Dan Richter reports on the new group of young scholars (and at least one old one) who will be joining the community at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. As I read about their projects, I realize just how far early American studies have come (I will let you decide if this is good or bad) in the ten years since I graced the hallowed halls of the Center. Here is the letter:
I am delighted to announce the McNeil Center’s fellowship appointments for the 2009-2010 academic year. Thanks to the generosity of the Barra Foundation, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, the institutional members of the McNeil Center Consortium, the Friends of the MCEAS, the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies, and the Quinn Foundation—along with new grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Park Service and the Friends of Valley Forge Park, and an anonymous donor, sixteen scholars will receive funding for writing and for research at Philadelphia-area libraries and archives during all or part of the summer and academic year.
Our newest category of fellows comes to us through a major grant from the Mellon Foundation in support of the Early American Literature and Material Text Initiative. Offered in collaboration with the Library Company of Philadelphia, EALMT Fellowships are awarded to dissertators whose work combines in innovative ways the study of texts with the material circumstances of their production and dissemination. Marcia Nichols, who studies Early American Literature at the University of South Carolina, captures the spirit of both sides of the Initiative in the title of her dissertation, “‘And Let Them See How Curiously They’re Made’: Constructing Female Sexuality in Anglo-Atlantic Midwifery Texts, 1690-1800,” which combines the close study of both books as material objects and the words they contain to explore how female bodies were made for 18th-century readers. In “American Paratexts,” Marcia’s fellow EALMT fellow, Joshua Ratner of the English Department at the University of Pennsylvania, also looks at the relationship between authors, readers, and physical books, as expressed in prefaces, frontispieces, notes, and other apparatuses that, in his hands, become anything but auxiliaries to the main work.
The EALMT fellows share many common interests with Joseph Rezek, who will be joining us for the first of two years as a Barra Postdoctoral Fellow. Joe’s recently completed UCLA dissertation, “Tales from Elsewhere: Fiction at a Proximate Distance in the Anglophone Atlantic, 1800-1850,” studies the strategies of writers on the cultural peripheries of Ireland, Scotland, and North America as they sought success in the London metropole—strategies that often turned on keen understanding of the ways in which books were manufactured, distributed, and reviewed. Sure to prevent these three specialists in material texts from excessive intellectual inbreeding is our continuing Barra Postdoctoral Fellow, Brian Connolly, whose monograph in progress is based on his Rutgers University dissertation, “Domestic Intercourse: Incest in the United States, 1780-1871.”
Only slightly less disturbing—but no less historically enlightening—forms of familial interaction are the subject of Dawn E. Peterson’s New York University dissertation, “Unusual Sympathies: Race, Family, and Servitude in Jacksonian Politics.” As a Consortium Dissertation Fellow, Dawn will continue her research into the surprising phenomenon of elite antebellum men (not least among them Andrew Jackson) who supported both Indian Removal and the expansion of racial slavery while at the same time adopting American Indian boys into their households.
The issues of racial identity, cultural coercion, and familial self-fashioning raised by Dawn’s work run through many of our fellows’ projects. Paul Conrad of the University of Texas Austin, looks at Native people whose experience of cultural displacement was even more wrenching in “Captive Fates: Displaced Apache Indians and the Boundaries of Slavery in the Southwest Borderlands and Atlantic World.” Paul will trace his own complicated Center genealogy as both the inaugural Richard S. Dunn Fellow and a Friends of the MCEAS Fellow. Race and identity in the Atlantic basin are similarly the subject of the work of our distinguished 2009 Consortium Summer Faculty Fellow, Roderick McDonald of Rider University, who is completing work for a book entitled “The Ethnography and Pornography of Slavery: Dr. Jonathan Troup’s Journal of Dominica, 1789-91.
Literary constructions of enslaved people are also a central concern—along with expatriates, traitors, and other Others—of Consortium Dissertation Fellow Carrie L. Hyde of the English Department at Rutgers, in her study of “Alienable Rights: Negative Styles of U.S. Citizenship, 1790-1868.” In a very different temporal and cultural context, Barra Dissertation Fellow Elena Schneider of Princeton explores similar themes in “The Limits of Loyalty: Slavery, Commerce, and British Occupation in 18th-Century Havana.”
Elena and Paul help weave another common thread among several fellows’ dissertation projects: the experience of warfare in the eighteenth-century. In “‘Melancholy Landscapes’: Warfare and Written Expression in Revolutionary America,” Philip C. Mead of Harvard University studies hundreds of diaries and memoirs to trace “how exposure to wartime landscapes hardened regional, ethnic, and racial prejudices that soldiers brought to the war experience.” Phil will share his understanding of that experience with staff—and through them visitors—to Valley Forge National Park, as the inaugural Bruce Baky Valley Forge Dissertation Fellow, funded entirely through the generosity of the National Park Service and the Friends of Valley Forge Park in honor of the former chairman of the latter group.
While the subjects of Phil’s work experienced the landscape of North American warfare intimately, those studied by Benjamin Bankhurst of King’s College, London, imagined it at a distance, as Ulster Presbyterians read about, corresponded with, and, most significantly raised funds for, the many thousands of their coreligionists caught up in brutal fighting on the frontiers of Pennsylvania. As an E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Fellow in Early American Religious Studies, Ben will continue work on his dissertation, “‘Habitations of Cruelty’: America, Irish Presbyterians, and the Seven years War, 1754-1764.”
Habitations of another order entirely fascinate Irene Cheng, a student of Architecture History and Theory at Columbia University, who, as a Monticello-McNeil and Friends of the MCEAS Fellow, will spend six weeks at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies in Charlottesville and the remainder of the year in Philadelphia. In “Forms of Function: Self-Culture, Geometry, and Octagon Architecture in Antebellum America,” Irene surveys the surprisingly widespread phenomenon of polygonal domestic and public architecture in the antebellum United States and even more surprisingly widespread belief that distinctively shaped domiciles could produce distinctively shaped human selves.
One form of human self that historians have long considered distinctive is the supposedly autonomous Dutch woman of New Netherland, who then became a social and legal dilemma for the post-conquest English regime. Virginie Adane, École des hautes études en sciences sociales, turns a critical eye to such easy generalizations in “Women in A Multicultural Colonial Society: New Netherland, New York, 1630-1730.” Virginie, whose home institution is in Paris, will spend the fall semester at the New York State Archives in Albany as a Quinn Foundation Fellow and the spring in Philadelphia as a Friends of the MCEAS Fellow. A similarly peripatetic mix of things French, Dutch, and North American structures the work of Society of the Cincinnati Fellow Nathan Perl-Rosenthal, whose Columbia University dissertation is entitled “Corresponding Republics: Private Letters and Movement Organizing in the America, Dutch Patriot, and French Resolutions, ca. 1765-91.”
Last but certainly not least are two fellows whose projects make phenomena usually considered mundane central to fresh analyses of early American culture. In “Do You Hear What I Hear? Revival Poetry and the Formation of the Evangelical Ear in 18th-Century Poetry,” Carpenter Fellow Wendy Raphael Roberts of Northwestern University recovers a world of rhyme, meter, and orality that previous scholars have almost entirely overlooked. And, in “Cloth as Metaphor in the Early American Atlantic World, 1550-1750,” Barra Art and Material Culture Fellow Laura E. Johnson of the University of Delaware does amazing things with surviving scraps of the trade textiles whose importance to Native-European exchange she reveals to be far more than economic.
Please join me in congratulating these wonderful scholars and in welcoming those who are newcomers to the McNeil Center community.
Daniel K. Richter
The Richard S. Dunn Director