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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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

New-York Historical Society Looks at the Atlantic Revolutions

The New-York Historical Society is reopening fully on 11 November with an exhibit titled “Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn”. It was be there until April, and then travel to other venues.

The society’s webpage calls this “a path-breaking exhibition and educational initiative”:
The exhibition explores the enormous transformations in the world’s politics and culture between the 1763 triumph of the British Empire in the Seven Years War and the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Responding to growing public interest in the history of other cultures, Revolution! compares three globally influential revolutions in America, France and Haiti. But while these revolutions have usually been told exclusively as chapters within national histories, now for the first time, the story of the 18th-century Atlantic revolutions will be explained as a global narrative.

Opposing European imperial authorities, diverse men and women of the Atlantic world—natives of Africa, Europe and the Americas—argued with both pamphlets and armaments. Their first major outbursts in the American Revolution launched radical ideas through the West. These in turn drew many Britons to the antislavery crusade, then inspired a revolt against monarchy in France, and finally spawned the astonishing insurrection on the island of Saint Domingue, leading to the world’s only successful slave revolt and the founding of the first nation based on equality and emancipation, Haiti.
That description doesn’t go on to the fact that the American state that “launched radical ideas through the west” was also broadly opposed to and fearful of “the first nation based on equality and emancipation.” Thus, while the cross-Atlantic perspective may be new, does this exhibit’s approach reproduce an old triumphalist picture of America proudly leading the world to liberty?

The society’s list of artifacts that are part of this exhibit includes:
  • “The original Stamp Act, as it was passed by Parliament in 1765 setting off the riots that led to the American Revolution—displayed for the first time outside the United Kingdom.”
  • A first edition of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense from 1776.
  • Thomas Jefferson’s copy of Notes on the State of Virginia (1785).
  • A seven-foot-long leg-yoke used to shackle five captives together, taken from a French slave ship about 1800.
  • Three vodou sculptures produced by the secret societies established during the Haitian Revolution.
  • Napoleon’s authorization to sell the Louisiana Territory to the U.S. of A. in 1803.
  • “The only known surviving copy of the first printing of the Haitian Declaration of Independence (1804), recently discovered and exhibited in public for the first time.”


Anonymous said...

Interesting picture - tell me more!

J. L. Bell said...

The New-York Historical Society’s webpage identifies that painting as a portrait of Jean-Baptiste Belley that usually hangs in Versailles. Wikipedia identifies Belley (c. 1746-1805) as a man from Senegal enslaved on Haiti who bought his freedom and was involved in the early parts of the Haitian Revolution. He was a member of France’s National Convention from 1793 to 1797.