and early republic. I’ve been thinking about how to think about what role women played in the politics of the Convention.

Interview with Rebeccah Bechtold, 2016 Ralph D. Gray Article Prize Winner

Displaying Bechtold_Rebeccah_color.jpegThe Republic (TR): For those who haven’t read your article, would you provide a synopsis?

Rebeccah Bechtold (RB): “A Revolutionary Soundscape: Musical Reform and the Science of Sound in Early America, 1760–1840” examines how the growing accessibility of music in the mid eighteenth century cultivated a wider appreciation for music as an individuated art. In this period, advocates for music linked its practice with the political aims of independence through a shared discourse of sensibility, turning to the science behind sound in order to describe music as an art form capable of communicating to and regulating the emotions of the listening public. Influenced by music’s origins as a sacred art and an Enlightenment rhetoric interested in bodily functions, Americans living and working in the northeastern cities of Philadelphia, Boston, and New York ultimately employed a revolutionary rhetoric that advocated for the aesthetic as a method of reform, accenting music’s potential in safeguarding national harmony and, in the nineteenth century, producing social concord.

TR: What brought you write on this topic, and how does it fit within your broader research?

RB: My research tends to explore the social, cultural, and formal intersections of music, described in the early American period as a “language of feeling,” with its literary counterpart, the sentimental tradition. More specifically, I am interested in how music reshaped prevailing attitudes toward sentimentality and the production of emotion in the United States. I came to write “A Revolutionary Soundscape” while working on building a cultural history of music’s emergence as this emotive aesthetic. Even though my research originally focused exclusively on the nineteenth century (in particular the explosion of musical culture in the 1830s and 1840s), it quickly became clear that the American description of music as a sentimental aesthetic had an earlier foundation—as seen, for instance, in the writings of eighteenth century psalmodists like William Billings and Andrew Law.

TR: As a professor of English, do you find yourself thinking differently from historians about the role of music in history?

Perhaps—I usually begin with a literary text in order to develop questions about the historical use of music and sound. However, I am very much interested in maintaining a historical awareness of how early Americans heard and interacted with music, an approach I first learned from my dissertation chair, Trish Loughran. Much of my work also is informed by the soundscape studies of historians like Mark M. Smith and Richard Cullen Rath. Their work, among others, encouraged me to think more broadly about my archive—the kinds of texts I could use to examine music in its broadest definition, as a cultural phenomenon encompassing a network of music, musicians, composers, listeners, instruments, images, and texts.

TR: What is your current/next project?

RB: I am currently working on two article-length essays that explore sound and music’s function as a mode of religious or spiritual communication. One examines Augusta Jane Evans’s use of the romantic prelude-form in her 1859 Beulah—a novel that overtly studies the tension between religious faith and artistic expression—while the other interrogates the soundscape of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables and its portrayal of sound as a “spiritual medium” capable of countering the destabilizing noise of the modern world.

Interview with Jen Manion, 2016 Mary Kelley Book Prize Winner

Jen ManionLiberty's Prisoners is Associate Professor of History at Amherst College. Manion’s book, Liberty’s Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America, was the inaugural winner of SHEAR’s Mary Kelley Book Prize.

The Republic (TR): For those who haven’t read your book, would you provide a synopsis?

Jen Manion (JM): The book examines the origins of the penitentiary system in the U.S. through the lives of people who were its targets: African Americans, European immigrants, and poor women and men who were struggling to survive, fighting for their own freedom, and seeking to claim for themselves the promises of American independence. It explores how prevailing ideas about race, sexuality, gender, and class influenced which people were targeted for arrest and how they were treated once imprisoned. The book shows how the dramatic changes in governance, politics, and work led to somewhat more widespread expressions of emotion, more liberal attitudes towards sex, greater challenges to social hierarchy, and a hardening of racist views. It specifically shows how men having sex with each other in prison was used as justification for widespread use of solitary confinement and an expansion of punishment more generally. The entire system was organized in highly racialized and gendered ways from the beginning, making it far more than a simple scheme to control the poor but rather one that helped to define the rights and responsibilities citizenship as something for white men, to the exclusion of others.

TR: What led you to choose this topic for your book?

JM: The history of punishment in the U.S. is incredibly important and yet we still know very little about the actual lives, dreams, and actions of those who were subject to its reach and why they were targeted. We know an absurd amount about the actions and aspirations of the political and economic elites and hardly anything about the masses of people who made their wealth and rise to power possible. The penitentiary system — and the carceral state more broadly — is one of the places where these two groups interact intimately on a regular basis. It is undeniable. The founding generation created the idea of imprisonment as the premier approach to punishment, an idea their decedents embraced wholeheartedly by expanding the carceral state dramatically throughout the antebellum period. I wanted to understand the social, political, and economic conditions that made this move seem necessary to them and what its impact has been, not only on people who were arrested and imprisoned but also in the creation of ideals about who deserves rights and protections and who does not.

TR: Are there parallels to today’s criminal justice system that readers might find in your discussion of the Early Republic’s penitentiary system?

JM: People who are critical of mass incarceration and seeking to undo decades of racial disparities in punishment would actually find a great deal of useful information in reading my book. There are several reasons for this. One is that punishment by imprisonment was an invention — it is neither natural nor an inevitable outcome, meaning that there are other ways to imagine a state might hold people accountable for violating its laws. Two, if you really want to get to the heart of the criminalization of African Americans in the U.S., you have to take a long view of the history of slavery and especially how racial difference was understood in the moment of transition from slavery to freedom. This happens in Pennsylvania from the 1780s to the 1830s, laying an ideological foundation for the criminalization of free blacks. Then, as now, the punishment of women and children was given less attention because they are a smaller overall percentage of inmates but they were generally treated terribly and throw doubt over widely held believes Americans have about the desire to cherish and protect women and children. I focus much of this research on women imprisoned because it is a very important dimension of punishment for us to understand and yet few people even realize it happened.

TR: What is your current/next project?

JM: I’m working on a history of gender non-conformity in the nineteenth century called, “Born in the Wrong Time: Transgender Archives and the History of Possibility, 1770-1870.” This project really has three inspirations. I have long collected records pertaining to same-sex relationships between women in the 18th and 19th centuries but in most of them, gender crossing or non-conformity is a very central aspect of the story. Second, I was surprised in researching my first book that the carceral state did not explicitly or actively target people for crossing gender until the 1850s and 1860s and I want to better understand why that was the case. Third, I hope to add to rather slim body of scholarship documenting a “past” for the transgender community.

TR: What are the challenges of researching the Early Republic’s transgender community?

JM: The hardest challenge I face is determining the language to use in writing this history. While it would be anachronistic to assign a transgender identity to someone who lived two hundred years ago, that does not mean that people did not move in the world and understand themselves in ways with clear parallels to that of a modern transgender identity. But most of the records are about such people rather than by them, so I try to write about people in broad, expansive ways that create space and possibility for how they might have lived, how they understood themselves, and how other people viewed and treated them. Scholarship in Queer theory and transgender studies is immensely helpful in this process and I am having a lot of fun. But there is still a great deal of resistance to gender neutral pronouns such as “they” within academic writing. I have already had editors on four or five different pieces undo my careful work by inserting gendered pronouns into my writing. It requires constant editorial vigilance and educating. I usually convince people by the end but that does not mean it is not undone by someone else in the next round of editing. It is impossible for most people to think, write, or edit without labeling people “he” or “she.” That is what we call the gender binary and language fortifies its resilience, even though people live their genders in much more nuanced ways. This project is partly about recovering an archive but it also very much about how we think and write about the past as well.

Interview with Lorri Glover recently interviewed SHEAR member Lorri Glover about her new book, The Fate of the Revolution: Virginians Debate the Constitution, part of Johns Hopkins University Press’ Witness to History book series. Glover’s book “harnesses the uncertainty and excitement of the Constitutional debates to show readers the clear departure the Constitution marked, the powerful reasons people had to view it warily, and the persuasive claims that Madison and his allies finally made with success.”

Interview with Cassandra Good

headshotDr. Cassandra Good is assistant professor of history, as well as associate editor of the Papers of James Monroe, at the University of Mary Washington. Her first monograph, Founding Friendships: Friendships Between Men and Women in America’s Founding Era, 1780-1830 (Oxford University Press, 2015), won the 2016 Organization of American Historians Mary Jurich Nickliss Prize in U.S. Women’s and/or Gender History. She also served as assistant editor for The Papers of James Monroe, Volume 5: 1803-1811, ed. Daniel Preston (ABC-Clio: September 2014).

What was the genesis of Founding Friendships?

I came to this project from sources that came up in my undergraduate thesis research over a decade ago.  I was writing about etiquette and politics in early Washington, DC, and read a letter Margaret Bayard Smith wrote about her relationship with Thomas Jefferson.  I was surprised to find that she shared a close, loving friendship with a man–and started to realize that I had seen a number of such friendships in my sources.  The questions this raised and they way they intersected with contemporary debates about male/female friendships stayed with me, and I knew when I started graduate school that this would be my dissertation topic.

When did you first attend SHEAR? Did your SHEAR experience help you with Founding Friendships?

I attended SHEAR for the first time in 2009, when it was in Springfield, Illinois.  I presented a paper on friendships between men and women in the political elite, which was my first year seminar paper in graduate school.  I presented another portion of the project in 2012 in Baltimore.  Through both of these panels I met other scholars working on similar projects.  I have met so many great people at SHEAR’s annual conferences over the years that helped me develop the arguments in the book as well as feel part of a larger scholarly community.

My Jacksonian American students read your book in the spring semester and loved it. Besides winning their admiration (and the Nickliss Prize, of course!), what kind of positive responses have you received about Founding Friendships?

It’s been really fun to hear from non-historians after I give a book talk or after they’ve read the book.  Many people want to share stories of their own friendships with the opposite sex and the challenges they’ve faced in those relationships.  My favorite response, though, came from a colleague who told me that his student read my book and she said that it made her want to be friends with me!  I hope all of this means I succeeded in my goal of making history and gender theory accessible and easy to relate to.

In addition to being the author of an award-winning book, you are also an associate editor at the Papers of James Monroe. How did you get involved in documentary editing?

I was actually doing documentary editing before I realized what that was!  During an internship at the local historical society in high school, I was asked to transcribe a woman’s 19th century diaries.  I became fascinated by her and ended up doing an exhibit comparing her diaries with her husband’s (both kept around a dozen volumes) for my high school senior project.  I also published an article many years ago with transcriptions from Margaret Bayard Smith’s commonplace books.  It wasn’t until I got to the Monroe Papers, though, that I was formally trained in documentary editing.  There’s so much more work that goes into producing the edited volumes that historians all rely on for our research than I had ever realized.

What is the focus of your next book? 

My next project is on George Washington’s descendants and their political role in the new nation.  It will be a family biography using manuscripts, houses, and material objects to examine how the nieces, nephews, and step-grandchildren he helped raise constructed their public image.  I wrote about several of these individuals in Founding Friendships and started to wonder what happened to the family as a whole, particularly given republican fears of power descending through families.  The approach of studying relationships and politics will be the same as in my earlier work, but this will be in the form of a narrative and go further into the 19th century.

Read more about Dr. Good and her research at her website. She also has written extensively for the Smithsonian.

Reflections on SHEAR and History

We recently asked three long-time SHEAR members and recipients of the organization’s Distinguished Service Award to reflect on their careers and their connection to SHEAR. Connie Schulz, Craig Friend, and Jim Bradford were gracious enough to give their thoughts. Our thanks go to the following University of Oklahoma students, who are interning with JER editor Cathy Kelly: Terrence Robertson, Franklin Otis, and Sarah Miles.

Connie Schulz is Distinguished Professor Emerita and Project Director/Senior Editor at the Papers of the Revolutionary Era Pinckney Statesmen at the University of South Carolina.

1. What has surprised you about how research, teaching, or study of history has changed over the years?

While I have been using some form of digital technology since 1980 when I had an NHPRC fellowship at the Papers of the First Federal Congress (they had just purchased a Wang word processor), I am amazed at how much the digital tools that have developed in the last 15 years have affected all areas of historians’ work. Who would have imagined when I was in graduate school in the 1960s that as a researcher, you could sit at your desk at home and access every journal article in your field through JSTOR, or have free access through “Founders Online” to several hundred volumes of the edited papers of the founding era? The downside, I think, is that the ability that technology gives us to go right to the keyword in a document or the indexed article is that we have lost the serendipitous discovery of something we hadn’t thought to look for that happens when you read through an edited volume of documents, or browse through the hard copy of bound journals – or indeed see on the shelf next to the journals a book you had forgotten you had read a review about and turns out it has exactly what you need!.

2. How has SHEAR proven valuable to your professional career?

I spent the first dozen years after I received my PhD as an “underemployed historian,” teaching part-time at night or as an adjunct at local universities in the Washington DC area while being the “able to stay home” parent raising 3 young children, so SHEAR was my link to those in the profession who shared my intellectual interests. I volunteered to organize the “recent articles” section of SHEAR’s small newsletter and made many friends in the organization then through our pre-e-mail correspondence. (I even briefly edited the newsletter before SHEAR started the JER.) SHEAR was also a key professional organization for my development as a young historian because its members welcomed me even though I was not (nor was my grad school adviser) a recognized “name” in the field. Members like Ed Pessen and Bob McCauley and Joyce Appleby listened to what I had to contribute and engaged with me in discussions important to the organization and to me. I particularly appreciate that in those early years of SHEAR,  because we met on college campuses and stayed in dormitories rather than hotels, I could actually afford to attend the annual conferences. Even as SHEAR has gotten much larger, it has a “small and accepting community” feel to it – an organization where I know many of the “old-timers” but where I can also meet and get to know and learn from the young scholars just entering the field. For more than 40 years it has been my intellectual professional home ground.

3. Do you have any advice for aspiring historians?

Be a good citizen of the profession. Volunteer to help at professional meetings, or to serve on committees. If a fellow student or colleague asks for help in a project, if you can do it, pitch in, share your insights and tell them about sources you have found. We often are tempted to work in silos, but anything I’ve ever studied has benefited by the help others have given me, and the networks I’ve enjoyed as a result are often because I served on a committee with someone, or responded when they asked how I had learned about something.

And be curious! Follow through and Google (or search through some of the wonderful other digital tools we now have) the names of persons or places you haven’t noticed before when you come across them in a document or a monograph. Read books or articles outside your field that pique your interest. You never know where something unexpected will lead you in your research, or in your teaching interests.

4. What was the most recent good book you have read?

I loved All the Light We Cannot See when my book club read it.  And since we are currently beginning work at the Pinckney Statesmen Papers project on the years in which all were diplomats (and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney headed for France in 1796 for what eventually became the XYZ affair), I am delighted with Francois Furstenberg’s new book When the United States Spoke French: Five Refugees Who Shaped a Nation.

From 2004-2015, Craig Friend, CHASS Distinguished Graduate Professor of History and Director of Public History at North Carolina State University, served as SHEAR’s national conference coordinator.

1. What has surprised you most about working with SHEAR? What do you think makes working with other historians in such an organization valuable?

Surprised me most? Well, to be honest, it was how people tried to avoid paying! But let us not linger on that. I don’t think anything else really surprised me. People are people.

As for what makes working with other historians valuable to me, I would say “intellectual engagement.” Like most other historians, I am passionate about history. It rewards me intellectually and even emotionally. During my years as conference coordinator, it was difficult to find time to engage intellectually at panels and even in informal discussions. When I did manage to participate, I was always impressed most with the collegial approach taken by most of my fellow historians. Despite the individualism of our projects, it always seemed as if we are undertaking a common discovery, rethinking, and re-narrating of the past. That sense of a collective undertaking inspires my own work.

2. What project has been the most fun or of the most interest to you during your career? Why?

Although it will never be published, the project that has brought the most enjoyment is my own genealogy, which has been an on-going project for years. On my paternal side, I discovered that my great-grandfather’s Confederate regiment fought against my husband’s grandfather’s US Colored Troops regiment at a skirmish in southwestern Virginia during the Civil War. Beyond the serendipity of such historical moments, however, I think there is a unique lens through which we historians view our ancestors since we are already aware of the historical contexts for their lives. On my maternal side, for example, I discovered that my ninth-great-grandmother Hannah Foster Stone (daughter of Ann Foster, an accused Salem witch) was murdered by her husband Hugh Stone. Such stories often stand out against the mundanity of most ancestors’ lives because of the sensationalism of the event. But as a historian, my first reaction to uncovering these ancestors was sorrow over the domestic abuse that framed Hannah’s married life and led to her eventual death. This is a connection that most people would not consider: they would find her murder sensational in itself as if nothing led to it.

3. What do you see as the role of public history and academic (professional) history in the coming years? How do you imagine the two being linked?

I think that academic history is approaching a crossroads, if it is not yet there: the public and its politicians increasingly cannot see the relevance of the humanities, which does not bode well in a political culture shaped by heightened budgetary concerns.

Recent calls for academics to embrace public history as a panacea, however, are misguided because public history is not solely or even primarily about the delivery of academic history to the public. Most certainly, public history is about making history useful to public audiences, but although good public history interpretation is informed by academic history, it is also circumscribed by traditions of public narrative and the expectations of advisory councils and funding sources.

Instead, I think the solution is that academic historians need to be proactive as public intellectuals. Some historians have taken to social media to relate academic history to hordes of Twitter or Facebook followers, placing contemporary events into historical narratives, and providing reasons for non-historians to appreciate the usefulness of academic history. Other historians have engaged cultural media like television shows—I am thinking of genealogy shows like Finding Your Roots—to do the same. I have started my own blog page to contextualize modern popular culture in historical contexts. But public intellectualism can also take place during a historians’ talk to a high school history class, a meeting of the local DAR, a family reunion (yes, I make powerpoint presentations of my genealogy with a lot of historical contextualization for family reunions), or any audience where we academics can inspire appreciation for our professional work.

4. On what are you currently working?

I am working on three book-length projects–a biography of Lunsford Lane, a slave born in 1803 Raleigh, North Carolina, who purchased his freedom in 1835 and became a black abolitionist; the revision of The New History of Kentucky textbook with Jim Klotter; and a historical novel about upcountry South Carolina in 1828, drawing from the real diary of Cyrus Stuart–and a handful of smaller article-length projects. I find that simultaneously working on multiple (and conceptually different) projects drives my creativity.

Texas A&M University Professor of History Jim Bradford served as JER book review editor for fifteen years (1981-1996) and as SHEAR executive director for seven years (1996-2003).

1. What made you want to pursue history as a career? 

For my first three years as an undergraduate, I was a “pre-law” major with a minor in history. I planned to practice law for a few years before entering politics. Halfway through my freshman year, I was elected treasurer of state association of college organizations of one of the two major parties. During my junior year I worked for a U.S. Senate candidate organizing support among college students until the incumbent senator died, the governor appointed a member of the House of Representatives to fill the vacancy, and the candidate I worked for withdrew from the race. At about the same time, a county officeholder announced his retirement, and I was encouraged to run for the position. After discussing this option, my wife and I decided against a career in politics, and I changed majors to history to pursue a career in academe—a decision we have never regretted. Why history? I had enjoyed the history classes more than any others I’d been taking and had gotten to know and respect two history professors—one as a teacher and the other a scholar in the era of the Revolution.

One of the major attractions of an academic career was the fact that college professors have their own classes to teach and select research topics of their own choice from the beginning of their careers. They do not have to spend several years “paying their dues” by doing menial tasks or understudying a more senior individual.

2. What do you like most about teaching and/or researching history? 

I enjoy teaching at all university levels, especially the opportunity to get to know students and observe their intellectual growth. Teaching survey courses provides opportunities to challenge students’ thinking, to introduce them to the nuances of history, and to broaden their perspective.  Upper division courses allow time to focus on narrower topics and examine a wider variety of viewpoints. Graduate seminars force me to think more deeply about the subject of the week and to watch students mature. Teaching in study abroad programs is particularly rewarding because I get to know most of the students on a more personal level than on campus and to see the impact the study abroad experience has on most of their lives.

Conducting research is equally rewarding. I enjoy traveling to archives; sifting through manuscripts, identifying themes or patterns, and discovering a document that provides a key to answering questions that intrigue me; and discussing my “discoveries” and conclusions with fellow historians. I draw satisfaction from completing a project—be it a chapter or a book.

3. What do you think makes SHEAR stand out as an outstanding organization?

SHEAR was founded in large part to expand opportunities for historians of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries to exchange ideas both at annual conferences in the Journal of the Early Republic. Meetings of other organizations often focused on specific themes, while SHEAR is a forum for people working on any aspect of history in the era. SHEAR panels/sessions are less formal than those at many other meetings; the result being more discussion. Participants—ranging from graduate students to senior scholars—mix informally to discuss their research, share their experiences at archives, and teaching in a congenial atmosphere.

4. Do you have any advice for aspiring historians?

Set goals and adopt a “calendar” that assigns specific times to research/write, prepare for class, and read books and journal articles (both recent publications and important works from the past). Read widely, rather than focus on a narrow topic. This will prepare you to teach survey as well as upper division courses and to place your research in context. Review each lecture given and discussion led shortly after the class meets, noting strengths and weaknesses of each session. Such notes will be of great help when you revise course content and conduct.

Set aside blocks of time during semester and summer breaks to focus on research and writing. Set a goal when writing—so many words or pages each day or week.

Get to know people in your field—SHEAR’s annual conference is a great place to do this—as well as colleagues in your department.