Age in America: The Colonial Era to the Present, and age as a category of historical analysis

ageinamericaIs age the next new category of analysis in history?  I think it might be, and not just because I’m one of the contributing authors.  From an email from co-editor Nicholas L. Syrett I received this weekend:

Age in America has been published (New York University Press, 2015)! I’m at the Organization of American Historians’ annual meeting this weekend in St. Louis and the very first two advance copies made it here just in time (and both were sold by conference’s end). The assistant editor at NYU Press will send you your copy as soon as the books stock at NYU’s warehouse (Cori and I don’t even have ours yet). I have attached a photo of the book sitting in the NYU Press booth. Within a couple weeks it should be available to order through bookstores, etc.

The co-editors of the volume, Nick Syrett and Corinne T. Field, worked hard with contributors to get a good mix of established and emerging scholars and to cover a pretty broad swath of American history (table of contents here.)  My essay, “‘Keep me With You, So That I Might Not Be Damned:’  Age and Captivity in Colonial Borderlands Warfare,” is the first essay in the collection after Field’s and Syrett’s introduction.  There are thirteen other essays in the volume, which covers not just the expected modern markers of age and how they came to be (age of suffrage, the drinking age, the age of retirement and Social Security benefits), but also essays by Yuki Oda on age and immigration politics (“‘A Day Too Late:’  Age, Immigration Quotas, and Racial Exclusion,”) Stuart Schoenfield on age 13 for American Jews, and Norma E. Cantú on the quinceañera for Latin@ girls. Continue reading

How is this OK? On dismissing historical subfields and the evolution of our intellectual lives.

I’ve had some conversations with senior male historians over the past few years that have troubled me.

When talking about my work, or about the work of another women’s historian, some scholars apparently feel it’s OK to say “Oh, that’s why I don’t know her work.  I just don’t do women’s history.”  Or, “Women’s history is just something I never think about,” or comments to that effect.

I get it that we historians can’t all do everything, but how is it acceptable to announce that you never think about half of humanity in your own work or even read the scholarship on this half of humanity?  Would these white men (and they have all been white) announce blithely that “I don’t do race,” even if it were true?  (Odds are they’re not as ignorant of the scholarship on race as they are on the scholarship on women, gender, and sexuality, but this is just a guess.  This post is mostly about the liberty some feel to confess their total ignorance of what has become a major subfield of history, and why that’s a bad idea not just for the audience but for the speaker.) Continue reading

Tomorrowland is today! On fresh starts, feminist protest, and the citizens of Greater Shut-upistan


It looks like I completely failed to blog a single word last week.  Once this blog starts to feel like another job, I’ll pull the plug, so in the meantime I’ll enjoy my off-line life when I will!  I hope you’re all having lovely winter breaks/holiday seasons/time away from the classroom/unstressful time with family and friends.

Two weeks ago, I sent my book off to begin its long and winding journey to eventual publication.  So now what do I do with the rest of my sabbatical?  I’ve got some fun ideas that I want to explore that have to do with women’s bodies, material culture, fashion, and citizenship in the Early U.S. Republic, and there are more sources at the Huntington Library than I can probably process in the next five and a half months.  But I can dream, can’t I?

While it may seem perverse, I hope that I don’t see any readers’ reports for at least a few months, because then I won’t feel obligated to respond to them and make a plan with an editor.  I want some time to dream and play, and to think about the second half of my scholarly career.  Tempus Fugit, my friends.  I’ve now written two books that several people told me I couldn’t write, shouldn’t write, and/or was stupid to write because everybody already knows that, nobody cares, and I should just stop talking about my ideas. Continue reading

On Martial Macaronis, &c.


by Mary Darly, ca. early 1770s

Was Jeremiah “Jerry” Duggan The world’s only stylist and leader of a military insurgency?  From “Journal of the Siege and Blockade of Quebec by the American Rebels, in Autumn 1775 and Winter 1776,” in Manuscripts Relating to the Early History of Canada, Fourth Series (Quebec:  Dawson & co., 1875), and attributed to Captain (at the time, Lieutenant) Francis Daly:

Dec. 4th. Jerry Duggan, late Hair-dresser in Quebec, is stiled Major amongst them, and it is said commands 500 Canadians.

5th. Duggan (Jeremiah) disarmed the inhabitants of the suburbs of St. Roc without opposition. Some cannon shot fired from the Garrison.

Pretty badass for a hairdresser, no?  I love the eighteenth century!

Duggan was a leader of the “rebels,” that is, of the American insurgents trying to rally Canadians to rise up against their British masters in Québec during Benedict Arnold’s ultimately unsuccessful siege of the city in 1775-76.  (I had no idea that they ever rallied any Canadians to their side, as Daly reports here.  For more on “The Martial Macaroni,” and other mid-eighteenth-century satires, see this informative blog post on Mary Darly’s The Book of Caricaturas, 1762, and her career as a London artist, engraver, and printer who satirized the Macaroni style). Continue reading

Working in a winter wonderland


Baby, it’s cold outside!

It’s hard work being on sabbatical, believe it or not. Having the privilege of a Huntington Library long-term fellowship comes with strings attached–it’s not all strolling in the gardens, gazing at marvelous paintings, and thinking deep thoughts all day long.  I’ve spent a lot of this week imagining the winter of 1759-60 in Québec and trying to write about it.  (Those poor Highlanders, in their kilts–or “philibegs” as once source calls them!  Just imagine.)  Those of you who are suffering from the Polar Vortex in most of North America this week can probably do a lot better than I can at this point.  (Although it’s been cool and overcast here too–highs only in the 60s!)

Back to the hard work of sabbatical:  the number of seminars, lectures, conferences, and happy hours (both formal and informal) could be nearly a full-time job if I let them.  In the past week alone, I’ve learned what a “philibeg” is, and about medieval zombies and other life-after-death beliefs, heard a lecture on the Sand Creek Massacre (whose 150th anniversary is on November 29 this year), read a paper on seeing early nineteenth-century mathemeticians as cyborgs, and just today learned that “mercantilism” is pronounced merCANtilism, not MERcantilism, as I had always thought.  (Who knew?  I avoid talking about merCANtilism as much as I possibly can.) Continue reading


scotsflagAre any of you following the Scottish independence referendum?  It’s a surprisingly big deal around the Huntington, which being a kind of monument to the “special relationship” between the United States and Great Britain in terms of its art, manuscript, and bibliographic collections, is loaded with British people and British scholars, always.  Opinions here vary as to how it will go, and how it should go.  I expect that the results will be some time in coming–it’s early evening in Britain now, but the polls don’t close until 10 p.m. there, so even with an immediate overnight count we may not know until late tonight or early tomorrow morning Pacific Daylight Time.

I was agnostic on the question, being neither Scots nor British nor a British studies scholar, until I saw that Niall Ferguson has been urging a “nae” vote.  Today, he claims that “Alone, Scotland Will Be a Failed State.”  Right.  Just like Canada, the U.S., New Zealand, and Australia!  Failed states, all of them, even the U.S. with its tragic adoption of Euro-style socialised medicine and Afro-style Kenyan anticolonial presidents.  Wait–did you see that?  Even the spelling around here is getting socialised–I mean, socialized!  Good God.  But knowing where Ferguson stands is really clarifying:  as a reflexively Tory doomsayer he’s so spectacularly wrong about everything all of the time, it made it easy to root for an “aye!”   Continue reading

The Union Army’s false Afro-Canadians

Via my Twitter feed, I see that my host for the Past Present talk last week has an interesting article in the New York Times‘s blog on the Civil War, Disunion.  Adam Arenson, who is headed to Manhattan College later this year, has discovered a number of false Canadian volunteers for the Union Army.  After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, it was no longer sufficient merely for runaway slaves to cross into a free U.S. state, as Eliza did in Uncle Tom’s Cabin in her desperate bid to cross the semi-frozen Ohio River with her little boy from Kentucky to Ohio.  The Fugitive Slave Act effectively denied that there was any such thing as a free state, so escape to Canada was the only sure means to escape the grasp of the U.S. slaveocracy.  The result, according to Arenson?  Fake Canadian volunteers!

As for those men who enlisted in St. Louis in August 1864, the man listed on the rolls as Jerry Watson explained to pension officers: “I did not tell them I was born in Canada and I was not asked where I was born.” Another, John Adams, said he had been enslaved in his home state of Kentucky, and that “I ran way from there and came to St. Louis and enlisted.” So why was he listed as a foreigner? “They had me say I was from Canada,” Adams replied. They — white substitute recruiters, paid a portion of the bounty, or perhaps even the enlistment officers themselves — seem to have coached these black men to claim foreign birth, and the advantages of a new identity for joining the Army. That could explain the strange phrase on Adams’s enlistment record: “born Canada British Prov.” — a description that doth protest too much.

With the flick of a pen, fugitive slaves could gain a connection to British North America, and lose some of the clues that would allow angry slaveholders or worried family members to track them down. Some of the African-Americans who had escaped to Canada considered the Great Lakes crossing as a new baptism, or coming under the protection of the British Lion’s paw. The experience of these soldiers as fake Canadians demonstrates how the talismanic power of Canada could extend far south of the border, to dwell in the minds of Union citizens and soldiers alike during the Civil War.

Continue reading