Being a founding director of a museum is to lead a revolution. Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and now the 14th secretary of the Smithsonian, shares his revolutionary story in A Fool’s Errand: Creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the Age of Bush, Obama, and Trump. After a century of false starts, the NMAAHC was established in 2003, and the building opened in September 2016, all led by Bunch’s vision of what the museum could and should be.
The American Revolution is often perceived as a war between Patriots and Loyalists, but what about those Americans who found themselves caught between the lines? Aaron Sullivan explores the lives and experiences of these men and women, known as the “disaffected,” in his recent work, The Disaffected: Britain’s Occupation of Philadelphia during the American Revolution. He argues that for many Americans, the war was not something to be won or lost, but rather something to be endured. Sullivan’s focus on the disaffected sheds light on Pennsylvania’s fragmented society, subsequently humanizing the War for Independence.
Today marks the 242nd anniversary of the Battle of Brandywine, a hard-fought victory for the British Army during their campaign to capture Philadelphia. This week’s Read the Revolution feature highlights Matthew H. Spring’s With Zeal and With Bayonets Only: The British Army on Campaign in North America, 1775-1783, an engaging study of how the British Army fought in battles such as Brandywine during the Revolutionary War. Lieutenant Richard St. George, the focus of the Museum’s upcoming special exhibition Cost of Revolution: The Life and Death of an Irish Soldier, served in the battle as part of the 52nd Regiment’s light infantry company and was wounded in the heel.
On the evening of Oct. 3, the Museum will welcome Dr. Linda Colley, Shelby M.C. Davis 1958 Professor of History at Princeton University, to deliver the opening keynote address for the 2019 International Conference on the American Revolution. One of Dr. Colley's most popular books, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837, is the subject of this week's Read the Revolution feature.
The history of loyalists in the American Revolution is not just a national history, it's a global one. Few explain this better than Maya Jasanoff, in her pivotal work, Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World. Through the stories of ten major characters, Jasanoff explores loyalists' decisions to leave America after the war and their ventures to resettle across the British Empire, from Nova Scotia to Jamaica, Sierra Leone to India. She finds that each journey reveals "a different stamp of the revolution on the world."
Despite being published over 20 years ago, Philip Morgan’s Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Lowcountry remains today one of the leading studies on black culture in eighteenth-century America. His work compares slave societies in the Virginia Chesapeake to that of the South Carolina Lowcountry, exploring the contours of black life, such as family, work, diet, medicine, housing, courting, and sex. He finds that slave culture was both African and European, wrought with continuity and adaptation. His thematic approach further reveals the contrast in production in these slave societies—the lowlands cultivated rice and indigo while Virginia became a producer of tobacco and wheat. Morgan concludes by suggesting that although work routines and experiences of slaves were not all that dissimilar in these two regions, perhaps the material treatment of slaves was better in the Lowcountry.
Dr. Benjamin Rush was born in Philadelphia, went to medical school in Scotland, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, surgeon-general in the Continental Army, and a professor of medicine. Besides being a progressive revolutionary, he was also a bold critic of many of his contemporaries, including Washington and Hamilton. In his new book Rush: Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father, Stephen Fried presents Rush as an accomplished and passionate, but sometimes unpolitic, Founder. For example, shortly after he was appointed surgeon-general for the Middle Department in April 1777, he published his thoughts on keeping soldiers in the Continental Army healthy in a Pennsylvania newspaper. Though history would show his advice was largely correct, he did it without letting his superiors in the army review it or even know he was publishing it.
Declaring independence was a distant thought for many Americans in May of 1776. Even after a year of war, their focus was on reclaiming their rights as British citizens, not separating from Britain. Few Americans saw a different path, but those that did pushed America toward independence.
In Declaration: The Nine Tumultuous Weeks When America Became Independent, May 1 – July 4, 1776, William Hogeland explores the personalities, backroom politicking, and passions that ignited our pursuit of liberty. For Hogeland, Samuel Adams was the shadowy mastermind who changed the course of American culture through local politics. As the book begins, Adams, though from Massachusetts, hoped to sway Pennsylvania’s assembly elections in his favor.
Mike Rapport’s The Unruly City immerses readers in the places and spaces of the transatlantic Age of Revolution.
Comparing New York, London, and Paris, Rapport shows how cities became contested ground and hotbeds for reformers and radicals. Ships, travelers, printers, churthes, and taverns caused ideas about political change to churn amongst large, dense, and diverse urban populations. Government buildings and public spaces became arenas of conflict. Rapport argues that the landscapes themselves shaped how revolution took hold or did not take hold in each city.