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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Sunday, November 03, 2013

Many Revolutions at Brandeis This Year

To gain perspective on the American Revolution, it helps to consider it in context. And over the past generation historians have been broadening the contexts of their studies in all directions.

We thus have “the long 18th century,” which lets specialists in 18th-century history or literature claim some interesting bits of the late 1600s and early 1800s as well. We have “the Atlantic world,” which looks at all the empires and trading that straddled the Atlantic Ocean, not confined to one nation-state.

Put those together, and we get “the Age of Revolution(s),” usually said to start with the American Revolution and to include other revolutions partly inspired by it: French, Haitian, and South American. Brandeis University has recently launched a year-long seminar called “Rethinking the Age of Revolution” which expands the timeframe even further, back to Britain’s Glorious Revolution of 1688 and up through France’s 1830 Revolution (better known as “the exciting bits of Les Miz”).

This “Comparative Study of Culture” includes a blog in which various participants carry on the discussions from the seminar sessions. Among the postings, John Hannigan discusses how the South Carolina lawyer William Henry Drayton shifted his thinking about the nature of the American colonies’ resistance to the Crown over the course of the year 1776.

And in the process Drayton may have been the person who labeled what was going on “the American Revolution.” In a widely-reprinted charge to a grand jury on 15 Oct 1776, Drayton said, “Carolinians! heretofore you were bound. By the American Revolution you are now free.” (Of course, almost half the population of South Carolina was still bound, but Drayton was speaking to the white men of property who could serve on a jury.)

The next event in Brandeis’s yearlong seminar will take place on Thursday, 14 November. There will be a panel discussion on the topic of “People in Revolution” with presentations by:
  • Kathleen DuVal, University of North Carolina: “Middle (Wo)man History: Biographies of Slightly Important People in the Revolutionary Era”
  • Amy Freund, Texas Christian University: “Aux Armes, Citoyens! Portraiture and Political Agency during the French Revolution”
  • Emma Rothschild, Harvard University/University of Cambridge: “Family Life in Revolution: Angoulême in the 1790s”
That’s scheduled from 4:00 to 5:30 P.M. in the Mandel Humanities Center, room 303.

(The image above shows William Henry Drayton’s family seat, Drayton Hall in Charleston, South Carolina.)

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