What Do Early Americanists Offer the Liberal Arts?

Today at The Junto, I have a post intended to contribute marginally to the latest round of why-and-whither-the-humanities essays.

Instead of making a case for the liberal arts, though, I ask what early American studies per se can offer the liberal arts. Obviously, early Americanists should be able to do whatever any other historians can do for a person's education. But what can we offer that is distinctive?

I argue that early American scholarship has typically been understood as useful for civic and political reasons. But we also need to be able to explain how it matters for humane reasons. I hope to put up a post next week to explore some possible solutions.

Course of study for Amherst College students in 1824, from the college   Catalogue   (printed at Northampton, Mass.)

Course of study for Amherst College students in 1824, from the college Catalogue (printed at Northampton, Mass.)

Faculty Research Talk, University of Scranton

I had the honor of making a presentation to the faculty (and a few students) of the University of Scranton this afternoon, discussing an ongoing article project.

The venue was an ongoing interdisciplinary seminar series that brings together professors in different fields to engage with each other's work. The University of Scranton's faculty research seminars promote understanding and collaboration, fostering scholarship in the context of a mid-sized regional university that emphasizes undergraduate involvement in research.

"Terrorism" in the Early Republic

My post today at The Junto—partially inspired by discussions of the current standoff in Oregon—investigates uses of the term terrorism in early American newspapers. When did Americans start talking about this word? Probably much earlier than many people today would assume. But its meaning has evolved over time. What hasn't changed much is the way Americans use the term to discredit their political opponents. For more, visit earlyamericanists.com.

Lafayette's Return

Platter with scene titled  Landing of Gen. Lafayette at Castle Garden, New York, 16th August 1824.  Manufactured by James and Ralph Clews, Staffordshire, England, after a print by Samuel Maverick, c. 1825-30. Glazed earthenware, Dayton Art Institute. Public-domain photo via  Wikimedia Commons.

Platter with scene titled Landing of Gen. Lafayette at Castle Garden, New York, 16th August 1824. Manufactured by James and Ralph Clews, Staffordshire, England, after a print by Samuel Maverick, c. 1825-30. Glazed earthenware, Dayton Art Institute. Public-domain photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The new issue of the Readex Report includes my lead article, "Lafayette's Return: An Early American Media Event." In conjunction with this summer's voyage of the Hermione (recreating one of Lafayette's trips to America) and heightened public interest in the subject thanks to Sarah Vowell's breezy new book, I used Readex's newspaper databases to sketch the general's triumphal 1824-1825 tour as a sort of "live" news happening, which people in distant American communities could follow closely thanks to newspaper circulation and reprinting.  The article is illustrated with thirteen news clippings to show how this story looked.

Not Only for Readers: Why Scholars Need Narrative

This week, The Junto is hosting a roundtable on historians and narrative. Today, after excellent contributions from Tom Cutterham, Sara Georgini, and Jessica Parr, I offered some concluding thoughts. 

My goal was to defend narrative not simply as something historians find useful to write, but also as something that scholarly historians actually need to write--as our distinctive contribution to modern scholarship. My discussion was necessarily brief, but it provides a glimpse of ideas I've been working on for a long time. You can read my essay here.

A New Semester

Rotunda of the Liberal Arts Center at Marywood University, Scranton, Pa. Photo by Jonathan W. Wilson

Rotunda of the Liberal Arts Center at Marywood University, Scranton, Pa. Photo by Jonathan W. Wilson

Next week, I'll begin a semester of teaching history courses at the University of Scranton and, across town, Marywood University.

At the U. of S., I'm teaching World History I—a course surveying human history up to 1500. At Marywood, I get to teach the first half of the U.S. survey (to 1865) for the department of social sciences. I'm really excited about both courses; I'll be experimenting with some new approaches and readings in both cases.

I'm also happy to be affiliated with both of these beautiful schools, which occupy prime spots here in the Lackawanna Valley of northeastern Pennsylvania. They have a reputation for exceptional regard for undergraduate education in the liberal arts, and the new colleagues I've met are wonderful.