Thank you to Katrina Ponti for this contribution to the PhD Reading Guides resource. This round of books are less maritime, but nonetheless vital to the vast Early America narrative. There is a combination of “classic” exam books that continue to dominate the historiographical discussion, as well as newer, historiography-challenging narratives of America’s place in the world. They cover topics of the American Civil War, environmental history, westward expansion, “new” Native American history, identity, history of emotions, family, religion, and North American empire.
Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (Vintage Books, 2009).
Categories: Civil War, Mortality, Military, Federal Expansion
Place: United States
The Civil War changed the way in which Americans experienced death and the frequency of death. In a world where it was more typical for the very young and old to die, the death of thousands of men in their prime fundamentally altered the national psyche. The massive casualties brought by new, mechanized weapons during the Civil War caused a spiritual, psychological, moral, and emotional shift in the way death was perceived in the United States. Death became the shared experience of war for both North and South. It was rare for death not to touch a family. Rather than devising rituals meant to ease the afterlife of the dead, Americans observed new cultural mores meant to console the living. Postmortem photography, embalming, identity tags, and other activities mitigated the suffering of mourners and exalted the memories of the dead. As the war continued, and these practices expanded, the Federal government also began to take a larger role in the mortality of its citizens. By keeping detailed records of the dead, their pensions and creating burial grounds, the government created a central role for itself in the memorialization of its war dead. Both individual and governmental activities strove to make sense of death.
Peter Silver, Our Savage Neighbors: How Indian War Transformed Early America (W.W. Norton, 2008).
Categories: Native Americans, Identity, Seven Years War, Culture
Place: Middle Colonies, Western Pennsylvania, and New York
The Middle of British colonial America were culturally heterogeneous, providing homes for numerous ethnic and religious groups. However, the shared white experience of the Seven Years War, in the western frontier of these colonies produced a cultural rhetoric called the “anti-Indian sublime.” The anticipated fear of poor, rural, white communities toward the potential violence of Native tribes created an atmosphere that emphasized an identity of white victimization. This was an identity predicated on the othering of native Americans, creating a self-fulfilling cycle of fear inducing hate that in turn created violence. By nurturing this psychological narrative, white settlers turned the subject of Indians into objects of proto-racism, placing Native Americans on a path of complete racial distinction in the European mind. White victimhood united European settlers from heterogeneous groups against Indians and their supporters particularly Quakers.
Jenny Pulsipher, Subjects Unto the Same King: Indians, English, and the Contest for Authority in Colonial New England (University of Pennsylvania 2005).
Categories: Native Americans, Sovereignty, Authority, Colonial Experience, King Philip’s War
Place: Colonial New England
Authority in early colonial New England was divided between settlers, natives, and the colonial government. Their disputes often hinged on a constant struggle between them for ultimate political control of the colonies. Tenuous control by the Massachusetts Bay colonial government left room for Native Americans and settlers to grapple for ultimate control. Each faction exploited the weaknesses of the others. King Philip’s War is the foremost example of this political jostling. Pulsipher argues that the outcome of the war solved this problem of authority. The war was lost by all parties, Native Americans removed further west, settlers and colonial government were forced to submit to royal control.
Tiya Miles, Ties That Bind: The Story of and Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom (University of California, 2006).
Categories: Native Americans, Family, Slavery, Trail of Tears, Sovereignty
Place: American South, Oklahoma
Miles confronts the complicated family relationships formed within Oklahoma’s Cherokee tribes that owned slaves. Family, as the most basic unit of socialization reflect the values of the communities in which those families live. Families can serve as a barometer of that society. With the creation of the Cherokee nation and their right to regulate their membership, where did these former slaves and their Cherokee blood fit? Cherokee families with black/ slave lineage did not necessarily participate in Cherokee nation kinships norms. This conflict between tribal sovereignty and slave reparation continues today.
Carl Degler, At Odds: Women and the Family in America from the Revolution to the Present (Oxford University Press, 1980).
Categories: Women, Gender, Family
Degler asserts that the historiography of women in American history focused around the inseparability of women and their families. In this book, Degler recasts this dichotomy as tension between women and the family. He charts this tension throughout two hundred years. In his discussion of Early America, he argues that the family as unit of socialization as we see it today emerged between the Revolution and 1830.
Elizabeth Fenn, Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People (Hill and Wang, 2014).
Categories: Native Americans, West, Ethnohistory, Archaeology, Environment
Place: American West, Montana
The Mandan people were major actors in the history of the American interior long long before their encounter with the Lewis and Clark party. Their lives altered the land and the land altered them. They maintained distinctive a cultural center in Montana and the Dakotas. They actively participated in extended trade networks with other tribes. While in relative isolation from Europeans, they became susceptible to their diseases through these trade networks. Degler uses archaeology, and Mandan oral history to piece-together their pre-contact narrative.
Kathleen Brown, Foul Bodies: Cleanliness in Early America (Yale, 2009).
Cagegories: Women, Gender, History of the Body
Place: Colonial America
Brown uses the body as a way to explore the colonial experience in America. By considering the body, the way it was cleaned, clothed, and presented through time, we can chart the shift in European modes of culture and definition of civilization.
Richard Goodbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America (Johns Hopkins, 2002).
Categoires: Women, Gender, Culture, Morality
Place: Colonial America
Goodbeer argues, that in the American colonial landscape, moral and sexual mores did not initially follow European modes due to short political and religious reach. The sexual revolution, was then a restriction of these sexual mores as a form of political and social control. A moral reformation on the frontier.
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870 (Penguin Random House, 2017).
Categories: Women, Family, Mormonism, Religious History, West, Migration
Place: American West, Utah
The first generations of Mormon women vehemently defended polygyny as they were afforded roles as major political and cultural actors within their community. As women outnumbered men in the Utah frontier, their organization into majority-female social units through plural marriage encouraged female bonding and solidarity. Living and working together within a family unit promoted self-organization and action. They were some of the earliest women to receive the vote, and influenced local politics.
Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, This Violent Empire: The Birth of an American National Identity (University of North Carolina, 2012).
Categories: Identity, Print Culture, Violence, Formation of Nation
Place: Early American Republic
Formation of the U.S. Nation State can teach us about violence at the heart of national identity. With independence, came the need for the invention of the American citizen. Americans in the new republic viewed themselves as the heirs and perpetuators of British republicanism and enlightenment. Through this lens of inheritance, American political leaders looked west into the continent as imperial proprietors. However, the new country was heterogeneous making the reality of American identity a fluid and layered thing that must experience collective identity for a nation. Often a uniting force was othering and artificially produce a sense of national cohesion. Define American identity by why they are not, and turn on those others, particularly Native Americans, Catholics, and black slaves. It created a process that exacerbated the tendency to exclusion, violence, xenophobia and paranoia. Smith Rosenberg focuses on political magazines, their contributors and leaders in an emerging bourgeoise to illustrate her study.
William Bergmann, The American National State and the Early West (Cambridge 2012).
Categories: West, Expansion, Native American, Economics, Politics
Place: Early American Republic, West
The American National State was not weak in the early days of the republic, but deeply involved in expansion west. Bergmann argues that the U.S. military, post office, and govt bureaucracy linked the states. It diffused authority in an institutional expansion into western territory unseen in eastern states. It was the U.S. government that shaped the character of new territories, and acted as patron of local economic development. He describes this nation was concentrated, penetrative, centralized and specialized, strong enough to foster a commercial economy with land appropriation, exploration and infrastructure. Its centralization allowed triumph over Indians, Canadians and British, prepping the land for settlement and resource exploitation.
Anne Hyde, Empires, Nations and Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-1860 (Harper Collins 2011).
Categories: Empire, Family Networks, West,
Place: Nineteenth Century West
As Americans pushed west they were entering an old inhabited world, not an untamed, unoccupied west. The landscape had a blend of cultures and languages that coexisted and intermingled. This created extensive family, national, and ethnic networks that allowed business and diplomacy to flourish. However, with American political control in 1804, disrupted these old networks and connections. Hyde compares various regions of the west to discern the effect of American colonialism on the land. She looks at St. Louis, the Great Lakes, Santa Fe, Arkansas and the Pacific coast. She emphasizes the importance of local knowledge, and the river networks in conducting business and life rather than larger constructs of nation and empire. Reevaluates the American perception of the west a mythic place and recast these stories with a family narrative that shows native influence in economy and society.
Michael Rogin, Fathers and Children: Andrew Jackson and the Subjugation of the American Indian (Transaction Publishing, 1975).
Categories: Family, Antebellum America, Native Americans, Psychohistory
Place: American South
This biography of Andrew Jackson uses psychohistory to evaluate Jackson’s rationale and actions toward Native Americans. It is in this way that Rogin hopes to place Native Americans at the center of Jackson’s story rather than as peripheral victims in the march forward of republican civilization. His emphasis on the father-son/ protector-vulnerable relationship illustrates how Jackson’s early life as a fatherless child translated into harsh protectionism as president. As a figure of westward expansion, and enabler of capitalistic spread, Jackson was driven by regression, regeneration and violence which he projected on national life. All contributed to Jackson’s actions and natural flow in American psychological life.
James Oakes, Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865 (W.W. Norton and Company, 2013).
Categories: Slavery, Antebellum, Civil War, Politics
Place :United States, North
Considers the political destruction of slavery in America, and the role that abolitionism played in the formation of Republican anti-slavery policy. Oakes argues that abolition between 1830 and 1860 was a multi-element process that included slave themselves, Lincoln, the Republican party, and abolitionists. Each group individually, or in concert, confronted the problem of gradual abolition, versus forced military emancipation. He charts the influences on northern public policy, its ideological origins with the Enlightenment, evangelicalism, natural law and political culture. Shows how these groups succeed in making freedom a national precept through the ratification of the 13th Amendment.
Harry Stout, Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War (Penguin, 2006).
Categories: Civil War, Nationalism, Morality, Just War Theory
Place: United States
Stout confronts the major ethical conundrum of the Civil War. Was it a just war? Applying Thomas Aquinas’ just war theory, weighs the realities of the war. He asserts that the American Civil War a total war waged deliberately on civilian populations, unseen in American to that point, but it also freed 4 million slaves. The North used the excuse of emancipation to conduct a total war. Essentially, the right side won the war in spite of itself. It was not just war on either side, moral misconduct occurred on both sides. Each used their own rationales for such actions, invoking God, encouraging civil religion, framing death as a blood sacrifice of Americans to the national religion.
Alan Taylor, William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic (Vintage, 1996).
Categories: Early American Republic, Family, Culture, Society
Place: Upstate New York
New York grew rapidly after the Revolution and William Cooper, the Father of James Fenimore Cooper, played a leading role in its rapid demographic and commercial expansion. All at the expense of Indian dispersal. New settlements became spaces of contention over property and politics. Partial biography of the Cooper family, as well as a social history of Cooperstown, NY. Also, a literary analysis of the Pioneers. Shows how the post-revolutionary generation constructed personal wealth, gentility and freedom in a new country. Reevaluate bootstraps tale.
Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War (Oxford, 1970).
Categories: Ideology, Politics, Slavery, Antebellum
Place: United States
How did the Republican party of the 1850s frame its ideology? How did it perceive of American society in the North and South? What ought the future of the nation be? Republican ideology shifted with time, geography and attitude in order to stand directly opposed to southern Democrats. Up to this point, the American two party system, while in political opposition, still shared fundamental ideology, that the United States was a good republican society. However, when the nature of this republican society was disagreed upon by the Democrat and Republican parties, it was fundamentally impossible for the Union to remain intact. The disagreement fundamentally stood upon labor, that the nation required dignity in free labor, tilling new western territories free from slavery. Republicans argued and eventually succeeded in creating this vision of a modern democracy founded on a fully free economy.
Adam Rothman, Slave Country: American Expansion and the Origins of the Deep South (Cambridge 2005).
Categories: Slaves, South, Antebellum, Expansion, Native Americans
Place: Deep South
The slave trade actually grew in the thirty years after the Revolution when Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana joined the Union, bringing with it cultivatable land that could supply the massive global demand for cotton. It was in this thirty years that plantation slavery, with an upwards of fifty slaves per farm, took hold in the south. From this capitalist perspective, much of the world, including the American North were complicit in the expansion of slavery.
Edward Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (2014).
Categories: Slavery, Capitalism, Economics
Place: Deep South
Explore the experience of slavery in the deep south and its growth along the Mississippi river. Global demand for slave labor, whose command efficiency helped the nation as a whole grow, the profits fueling industry for cotton mills and shaped the modern world.
Brian Donahue, The Great Meadow: Farmers and the Land in Colonial Concord (Yale, 2004).
Categories: Environment, Colonial New England, Family
Place: Colonial Connecticuit
The first generation of colonial agriculture in Concord, Massachusetts was an ecologically sustainable adaptation of English mixed husbandry. Donahue uses digital models of the region’s soil properties to chart the change and subsequent decline this balanced environment over three generations. As families grew, and adherence to partible land inheritance remained, settlers ran out of land to sustain the system as pressures of capitalism to produce for wider consumption depleted natural resources.
Virginia DeJohn Anderson, Creatures of Empire: How Domestic Animals Transformed Early America (Oxford, 2004).
Categories: Environment, Native Americans, Colonization
Place: British America
The activities of animals shaped the lives of Native Americans and American colonists. What does the colonial experience look like from the perspective of creatures driven by instinct rather than reason? Animals appear in every colonial account, contributing to ecological shifts in the landscape and , defining intercultural encounters between colonists and Indians. The perceived improvement of agriculture by the English, placed them in conflict with traditional native ways of hunting and gathering.
Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (Oxford, 1964).
Categories: Environment, Industrialization, Intellectual history
Place: United States
The American pastoral ideal adapted to life in the new world and became a literary expression of a unique American society and its transformations. Collective imagination and literary culture in American fables. Marx considers dichotomies of art and nature; reality and ideal; sentimental pastoralism and popular pastoralism.
Catherine McNeur, Taming Manhattan: Environmental Battles in the Antebellum City (Harvard, 2014).
Categories: Environment, Urban,
Place: New York City
What is the environmental history of New York City? McNeur argues that when the government of the city sought to “tame” its streets through, urban planning, cleaning and green spaces incurred unexpected power imbalances and social conflict.
Joyce Chaplin, Subject Matter: Technology, the Body, and Science on the Anglo-American Frontier (Harvard 2001).
Categories: Intellectual, Identity, Science, Nature, Empire
Place: Colonial America
Early modern science provides intellectual context for why the English used the body and technology to determine connections between nature and the imperial world. Chaplin uses English sources to see what they say about nature and Native Americans. Did the English conquer America? Put science at the center of story cultural difference vs technological difference, emergence of the concept of race, reject mystical explanations of nature.
Ted Steinberg, Down to Earth: Nature’s Role in American History (Oxford, 2000).
Place: United States
Must study the land to understand us history natural forces play a formative role and create factors that humans cannot control. Temporally broad study that considers questions of American geologic exceptionalism and ecological determinism.
Leigh Schmidt, Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment (Harvard, 2000).
Categories: Religion, Enlightenment, Science
Place: Colonial America
The enlightenment changed the senses, dulling and sharpening them simultaneously. Hearing was especially altered, attuning human ears to the audio vibrations of the world, but quieting the spiritual voices that impeded knowledge. Schmidt explores the spaces where the voice of reason conflicted with the voice of God. Where did religion fit in world of reason? As reason began to nullify the supranational God was not falling silent but forcing Americans to seek God in other ways. silence was still overwhelming. Recreate religious conflicts of modernity through the posture and practice of hearing things.
John Brooke, Columbia Rising: Civil Life on the Upper Hudson from the Revolution to the Age of Jackson (University of North Carolina 2010).
Categories: Early Republic, Jackson, New York
Place: Antebellum New York
Explores civil life on the upper Hudson, and the ways in which Americans negotiated the constitutional settlement. Brooke makes a case study of Columbia County New York to consider how average Americans consented to the political oversight of state and federal power. The author also follows Columbia County’s most famous citizen, Martin van Buren in to study relationship between civil society and the public sphere.
Pekka Hamalainen, The Comanche Empire (Yale 2008).
Categories: New Native American History, Empire, Settlement
Place: American West
The Comanche, despite their narratives of native decline in the face of European expansion actually thrived and even exerted imperial power of their own, had a fluid and adaptive culture born on the backs of horses. Exhibits the power of native cultures pre contact, using a revised framework of empire to show how the Comanche integrated European subjects into their systems. Indians the center of the story, the actors rather than acted upon.