Boston Day Three:
Busy morning at the conference. Late last night and early this moring I read the latest work by David Waldstreicher, a free desk copy provided by one of the publishers Thursday afternoon. This book, comfortably part of Hill & Wang's series of teaching resources, is a little more than 150pg explanation of how slavery impacted the calls for Constitutional revision, the debates over the Constitution in 1787, and the impact of perspectives about slavery- North and South- during the extended six-month or so ratification period. Waldstreicher does an admirable job analyzing all the moments when slavery rose as an issue, makes a pretty solid rebuttal to Matt Mason's contention that discussing slavery was partly symbolic but mostly diversionary, and gives students a pretty succint overview of the Constitution's origins as well.
Spent lunch time at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. This Venetian palace, designed for a collector of Renaissance art as a private museum, opened in 1903 and since the death of Gardner in 1924 has remained architecturally the same, and the collection’s arrangement within the palace permanently established in her will. The collection is primarily Italian and Northern Renaissance art, acquired by Gardner from the 1890s to the 1920s including Michelangelo sketches, Giotto icons, Botticelli, Bellini, Raphael, Titian, Holbein, Durer, and many other painters. There is also a large amount of turn-of-the-century works by French Impressionists, as well as Massachusetts-born artists working in the late nineteenth century such as John Singer Sargent and James
McNeill Whistler. Other eccentricities include cabinets of papers by US statesmen including Washington, Monroe, Grant, and others. Another cabinet collects artifacts, letters, and autographs of Napoleon Bonaparte as well as a tri-color processional military banner from one of his campaigns. I expect to make a much longer post about this collection later this week, so check back.
After the Gardner museum visit I made it back to the AHA for a panel chaired by Joel Silbey, commented on by Harry Watson, and featuring three papers only very loosely related to one another across the antebellum US era (1815-1860). Joel Silbey (Cornell, retired, recent author of Party Over Section: The Rough and Ready Presidential Campaign of 1848 (2009) and Storm Over Texas: The Annexation Controversy and the Road to Civil War (2005)) was not in attendance, out with an illness, and I sincerely hope he recovers quickly. Manisha Sinha (University of Mass-Amherst, see my Day One post for more) filled in for Silbey. The first paper, by Anthony Kaye (Penn State, Joining
Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South (2007)) examined the impact of neighborhood and community among the yeoman of Southhampton testing kinship and neighborly connections as an explanatory theme for uncommon militia preparedness in the Nat Turner rebellion of 1831. The second paper, by Michael Landis (doctoral candidate at GWU) examined the role of proslavery attitudes in Northern members of the Democratic party after the controversial proslavery Lecompton constitution became a Buchanan administration test of loyalty in 1857 and 1858. Landis offered a cursory reading of several themes identifiable within proslavery Northern Democrats during their press to secure a rapid conclusion to the controversy over slavery’s expansion into Kansas, but unfortunately most of the traits Landis identified (repudiating the popular will, rejecting the right of instruction, etc) were not unique nor original to the moment, and many of his actors were more likely exhibiting pro-Southern attitudes, a desire for national majoritarianism, or simply preferred expediency over conflict. Landis took a lot of gentle criticism from Watson’s end-of-panel comments. The final paper by Judith Geisberg (Villanova University, Civil War Sisterhood: The U.S. Sanitary Commission and Women’s Politics in Transistion (2006), Army at Home: Women and the Civil War on the Northern Home Front (2009)) examined data culled from Reconstruction era (1865-1877) newspaper adverts from freedmen and freedwomen seeking to relocate lost family members, particularly mothers and children separated by the slave trade or Civil War.
Death of Tecumseh, 1846 Currier & Ives Print
From 5pm to 7pm documentary filmmakers for PBS’s American Experience were joined by Colin G. Calloway (Dartmouth College, The Shawnees and the War for America (2007), New Worlds For All (1997), etc. ) to present and discuss their soon to be released documentary on Tecumseh and the spiritual-military alliance of Native Americans culminating in the defeat of the movement during the War of 1812. Tecumseh’s attempt to unite Native Americans, along with his brother Tenskwatawa, signified the beginning of pan-Indian attempts to work together despite tribal distinctions to resist American expansion.
Tomorrow I look forward to seeing 82 year old labor historian Staughton Lynd. Lynd is a model scholar-activist: trained at Colubmia, teaching most recently at Yale, an outspoken socialist, a director of Freedom Schools for the poor while teaching in 1960s Georgia, a Quaker peace activist during the Vietnam war, a supporter of Youngstown labor activists during the deindustrialization of Ohio in the 1970s, a strident critic of the American prison complex, and for the past 40 years an engaged scholar dissenting from Cold War and the successive hyperpower militarism of the United States.