A Brief History of Blogging as Experienced by Yours Truly

I began blogging in 2002. At that moment blogging was a relatively new technology; it had been around for a few years but suddenly picked up in popularity. There were many platforms: Blogger (my initial host), Moveable Type, and LiveJournal for example. Most of my initial entries were short: they were quick meditations on primary sources, contemporary politics, and cats. There were always plenty of cat pictures (once Blogger started supporting them). Conversations were slow on blogs–initially most blogging software did not support commenting and you would have to wait to see if someone else commented on my posts in a post on their own blog. By 2005, though, I was plugged into a growing and supportive community of graduate students and junior faculty bloggers. We commented on one another’s work, posted syllabi, and exchanged cat pictures.

Also in 2005: The Chronicle of Higher Education published a pseudonymous column condemning academic blogging and claiming that it would badly damage students who were just entering the job market.It’s pretty fair to say all hell broke loose. Harvard’s placement people began holding meetings about how to remove ourselves from the internet (!!) and under no circumstances were we to ever, ever blog pictures of our cats. (I didn’t have a cat at the time, but sometimes Stella Chaplin-Armitage appeared, anonymously of course.)

I think that particular panic passed. By 2007 no one was talking about how terrible blogging was; instead we saw graduate student blogger after graduate student blogger get jobs and prosper. Clearly Tribble’s histrionics were just that–histrionics. By then, there were serious discussions about listing blogging as a scholarly activity during performance reviews and including posts in packets for promotion and tenure. In 2011 my friend Manan Ahmed of the blog Chapati Mystery published a dead-tree anthology of his blog posts on Pakistan.

But even as that was happening, my cohort of bloggers was beginning to blog a little less, and the nature of what blogs looked like was changing. There are a couple of reasons for this, I think. First of all, new social media platforms were changing how bloggers talked to one another. I joined Facebook in 2007 at the behest of my students, where I found they had started a facebook group for my class and were busily exchanging information about their draft transcriptions and research papers there. I soon found other academic friends on facebook, and I began sharing a lot of my short research queries and cat pictures there. In 2010 I joined Twitter, a microblogging platform that allows a user to post in short, 140-character bursts. Katrina Gulliver had already created the hashtag #twitterstorians to create a twitter community of historians. I found that I had less time to write the longer think pieces I had been posting on my blog and instead I tweet links, short commentaries, and enter into helpful and vibrant conversations on Twitter instead.

The academic blogging world, I think, has become less freewheeling and more formal, I think. The blogs I visit regularly are generally topic-specific groups blogs, The Junto, the U.S. Religious History Blog, or the US Intellectual History blog. These blogs tend to function more like journals, publishing book reviews, interviews with new authors, and I think, generally longer pieces. Professional associations and presses now have their own blogs, which increase visibility and aid marketing as well as facilitate communication. Shorter, punchier conversations take place in social media. My own blogging has followed this pattern: I write blog posts that are almost exclusively long form now (the most recent was a meditation on empire, Islamophobia, and American Sniper, which was published on Chapati Mystery).I don’t know if that’s what Joe Adelman means by “maturing” 🙂 but I think that’s how I see the trajectory.


Some notes and observations regarding NYU’s proposed Social Media Policy

1) This was apparently written in the Public Affairs Office. The “Responsible Officer” listed is the Vice President for Public Affairs. There was no consultation with faculty that I can tell. There were no meetings about this policy, there were no surveys of faculty to see how they use social media tools in research and teaching, and yet the Faculty Senate is expected to give its approval without question. Such a policy should NOT be implemented without substantial faculty input and support.

2) The Public Affairs Office should not be issuing policies that have anything to do with faculty’s use of Social Media except in the context of institutional accounts. This policy does have a section dedicated to Institutional Media Accounts (Section III), and that is the ONLY place where the Public Affairs Office should be involved in drafting such a policy.

3) The perfunctory statement on Freedom of Expression and the Academic Community (Section 1a) is inadequate and contradicted in other sections of the policy.

4) In Section II the policy conflates electronic communications such as email with the use of publicly available Social Media tools (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, for example) which should be considered separately.

5) Section IIb purports to prevent “misuses” of electronic communications. While references to preventing threatening behavior seem reasonable on the surface, this section of the policy could in fact be used to bring sanctions against faculty, staff, and students for such innocuous behavior as posting a picture of someone wearing a Game of Thrones tshirt. (If you think I’m kidding about this, see recent happenings in New Jersey: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/04/16/bergen-community-college-faculty-and-president-conflict-over-many-issues#sthash.PS3sZyg5.dpbs ) There is NOTHING in this policy that would prevent administative retaliation against a member of the faculty using perceived “threats” as an excuse.

6) Section IIb also prevents “engaging in conduct that disrupts NYU operations or creates a foreseeable risk of doing so.” ANY criticism of the university, its policies, and/or its administration could come under this rubric. My tweeting about this policy could be seen as sufficiently disruptive and could become an excuse to attempt to shut down my social media accounts.

7) Section IIb also prohibits “Engaging in prohibited electioneering” but this goes completely undefined.

8) Section IIc prevents members of the NYU community from altering or creating their own versions of NYU marks. This section needs to be amended to protect satirical speech.

9) Section IVg is entirely inadequate in protecting faculty who use social media as part of their teaching. It was obviously not written with input from anyone in the classroom.

10) This policy should absolutely NOT be passed in its current form. A committee of faculty should be convened to design an APPROPRIATE social media policy that protects freedom of expression and academic freedom as well as establishing reasonable guidelines for social media use. This policy does not do that.

New syllabus!

This will be the first time I’ve taught an Atlantic world graduate course. This was a ton of fun to put together and is chock full of brand new stuff I haven’t even read yet. I’m looking forward to the course!

Thursday January 30 The Big Picture

John Thornton, Cultural History of the Atlantic World, 1250-1820 (2012)
David Armitage, “Three Concepts of Atlantic History,” in Armitage and Braddick, eds., The British Atlantic World, 1500-1800 (2002)

Thursday February 6 Whose Atlantic is it, anyway?

Jorge Canizares-Esguerra, Puritan Conquistadores: Iberianizing the Atlantic, 1550-1700 (2006)
Eliga H. Gould, “Entangled Histories, Entangled Worlds: The English-Speaking Atlantic as a Spanish Periphery,” American Historical Review 112, no. 3 (June 2007): 764-786. (JSTOR)

Thursday February 13: Big Pictures, Little Pictures

Read ONE of the following:

Kirsten Block, Ordinary Lives in the Early Caribbean: Religion, Colonial Competition, and the Politics of Profit (2012)
Jenny Shaw, Everyday Life in the Early English Caribbean: Irish, Africans, and the Construction of Difference (2013)


Lara Putnam, “To Study the Fragments/Whole: Microhistory and the Atlantic World,” Journal of Social History vol. 39, no. 3 (Spring 2006), 615-630. (Project Muse)

Thursday February 20 Big Little Islands (or from Curacao to Manhattan and back again)

Linda Rupert, Creolization and Contraband: Curacao in the Early Modern Atlantic World (2012)
Wim Klooster, “Other Netherlands Beyond the Sea: Dutch America between Metropolitan Control and Divergence, 1600-1795,” in Daniels and Kennedy, eds., Negotiated Empires: Centers and Peripheries in the Americas, 1500-1820 (2002), 171-192.

Thursday February 27 About that Peripheral Anglophone Atlantic…

Read ONE of the following:

Owen Stanwood, The Empire Reformed: English America in the Age of the Glorious Revolution (2010)
Michael A. LaCombe, Political Gastronomy: Food and Authority in the English Atlantic World (2012)


Trevor Burnard, “Empire Matters? The Historiography of Imperialism in Early America, 1492-1830” History of European Ideas vol. 33, no. 1 (2007), 87-107. (available from a number of dbs; but please don’t use it on Elsevier)

Thursday March 6 What if there were a Moravian Atlantic…

Aaron Spencer Fogleman, Two Troubled Souls: An Eighteenth-Century Couple’s Spiritual Journey in the Atlantic World (2013)
Greer and Mills, “A Catholic Atlantic” in Canizares-Esguerra and Seeman, eds., The Atlantic in Global History, 1500-2000 (2007)

Thursday March 13 …or a French Atlantic!

Sophie White, Wild Frenchmen and Frenchified Indians: Material Culture and Race in Colonial Louisiana (2012)
Laurier Turgeon, “Codfish, Consumption, and Colonization: The Creation of the French Atlantic World During the Sixteenth Century,” in Caroline William, ed., Bridging the Early Modern Atlantic World: People, Products, and Practices on the Move (2009), 33-56.

Thursday March 20

No class, spring break!

Thursday March 27 The Enslaved Atlantic, Part I

Read ONE of the following:

Mariana Candido, An African Slaving Port and the Atlantic World: Benguela and its Hinterlands (2013)
James Sweet, Domingo Alvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World (2011)


Sidbury and Canizares-Esguerra, “Mapping Ethnogenesis in the Early Modern Atlantic” William and Mary Quarterly vol. 68, no.2 (April 2011), 181-208, and sample the associated articles in the Forum.

Thursday April 3 The Enslaved Atlantic, Part II

Michael Guasco, Slaves and Englishmen: Human Bondage in the Early Modern Atlantic World (2014)
Kevin Dawson, “Enslaved Swimmers and Divers in the Atlantic World” The Journal of American History vol. 92, no. 4 (March 2006), 1327-1355.

Thursday April 10 Science and Ecology in the Atlantic World (or the Enslaved Atlantic, Part III)

Read ONE of the following:

John McNeill, Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914 (2010)
Andrew Curran, The Anatomy of Blackness: Science and Slavery in an Age of Enlightenment (2013)


James Delbourgo, “The Newtonian Slave Body: Racial Enlightenment in the Atlantic World” Atlantic Studies vol. 9, no. 2 (April 2012), 185-207.

Thursday April 17 The Atlantic’s Interiors

Read ONE of the following:

Hal Langfur, The Forbidden Lands: Colonial Identity, Frontier VIolence, and the Persistence of Brazil’s Eastern Indians, 1750-1830 (2006)
Paul W. Mapp, The Elusive West and the Contest for Empire, 1713-1763 (2011)


Sample the essays in Alison Games, et. al., “Forum: Beyond the Atlantic” William and Mary Quarterly vol. 63, no. 4 (October 2006), 675-742.

Thursday April 24 An Indigenous Atlantic? Part I (Or, the Enslaved Atlantic, Part IV)

Brett Rushforth, Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous and Atlantic Slaveries in New France (2012)
David Andrew Nichols, “Indian Slavery and the Fictions of Empire” Reviews in American History, vol. 41, no. 4 (December 2013), 600-606.

Thursday May 1 An Indigenous Atlantic? Part II

Jace Weaver, The Red Atlantic: American Indigenes and the Making of the Modern World (2014)
Paul Cohen, “Was There an Amerindian Atlantic? Reflections on the Limits of a Historiographical Concept” History of European Ideas, 34, no 4 (December 2008)

Thursday May 8 The Atlantic and the Pacific: “invasion is a structure, not an event.”

Lisa Ford, Settler Sovereignty: Jurisdiction and Indigenous People in America and Australia, 1788-1836 (2010)
Patrick Wolfe, “Structure and Event: Settler Colonialism, Time, and the Question of Genocide,” in A. Dirk Moses, ed., Empire, Colony, and Genocide: Conquest, Occupation, and Subaltern Resistance in World History (2008), 102-132.

An Instance of Lithobolia

I’m teaching small parts of Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana (1702) this week, and while I was thumbing through the MCA’s 700+ pages, I came across this account of lithobolia (for the uninitiated, that’s spectral object-throwing, usually but not limited to stones). Mather enjoyed collecting incidences of the “wonders of the invisible world.”

In the year 1683, the Houfe of Nicholas Desborough at Hartford, was very strangely molested by Stones, by pieces of Earth, by Cobs of Indian Corn, and other such things, from an Invisible Hand, thrown at him, fometimes thro’ the Door, fometimes thro’ the Window, fometimes down the Chomney, and fometimes from the Floor of the Roo (tho’ very clofe) over his Head, and fometimes he met with them in the Shop, the Yard, the Barn, and in the Field.

There was no Violence in the Motion of the Things thus thrown by the Invisible Hand; and tho’ others befides the Man, happen’d fometimes to be hit, they were never hurt with them; only the Man himfelf once had Pain give to his Arm, and once Blood fetch’d from his Leg, by thefe Annoyances; and a Fire in an unknown way kindled, confum’d no little part of his Eftate.

This trouble began upon a Controverfie between Desborough and another Perfon about a Chest of Cloaths which the Man apprehended to be unrighteoufly detain’d by Desborough; and it endur’d for divers months: but upon the reftoring of the Cloaths thus detain’d, the Trouble ceafed.

Manifest Destiny, Little House style

I am a fond rereader. I keep most of the books I’ve ever read so I might revisit them when time allows. A few days ago I suggested to my friend Salman that if he wants to know about white Americans, he should read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. I took my own suggestion instead. I’m into the second book in the series, Little House on the Prairie, which take place in the early 1870s. The Ingalls family has left the Big Woods of Wisconsin and headed into Indian Territory on the rumor that it will shortly be opened to settlement. Indians living there, Osage by the description, were not pleased to find a white family squatting on their land. After one particularly harrowing (well, for Ma, anyway) encounter with Indians, Pa played the fiddle and the family sang this song:

“Wild roved an Indian maid,
Bright Alfarata,
Where flow the waters
Of the blue Juniata.
Strong and true my arrows are
In my painted quiver,
Swift goes my light canoe
Adown the rapid river.

Bold is my warrior good,
The love of Alfarata,
Proud wave his sunny plumes
Along the Juniata.
Soft and low he speaks to me,
And then his war-cry sounding
Rings his voice in thunder loud
From height to height resounding.

So sang the Indian maid,
Bright Alfarata,
Where sweep the waters
Of the blue Juniata.
Fleeting years have borne away
The voice of Alfarata,
Still flow the waters
If the blue Juniata.” Continue reading

Why can’t I just call it The Amazing Mr Book?

My dear readers, many thanks for your votes and your input on the title issue. Now that you’ve all voted, I can say what’s what.

1. From Potential Christians to Hereditary Heathens: Religion and Race in Virginia, 1550-1750.

This was the title of the dissertation. I love it because it perfectly encapsulates what the book is about, and also because my old, dear friend Louis Hyman thought up the beautifully alliterative phrase “Hereditary Heathens.” This has been the working title of the manuscript but it has the drawback of being kinda wordy. Well, not kinda. It is wordy.

2. Religion and Race in Early Virginia: From Potential Christians to Hereditary Heathens

This is one title the publisher has suggested. It’s basically the first title reversed. I’m not fond. While it will be good for keyword searching, it just does not flow. It doesn’t look like you guys liked this one either.

3. The Baptism of Virginia

This one was suggested by the marketing folks. I have a number of problems with it. First, it doesn’t actually say what the book is about. While I do have one chapter about baptism, the book itself is NOT about baptism. Specialists in my field might actually think that the book is about John Leland, or Methodists, or Baptists, or that it might be antebellum. Moreover, in a keyword search, someone searching for something about religion and race wouldn’t actually get this book. NOT FOND. But, I was surprised to note that in the poll and on twitter, you folks really liked it. So, food for thought.

4. Creating a Christian Race in Virginia, 1550-1750

My friend the magnificient sepoy came up with this one. He asked, what needs to be in the title? I said, three things need to be in the title: religion/Christianity/Christians, race, and Virginia. This title says it all, nice and simple, no subtitle, and gives a date range. Boom. I love it. Works for me.

It doesn’t work for the publishing house.

So, my father (deerislebound in the comments) suggested: The Baptism of Virginia: Creating a Christian Race, 1550-1750. I rather like this solution. It preserves the elements the marketing professionals seem to find most useful about the title, but it allows me to sneak in a subtitle that for me clarifies what the book is actually about.

Some other suggestions emanating from the folks with the power: Creating a Christian Master Race, and, Creating Christian Masters. Neither of those works for me because I don’t feel the book is a) about Nazis, or b) really about the planter class either, at least no exclusively, in the way that say, Roll, Jordan, Roll was about the master class. So.

Tomorrow phone call with my editor and hopefully we can work this out. #crossesfingers

Favorite teachable sources?

Ed’s last questions ask me to name two favorite primary sources and one favorite secondary source.
I’m going to cheat a little on this one! I like to teach with two kinds of primary sources: court records and political cartoons. Court records are marvelous because they give us a window into everyday lives and their little conflicts. They also allow the voices of the underclass—servants, slaves, and poor planters, to emerge, in the way that reading the letters, diaries, and other papers of the planter class do not. Consider this one from 29 January 1657/58, Northampton County, Virginia:

“Whereas I Jane Delimus having wrongfully scandalized and abused Mrs Ann Stringer ye wife of Capt John Stringer in saying and reporting that shee marked a sow of myne which I acknowledge to be false and untrue therefore I humbly desire her ye said mrs Ann Stringer to forgive and remitt my offence which I am heartely sory for.” [Volume 8, fol. 1]

There’s so much here to talk about: gender, status, the importance of livestock, even imagining the background that might help us make sense of what appears to be a petty dispute. I could drive an entire class period around this document.
Here’s one of my favorite American Revolution cartoons, by Paul Revere. If you thought the Quebec Bill didn’t matter, think again!
In terms of secondary sources, I think my absolute all-time favorite read is John Demos’s The Unredeemed Captive (1994). This is the story of a young English girl, taken and held for ransom by French-allied Mohawks. When her family finally got the money to redeem her, there was a problem: Eunice Williams did not want to come home. Ah, the problems of colonialism…

Colonial Divisions?

Ed’s third question deals with differences between the colonial North and the colonial South. As he points out, textbooks often present the northern colonies, most notably the New England colonies, as religious, enchanted, and driven by consumer goods. The south is presented as a place obsessed with profit and with slavery. I think these divisions are largely artificial. The roots of this division are twofold: it stems partly from a temptation to read antebellum sectional divisions back on the colonial period, and partly from Jack P. Greene’s synthetic history of the colonial period Pursuits of Happiness (1988). In Pursuits, Greene argued that Americans have too long been taught that New England was the source of the United States’ political and intellectual heritage. Greene showed that New England was in fact atypical: its demographics and culture were wildly different from that of the mid-Atlantic, the Chesapeake, Carolina, and the Caribbean. New England was comprised primarily of families and it resulted in a self-reproducing population of English people almost immediately. No other English region in the New World was like that. Far more typical were the wild demographies of the Chesapeake, where migrants were comprised mainly of young single men and it took decades to create a self-reproducing English population. Greene, I think, was right on about New England’s atypicality, but his synthesis has led to other divisions between New England and everywhere else. I don’t find these particularly productive.

Take religion, for example. New England’s puritans were a pious lot, and the Chesapeake harbored England’s lawless and godless. New Englanders lived in an enchanted, supernatural world, full of devils and witches and  portents. In Virginia, damned souls made tobacco for profit (apologies to Edward Bond). It’s a common portrait, and it would make historians’ lives so much simpler if it were true. But it isn’t. Consider this document:

“Upon the first day of April my wife was washing a bucke[t] of clothes, and of a sudden her clothes were all besprinkled with blood form the first beginning to the rincing of them, at last in such abundance as if an hand should invisibly take handfuls of gore blood and throw it upon the linnen. Where it lay all of an heape in the washing-tub, she sent for me in, and I tooke up one gobbet of blood as big as my fingers end, and stirring it in my hand it did not stain my fingers nor the linnen: Upon this miraculous premonition and warning from God having some kinde of intimation of some designe of the Indians (though nothing appeared till that day) I provided for defence, and though we were but five men and mistrusted not any villainy towards us before: yet we secured our selves against 20 savages which were three houres that day about my house. Blessed be the name of God.”

You’d think that this prophetic bit of blood in the laundry came from New England, but if you thought that, you would be wrong. James Horn uses this document from Virginia in 1644 in his book, Adapting to a New World: English Society in the Seventeenth-Century Chesapeake (1994, quote on page 381), to introduce a chapter on religion and popular belief. Horn argues, quite convincingly and with plenty of evidence, that English society in the Chesapeake was highly religious, and not all that different from New England. Edward Bond, in his Damned Souls in a Tobacco Colony: Religion in Seventeenth-Century Virginia (2000) makes a similar argument: historians must take the religiosity of English people outside of New England seriously.

The same goes for New England and slavery. Slavery was not just the province of the colonial South and Caribbean. Slavery was legal in all colonies; New York City’s population was 40% enslaved by the middle of the eighteenth century. The great merchant houses of Newport and Providence were up to their necks in the African slave trade. And New England’s founding fathers, even the oft-admired Governor John Winthrop, were perfectly happy to trade in Indian slaves with the Caribbean. (How else would one dispose of captured survivors of the Pequot War? We’ll be hearing more from Linford Fisher on this shortly.) No one in New England or elsewhere was making abolitionist arguments. (Well, hardly anyone, but that’s a post for another time.)

I suppose it is convenient to teach undergrads from the formula of difference, but I think a greater understanding of colonial English society emerges from thinking about similarity.  The divisions of the antebellum world shouldn’t be read onto the seventeenth and eighteenth-century past.

Patriarchalism? Paternalism? and also Indian slavery

My colleague and friend Ed Blum has asked me to write some entries for his course blog. For this one, he asked me to comment on excerpts from Kathleen Brown’s Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs (1996) and Philip Morgan’s Slave Counterpoint (1998) that are reproduced, along with some primary sources, in the new edition of Major Problems in American Colonial History.

2. Patriarchalism? Paternalism? The scholarly conversation about the relationship between enslaved people and their owners.

I’m editing Professor Blum’s question a little here. In this post, I’ll address the conversation between Kathleen Brown and Phil Morgan. In the next post, I’ll talk about sectional divisions in early American history—what they mean, and what they don’t mean.

Eugene Genovese published his seminal, and justly famous, history of antebellum slavery Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made in 1974. Genovese used the concept of paternalism to explore the relationship between masters and slaves. For masters, Genovese argued, paternalism was a benevolent ideology that justified enslavement; masters thought of themselves as protectors and caretakers of their enslaved property. By embracing a paternalistic ideology, southern planters also believed they could blunt the increasingly powerful critique of slavery emanating from abolitionists in the north. Paternalism was, though, a site of resistance for enslaved people, who manipulated their masters’ ideological commitment to slavery to gain slightly better conditions. Genovese embraced a Marxist interpretation of slavery, arguing that the south was a closed, precapitalist system. Genovese’s Marxism also led him to focus on slave resistance.

Genovese’s emphasis on paternalism has continued, though without the Marxist imprimatur, in more recent antebellum historiography (for example, Walter Johnson’s Soul by Soul: Inside the Antebellum Slave Market). Historians of early American slavery also read paternalism back into the seventeenth and eighteenth century, and I think that’s the conversation between Brown and Morgan. What isn’t clear to me from this discussion is the difference between patriarchalism and paternalism. Brown skates around this definitional issue on page 51, and I think her project is less about describing a transition from patriarchalism to paternalism and more about exploring how her “anxious patriarchs” tried to define their relationship with their dependents, whether those dependents were enslaved people, members of their family, or poor white planters. In the end, she sees paternalism as “one face of patriarchy” (58). Morgan’s piece echoes Genovese, I think, in the way that it emphasizes planters’ belief in reciprocal obligations between masters and slaves. Morgan urges readers to see that the planters’ worldview was real, though deeply flawed, and that it changed over the course of the eighteenth century—the greatest contribution of paternalism/patriarchalism might have been that it encouraged white unity. (As an aside, I will say my favorite recent work on eighteenth-century slavery and slaveowning is Rhys Isaac’s Landon Carter’s Uneasy Kingdom.)
Continue reading