Early American History Seminar

Exhibition

Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country

Massachusetts Women in WWI. 12 June 2014 to 24 January 2015

Details

Subscribe to this seminar series for $25, and you will receive access to the seminar papers for THREE series: the Boston Area Early American History Seminar, the Boston Environmental History Seminar, and the Boston Immigration and Urban History Seminar. We recognize that topics frequently resonate across these three fields; now, mix and match the seminars that you attend!

Join us for an in-depth exploration of the latest scholarship.

The Boston Area Early American History Seminar provides a forum for local scholars as well as members of the general public to discuss all aspects of North American history and culture from the first English colonization to the Civil War. Six to eight sessions take place annually during the academic year. Programs are not confined to Massachusetts topics, and most focus on works in progress.

Seminar meetings revolve around the discussion of a precirculated paper. Sessions open with remarks from the essayist and an assigned commentator, after which the discussion is opened to the floor. After each session, the Society serves a light buffet supper.

October

Early American History Seminar Thomas Jefferson, Slavery, and the Law 7 October 2014.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required David Konig, Washington University in St. Louis Comment: Malick Ghachem, MIT This paper, based on research into the nearly one thousand legal matters Thomas Jefferson handled as ...

This paper, based on research into the nearly one thousand legal matters Thomas Jefferson handled as a practicing attorney, analyzes the complex relationship between his legal career and his ownership of slaves. Jefferson used the law to manage enslaved people as his property but never repudiated their essential humanity. The political structure of the day made open assault on slavery inconceivable, but Jefferson claimed small victories against a loathsome institution in the courtroom.

Modern conceptions of rights posit them as universal and unitary: one either has the full panoply of rights protected by our express Constitutional commitment to “equal protection under the law,” or is experiencing a denial of liberty. Such a binary of rights-bearing status did not exist at the Founding – not in any of the newly independent united states, nor anywhere else for that matter. If we look closely at the nature of rights and of rights-bearing individuals, we find that they existed across a graded spectrum.

No full-scale frontal assault on slavery was conceivable within that structure of politics and law, but a venue for piecemeal achievements might be found in the courtroom within the interstices of procedure and doctrine still being debated and yet to assume settled form.  This study locates them in his legal practice where, to Jefferson, the enslaved were not only property but clients whose freedom he sought in the courtroom, and whose basic human dignity was to be effected by the rules of law.

details
Early American History Seminar Popular U.S. Enthusiasm for Latin American Independence, 1810-1825 21 October 2014.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Caitlin A. Fitz, Northwestern University Comment: John Bezis-Selfa, Wheaton College This paper explores the reactions of those in the United States to the independence movements of ...

This paper explores the reactions of those in the United States to the independence movements of Latin American nations in the 1800s. In general, U.S. observers were overjoyed by these movements; however, Massachusetts citizens were less thrilled. This presentation will analyze the national trend and the commonwealth’s deviation from it.

details
December
Early American History Seminar Threads that Bind: Irish Linens, Immigration, and the Consumer Atlantic World 2 December 2014.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Kristin Condotta, Tulane University Comment: Marla R. Miller, University of Massachusetts - Amherst This paper traces early Irish immigration to the Americas through the Irish linen trade. It ...

This paper traces early Irish immigration to the Americas through the Irish linen trade. It considers how the American desire to imitate Europeans and the immigrants’ wish to feel comfortable in their new homes intersected to ease Irish cultural transitions abroad. It will also consider the ways in which transatlantic consumerisms prepared travelers for movement around the Atlantic world.

details
February
Early American History Seminar Panel Discussion: Slavery in Early Massachusetts 3 February 2015.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Barbara A. Mathews, Historic Deerfield, and Gloria McCahon Whiting, Harvard University Comment: Maria A. Bollettino, Framingham State University This session will consider two papers. “‘Is this where Titus lived?’ Researching ...

This session will consider two papers. “‘Is this where Titus lived?’ Researching and Interpreting African-American Presence in 18th-Century Rural New England,” by Barbara A. Mathews, and “The Body of Liberties and Bodies in Bondage: Dorcas the Blackmore, Dorchester’s First Church, and the Legalization of Slavery in the Anglo-Atlantic World,” by Gloria McCahon Whiting.

Mathews’s paper draws on a remarkable cache of documentation preserved by early antiquarians of Deerfield, Massachusetts. It discusses the preliminary results of research into slavery in the 18th-century town, focusing on the ways in which slavery was inextricably bound up in the social, economic and political web that defined a closely-knit rural community. Drawing on the work of Joanne Pope Melish, it also explores the broader implications of this history and its preservation even as Deerfielders in company with other New Englanders disassociated themselves in the decades before and after the Civil War from the region’s slave-holding history.

Whiting’s paper contextualizes the lived experience of one of the Bay Colony’s first African slaves to argue that slavery was bound up with democracy in the colony’s early years; that race shaped servitude from the colony’s founding; that Puritan religion provided slaves with unique opportunities for family building; that family was linked to freedom for the region’s early blacks; that Africans were building kin networks—and whites were recognizing them—from the first decades of Puritan settlement; and that the histories of whites and blacks, of powerful men and their polyglot households, and of law and social relations are inextricably linked.

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March
Early American History Seminar Degrees of Britishness: The People of Albany, New York, and Questions of Cultural Community Membership, 1763-1775 3 March 2015.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Elizabeth M. Covart, Boston, Massachusetts Comment: Lisa Wilson, Connecticut College Following the French and Indian War, Albanians believed themselves to be British, but visiting ...

Following the French and Indian War, Albanians believed themselves to be British, but visiting Britons did not recognize them as fellow countrymen. New World Dutch architecture, the Albany Dutch dialect, and the Dutch Reformed Church contributed to the British view of the Albanians as inter-imperial foreigners: subjects who lived within the British empire, but stood outside of the British cultural community. This paper, drawn from Covart’s larger book project, explores the Albanians’ response, which ranged from rebuilding efforts to public protest.

details
Early American History Seminar Frontiers and Geopolitics of Early America 31 March 2015.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Patrick Spero, Williams College Comment: Kate Grandjean, Wellesley College This essay investigates the use of the term “frontier” in its colonial context to show ...

This essay investigates the use of the term “frontier” in its colonial context to show that the word conveyed a potent message that affected the political development of British North America. More than just an etymological exercise, the research shows how governmental and social understandings of frontiers and their specific locations influenced official policies and settler action. It argues that a disagreement over the location and treatment of the imperial frontier in the 1760s created a crisis of empire in the years preceding Independence. The essay ends with an examination of changes to the word’s meaning within American society in the early national period.

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May
Early American History Seminar "All Manner of Slavery Servitude Labour Service Bondage and Hire": Varieties of Indian and African Unfreedom in Colonial New England and Jamaica 5 May 2015.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM RSVP required Linford Fisher, Brown University Comment: Jennifer Anderson, SUNY - Stonybrook New England and Jamaica seemed worlds apart during the colonial period, on the surface at least. But ...

New England and Jamaica seemed worlds apart during the colonial period, on the surface at least. But is it possible that there was more than meets the eye? This paper investigates varying ways that people of color labored in Jamaica and New England, and how these unfree circumstances changed over time.

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More events
Early American History Seminar Thomas Jefferson, Slavery, and the Law 7 October 2014.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Please RSVP  Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. David Konig, Washington University in St. Louis Comment: Malick Ghachem, MIT

This paper, based on research into the nearly one thousand legal matters Thomas Jefferson handled as a practicing attorney, analyzes the complex relationship between his legal career and his ownership of slaves. Jefferson used the law to manage enslaved people as his property but never repudiated their essential humanity. The political structure of the day made open assault on slavery inconceivable, but Jefferson claimed small victories against a loathsome institution in the courtroom.

Modern conceptions of rights posit them as universal and unitary: one either has the full panoply of rights protected by our express Constitutional commitment to “equal protection under the law,” or is experiencing a denial of liberty. Such a binary of rights-bearing status did not exist at the Founding – not in any of the newly independent united states, nor anywhere else for that matter. If we look closely at the nature of rights and of rights-bearing individuals, we find that they existed across a graded spectrum.

No full-scale frontal assault on slavery was conceivable within that structure of politics and law, but a venue for piecemeal achievements might be found in the courtroom within the interstices of procedure and doctrine still being debated and yet to assume settled form.  This study locates them in his legal practice where, to Jefferson, the enslaved were not only property but clients whose freedom he sought in the courtroom, and whose basic human dignity was to be effected by the rules of law.

close
Early American History Seminar Popular U.S. Enthusiasm for Latin American Independence, 1810-1825 21 October 2014.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Please RSVP  Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Caitlin A. Fitz, Northwestern University Comment: John Bezis-Selfa, Wheaton College

This paper explores the reactions of those in the United States to the independence movements of Latin American nations in the 1800s. In general, U.S. observers were overjoyed by these movements; however, Massachusetts citizens were less thrilled. This presentation will analyze the national trend and the commonwealth’s deviation from it.

close
Early American History Seminar Threads that Bind: Irish Linens, Immigration, and the Consumer Atlantic World 2 December 2014.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Please RSVP  Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Kristin Condotta, Tulane University Comment: Marla R. Miller, University of Massachusetts - Amherst

This paper traces early Irish immigration to the Americas through the Irish linen trade. It considers how the American desire to imitate Europeans and the immigrants’ wish to feel comfortable in their new homes intersected to ease Irish cultural transitions abroad. It will also consider the ways in which transatlantic consumerisms prepared travelers for movement around the Atlantic world.

close
Early American History Seminar Panel Discussion: Slavery in Early Massachusetts 3 February 2015.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Please RSVP  Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Barbara A. Mathews, Historic Deerfield, and Gloria McCahon Whiting, Harvard University Comment: Maria A. Bollettino, Framingham State University

This session will consider two papers. “‘Is this where Titus lived?’ Researching and Interpreting African-American Presence in 18th-Century Rural New England,” by Barbara A. Mathews, and “The Body of Liberties and Bodies in Bondage: Dorcas the Blackmore, Dorchester’s First Church, and the Legalization of Slavery in the Anglo-Atlantic World,” by Gloria McCahon Whiting.

Mathews’s paper draws on a remarkable cache of documentation preserved by early antiquarians of Deerfield, Massachusetts. It discusses the preliminary results of research into slavery in the 18th-century town, focusing on the ways in which slavery was inextricably bound up in the social, economic and political web that defined a closely-knit rural community. Drawing on the work of Joanne Pope Melish, it also explores the broader implications of this history and its preservation even as Deerfielders in company with other New Englanders disassociated themselves in the decades before and after the Civil War from the region’s slave-holding history.

Whiting’s paper contextualizes the lived experience of one of the Bay Colony’s first African slaves to argue that slavery was bound up with democracy in the colony’s early years; that race shaped servitude from the colony’s founding; that Puritan religion provided slaves with unique opportunities for family building; that family was linked to freedom for the region’s early blacks; that Africans were building kin networks—and whites were recognizing them—from the first decades of Puritan settlement; and that the histories of whites and blacks, of powerful men and their polyglot households, and of law and social relations are inextricably linked.

close
Early American History Seminar Degrees of Britishness: The People of Albany, New York, and Questions of Cultural Community Membership, 1763-1775 3 March 2015.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Please RSVP  Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Elizabeth M. Covart, Boston, Massachusetts Comment: Lisa Wilson, Connecticut College

Following the French and Indian War, Albanians believed themselves to be British, but visiting Britons did not recognize them as fellow countrymen. New World Dutch architecture, the Albany Dutch dialect, and the Dutch Reformed Church contributed to the British view of the Albanians as inter-imperial foreigners: subjects who lived within the British empire, but stood outside of the British cultural community. This paper, drawn from Covart’s larger book project, explores the Albanians’ response, which ranged from rebuilding efforts to public protest.

close
Early American History Seminar Frontiers and Geopolitics of Early America 31 March 2015.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Please RSVP  Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Patrick Spero, Williams College Comment: Kate Grandjean, Wellesley College

This essay investigates the use of the term “frontier” in its colonial context to show that the word conveyed a potent message that affected the political development of British North America. More than just an etymological exercise, the research shows how governmental and social understandings of frontiers and their specific locations influenced official policies and settler action. It argues that a disagreement over the location and treatment of the imperial frontier in the 1760s created a crisis of empire in the years preceding Independence. The essay ends with an examination of changes to the word’s meaning within American society in the early national period.

close
Early American History Seminar "All Manner of Slavery Servitude Labour Service Bondage and Hire": Varieties of Indian and African Unfreedom in Colonial New England and Jamaica 5 May 2015.Tuesday, 5:15PM - 7:30PM Please RSVP  Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Linford Fisher, Brown University Comment: Jennifer Anderson, SUNY - Stonybrook

New England and Jamaica seemed worlds apart during the colonial period, on the surface at least. But is it possible that there was more than meets the eye? This paper investigates varying ways that people of color labored in Jamaica and New England, and how these unfree circumstances changed over time.

close

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