J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Time for Reporting the Revolutionary War

I’ve been sharing highlights of my report on George Washington in Cambridge, but that’s not the only new book this season that features my writing.

Reporting the Revolutionary War: Before It Was History, It Was News was conceived and assembled by Todd Andrlik of the Rag Linen site. It traces how America’s move to independence was reported at the time in American and English newspapers. Every section shows some actual eighteenth-century news reports alongside a historian’s analysis of the event.

I wrote two sections. The first is on the “Powder Alarm” of September 1774, which signaled the de facto end of royal rule in most of New England; that doesn’t get a lot of space in most histories of the war because, well, nobody died. But it was a big deal for newspapers. Whig printers presented the notes of the mass gathering on Cambridge common as if it were a formal meeting, and William Brattle published a public letter trying to deny what he’d been caught saying in private—not that it did him any good.

My second essay is on the Battle of Lexington and Concord eight months later. For that I took the approach of tracing how news of the event spread, starting with the first oral reports of British army officers riding out of Boston. As with any fight, it took a while for the authorities and the press to sort out rumors, false claims, and facts. Newspapers in both America and Britain show how the Massachusetts Provincial Congress did a much better job than Gen. Thomas Gage in spreading its version of events. And you can read the actual articles, reproduced in color on pages about 10x10 inches.

Reporting the Revolutionary War extends from the Sugar and Stamp Acts in the 1760s through Washington’s resignation as commander-in-chief in 1783. The list of contributors contains a lot of friends: Ray Raphael, Don Hagist, Ben Carp, Bob Allison, Will Tatum, Ben Irvin, Tom Fleming, as well as authors I know only through their books. At $39.99, it’s a coffee-table book with serious substance.

Reporting the Revolutionary War has its own website, with content samples, contributor bios, videos, lesson plans, and more, plus a Facebook page. There’s a Military Book Club edition. The hardcover officially goes on sale next month, but Todd tells me it’s already on some store shelves and #1 at Amazon in the all-important “Propaganda and Political Psychology” category.

1 comment:

Todd Andrlik said...

"A coffee-table book with serious substance." Mission accomplished. Thanks for your participation in the book, John, and for helping bridge the 18th and 21st centuries for readers. Kudos on the Washington in Cambridge report! I look forward to reading it soon.