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Whither the Early Republic

A Forum on the Future of the Field

Edited by John Lauritz Larson and Michael A. Morrison

Publication Year: 2011

Penned by leading historians, the specially-commissioned essays of Whither the Early Republic represent the most stimulating and innovative work being done on imperialism, environmental history, slavery, economic history, politics, and culture in the early Republic.

The past fifteen years have seen a dramatic expansion in the scope of scholarship on the history of the early American republic. Whither the Early Republic consists of innovative essays on all aspects of the culture and society of this period, including Indians and empire, the economy and the environment, slavery and culture, and gender and urban life. Penned by leading historians, the essays are arranged thematically to reflect areas of change and growth in the field.

Throughout the book, preeminent scholars act as guides for students to their areas of expertise. Contributors include Pulitzer Prize-winner Alan Taylor, Bancroft Prize-winner James Brooks, Christopher Clark, Ted Steinberg, Walter Johnson, Patricia Cline Cohen, David Waldstreicher, and more. These essays, all originally commissioned to appear in a special issue of the Journal of the Early Republic, explore a diverse array of subjects: the struggles for control of North America; the economic culture of the early Republic; the interactions of humans with plants, climate, animals, and germs; the commodification of people; and the complex intersections of politics and culture.

Whither the Early Republic offers a wealth of tools for introducing a new generation of historians to the nature of the field and also to the wide array of possibilities that lie in the future for scholars of this fascinating period.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Front Matter

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pp. v-vii

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Introduction: What Is This Book?

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pp. 1-7

After fourteen and ten years respectively in the editorial chairs at the Journal of the Early Republic, the editors of this collection, Morrison and Larson, gave up the ghost and returned to the splendid insignificance of public university employment. Our years with the journal were marked (we like to think) by a successful...

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Part I. Continental Possessions

Our first part reflects a deepening and radical trend in early American scholarship to think, not backwards from the United States but forwards from the perspective of the place—North America—and the contests for possession that dominated its history between about 1500 and the middle of the nineteenth...

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Continental Possessions—Three Deepening Trends

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pp. 10-16

It may well be embarrasing, perhaps downright painful, to come back to this fortune-telling exercise twenty-five years from now. My only defense is that the vision of the future presented in these pages is inevitably mixed with my own wishful thinking. Without further apologies, I predict (and wish) that...

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Whither the Rest of the Continent?

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pp. 17-25

Late fall is a difficult time to travel on America’s northern prairies. In a warm spell, the sun might draw daytime temperatures into the 50s, but more typically they hover around the freezing mark. Even in October, the weather can turn bitter. Pools of standing water freeze solid at night, the Missouri...

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Continental Drifts

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pp. 26-31

Not long ago I looked out from a 10th floor hotel window in Riverside, California, and enjoyed one of those everyday epiphanies that remind me just how parochial is my mastery of continental North America in the early national era—despite all attempts to extend my analytical reach. Below me...

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Continental Crossings

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pp. 32-38

During the summer of 1793 Alexander Mackenzie led a small expedition of Indians and French Canadians westward up the rocky and rapid Peace River into the Canadian Rockies. Born in Scotland, Mackenzie had emigrated as a boy with his family to the Mohawk Valley in New York in 1774. Remaining loyal...

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Part II. Pursuing Happiness

Economic history has been in something of a doldrums lately, nudged off the stage of scholarship (and television) by sex and violence among other things. Our friends at the Program for Early American Economy and Society (PEAES) in Philadelphia, led by long-time SHEAR stalwart Cathy Matson and...

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Liberal America/Christian America: Another Conflict or Consensus?

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pp. 40-47

Scholars love paradoxes. They give us problems on which we can spin our intellectual wheels almost interminably. Thus—to say the least—historians of the early republic are some of the luckiest scholars around. The time and place that we have chosen to make our specialty is absolutely brimming...

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The View from the Farmhouse: Rural Lives in the Early Republic

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pp. 48-57

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the early United States was overwhelmingly a rural society, and that this remained so well beyond the mid-nineteenth century. Yet in the early years of the new social history in the 1970s many historians regarded rural people and their experience as rather...

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The Limits of Homo Economicus: An Appraisal of Early American Entrepreneurship

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pp. 58-68

Early American entrepreneurial history encompasses a broad range of individuals, activities, and institutions disseminated throughout the United States. Bankers, plantation owners, workshop proprietors, and manufacturers among others all exercised their considerable entrepreneurial skills and innovative...

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Economic Landscapes Yet to be Discovered: The Early American Republic and Historians’ Unsubtle Adoption of Political Economy

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pp. 69-81

Economic history and the accounts of the early republic enjoy a somewhat strange but interesting relationship. Economic history, as presented either by cliometricians or by business historians, has been on the wane for some years; yet the need for accurate studies of the nation’s early economy has never been...

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Part III. Interactive Landscapes

Environmental history is surging in both interest and importance, driven by the twin forces of extraordinary work by a generation of western historians and also the rising interest of colonial and early republic scholars in the wake of William Cronon’s enormously successful Changes in the Land (1983). Theodore...

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Environmental Stewardship and Decline in Old New England

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pp. 84-91

In March of 1845, Henry Thoreau went up to the woods and cut down six pine trees, framing the house where he would write the first draft of Walden, published in 1854. Thoreau’s sojourn at the pond marks the symbolic turning point in American environmental history. The frontier had long passed...

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Re-Greening the South and Southernizing the Rest

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pp. 92-101

In 1759, not long after he was appointed the first governor of the relatively new colony of Georgia, Henry Ellis, who went about the streets of the capital under an umbrella with a thermometer suspended from it, wrote to the folks back home in London that the inhabitants of Savannah ‘‘breathe a hotter air...

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Mudslides Make Good History

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pp. 102-109

Historians don’t generally have much to do with the Big History Business of this country. Perhaps we should. Americans soak up documentaries, love to watch ‘‘historical’’ films, and have an authentic desire to understand more of our country’s history. Sales of nobly elevating national histories are astonishing...

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Down, Down, Down, No More: Environmental History Moves Beyond Declension

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pp. 110-116

Twenty years ago I sat down with William Cronon’s Changes in the Land, by all accounts today the seminal work in early American environmental history. I was already somewhat familiar with the community studies tradition practiced by social historians such as Philip Greven, Kenneth Lockridge, John Demos...

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Part IV. Commodification of People

Few problems have consumed as much historical attention and spilled so much ink (not to mention blood) as the problem of slavery in the modern world. The political economy of agrarian versus commercial and industrial societies, the moral and social character of the master-slave relationship, the developmental...

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The Vexed Story of Human Commodification Told by Benjamin Franklin and Venture Smith

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pp. 118-128

In the pages of this journal and elsewhere two of our most accomplished historians, Joyce Appleby and Gordon S. Wood, have depicted qualms about capitalism in the early republic as figments of historians’ fervid imaginations. They associate the rise of capitalism with democracy and freedom, not...

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Wages, Sin, and Slavery: Some Thoughts on Free Will and Commodity Relations

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pp. 129-138

In what ways did the problem of human commodification represent a problem of religion for Americans in the early republic? That question, I shall suggest, ought to become a significant part of the agenda of the future study of commodity relationships. Indeed, it is a line of inquiry that runs against...

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Commodified Freedom: Interrogating the Limits of Anti-Slavery Ideology in the Early Republic

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pp. 139-148

Historians have long understood the relationship between slavery and freedom in western culture as a ‘‘problem’’ to be explained, a paradox to be resolved. Whereas the long-held view has explained the relationship as one in which ‘‘freedom in the Western world’’ is understood to have been ‘‘dependent...

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The Pedestal and the Veil: Rethinking the Capitalism/Slavery Question

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pp. 149-158

What does it mean to speak of the ‘‘commodification of people’’ as a domain of historical inquiry? Why put it that way? What does it mean to say that a person has been commodified? Is this about slavery? Prostitution? Wage labor? The sale of donated organs, fetal tissue samples, and sections of the human...

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Part V. Public, Private, and Spirit Worlds

Now cultural history is everything—and it is, predictably, in danger of losing its way altogether. Once naïvely conceived as the spread of arts and letters into the Ohio Valley (remember Louis B. Wright, Culture on a Moving Frontier?), cultural history got a facelift from the anthropologists one generation...

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Sex and Sexuality: The Public, the Private, and the Spirit Worlds

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pp. 160-168

Historians of sex in early America have long attended to a public/private dichotomy, for the simple reason that most sexual behavior in past times was confined to a very private realm, usually beyond direct observation, while the rules, norms, prescriptions, and laws—all the ways a society attempts to...

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Space in the Early American City

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pp. 169-176

It remains an astonishing fact that historians of all stripes continue to wrestle with the evidential legitimacy and interpretive opportunities afforded by the worlds of objects and images people made and the ways in which the critical space of ‘‘things’’ can shape and direct our understanding of the past in...

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A History of all Religions

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pp. 177-184

In Aids to Reflection, which Samuel Taylor Coleridge published in 1825 and which James Marsh made available in an American edition in 1829, the poet commented on one exercise that was especially conducive to forming ‘‘a habit of reflection.’’ ‘‘Accustom yourself to reflect on the words you use...

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Questions, Suspicions, Speculations

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pp. 185-192

Prognosticating our understanding of the culture of the early republic inevitably produces false prophecy. There is something baldly whiggish in assuming that inquiries will be fruitful and knowledge enriched, something equally presumptuous in delineating matters that will matter most in years to...

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Afterword: The Quest for Universal Understanding

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pp. 193-199

So where are we going? We’re going global, it seems, but also deep into the peculiar meanings of things locked in time and place and their own particularity. If there are trends to be discovered in the preceding essays, they seem to us to lie in these two contradictory directions. On the one hand, future...


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pp. 201

E-ISBN-13: 9780812207231
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812219326

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2011