Annual Meeting Preview: "The New History of the Family in Early America"

This session takes place on Friday, April 5 at the 2019 OAH Annual Meeting in Philadelphia

Chair and Panelist: Karin Wulf, Omohundro Institute
Cassandra Good, Marymount University
Jessica Millward, UC Irvine
Honor Sachs, University of Colorado Boulder
Sara Georgini, Massachusetts Historical Society

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For many scholars, the term “family history” conjures debates about the origins of the nuclear family and social histories drawing on data. Important as this work from the 1970s and 1980s was, new histories of the family are offering fresh approaches, questions, sources, and methods. This roundtable focuses specifically on how those innovations in family history are shaping conversations among scholars of early America. Attendees will gain a sense of important innovations, themes, and new areas of inquiry in the field.

Panelists will address the construction of gender, race, and religion in the family; the politics of defining families and genealogies; the diversity of family structures; and violence and resistance within the family. From studies of well-known political families with voluminous correspondence to research on enslaved families on the frontier, the scholars on this panel bring a variety of source bases and perspectives to studies of the family. They will approach the family and home as space, structure, and process. There were many forms of and ways of making families in America, varying by time, place, race, and status. New approaches to the archive and a growing appreciation of the value of genealogical research inform the panelists’ work and bring fresh sources to the study of the family.

All of the panelists have recent or forthcoming work with diverse approaches to family history. The panel chair, Karin Wulf, is completing a a study of the relationship between genealogical practices and political culture: “Lineage: Genealogy and the Politics of Connection in British America, 1680-1820.” Sara Georgini’s Household Gods: The Religious Lives of the Adams Family is a multigenerational saga of how faith shapes presidential thought and American culture. Cassandra Good takes a different approach to another prominent founding family: a study of George Washington’s step-grandchildren and how they fashioned their political role in the new nation through relics, homes, and writings. Jessica Milward and Honor Sachs recover stories of forgotten figures and genealogies. Millward is working on a book length project that discusses African American women's experiences with sexual assault and intimate partner violence through the long 19th century. Sachs, author of Home Rule: Households, Manhood, and National Expansion on the Eighteenth-century Kentucky Frontier, will speak to the ways that family ties and personal intimacies challenged forms of state, legal, and racial oppression across a broad geographic landscape of early American history.

The panelists will share emerging research that illuminates the ways families served the interests of the powerful as well as proving crucial to the survival of marginalized, oppressed, or colonized people. Complicating previous notions of the family as either emotional refuge or a model for the state, the panelists will also consider how sexual violence, internal power struggles, and state power troubled family life. This roundtable illustrates the ways in which family ties and personal intimacies both constructed and challenged political, social, intellectual, and economic structures.


Cassandra Good, Marymount University

Posted: March 7, 2019
Tagged: Previews, Conference, Early America