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  • Organizing Matters
  • Jeremy Black
John Adams, Papers of John Adams, Volume 18: December 1785–January 1787. The Adams Papers, ed. Gregg L. Lint (series editor), Sara Martin, C. James Taylor, Sara Georgini, Hobson Woodward, Sara B. Sikes, and Amanda Mathews Norton (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016). Pp. 720. $95.00.
Christopher Tozzi, Nationalizing France’s Army: Foreign, Black, and Jewish Troops in the French Military, 1715–1831 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016). Pp. 316. $45.00.
Chad Wellmon, Organizing Enlightenment: Information Overload and the Invention of the Modern Research University (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016). Pp. 368. $34.95.

The organization of events, people, and information is the common theme that links these three disparate studies. The first relates to John Adams’s diplomatic career, in which he sought to define and pursue a set of conventions and policies that would enhance the image as well as the interests of the new republic. This inherently difficult task was rendered even more so because of the problems created by the dysfunctional nature of policymaking in the new state, as well as by Adams’s own paranoia about British attitudes. In practice, Britain’s foreign policy was dominated in 1786 by its relations with France, but it was all too easy for Americans to put their own interests first. There were also the many difficulties that resulted from the division of British North America, including not only the Loyalists but also the drawing of a frontier with Canada; Adams complained, with reason, about the limitations of the maps. Another political issue to the fore, especially in his correspondence with Jefferson, was the piracy of shipping by Algeria and the other Barbary States. This led Adams to discuss the possible role of an American navy. [End Page 253]

Cultural links also played a role, as seen in Adams’s correspondence with Timothy Dwight concerning the publication of the latter’s epic poem, The Conquest of Canaan. With Adams’s help, a London edition of the poem appeared in 1788. Adams complained, in 1786, that whereas during the Revolutionary War support for the American cause had led to interest in American publications, the situation had changed, while there was little public commitment to poetry as a whole. He also corresponded with Joel Barlow over the latter’s epic poem The Vision of Columbus, warning him about libelous remarks as well as arguing that poems written in English would not enjoy circulation on the Continent. In the latter argument, Adams captured the potential tension between the Anglosphere and a francophone Continental culture. Adams’s correspondence with Matthew Robinson-Morris offers valuable indications of his own views about the progress and potential of America:

But he who Considers a vast Continent unpeopled, with Every advantage of Clymate, Soil, and Situation, for the Accommodation of human Life and the Enjoyment of Liberty, Arts, Sciences and Commerce; where Despotism and Superstition have not yet established Their thrones[,] if he has any degree of Philanthropy or Philosophy will be anxious that Virtue may be there preserved and no Improper Principles or Education Introduced[.]


Native Americans would have had different views, but the wide-ranging nature of Adams’s correspondence makes such a passage worthy of particular note.

Information—its accumulation, understanding, and transmission—emerges very differently in Chad Wellmon’s study, one that is alive to theory as well as practice. The issues created by the expansion of the book world emerge as central. Indeed, Wellmon argues that the encyclopedia, the university, erudition, and the Enlightenment all played crucial roles in organizing and conceiving of what counted as real, authoritative knowledge. The disciplinary self, especially in Prussia, was a key player in this project. Wellmon looks for parallels with the nature and impact of the present-day media environment, which will strike some readers as valuable but others as forced.

Tozzi focuses on a different type of adaptation and another form of the response to revolutionary possibilities. As he indicates, the French Revolution at once offered a new vision of the national community and a new concept of universalism. The impacts of this concept for foreigners in French military service, and...


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pp. 253-254
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