A social and cultural historian of British North America and the United States, Benjamin H. Irvin is the executive editor of the Journal of American History and an associate professor of history at Indiana University Bloomington. His primary research interests include national identity, the federal state, gender, disability, and law in the revolutionary era and in the early republic. His first book, Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty: The Continental Congress and the People Out of Doors (2011), examines the material culture and ceremonies of state—including, for example, fast days, funeral processions, diplomatic protocols, and presentment swords—by which Congress promoted armed resistance and independence. Central to his study are the many ways that the American people challenged Congress and its vision of the United States. His next book project concerns masculinity, disability, class, and citizenship among veterans of the Revolutionary War. Focusing particularly on the family relations and occupational pursuits of impaired soldiers and officers as well as their efforts to obtain invalid pensions from state and federal governments, Irvin’s investigation illuminates the many ways that political ideologies, social norms, medical technologies, labor practices, bureaucratic infrastructures, and domestic arrangements shaped veterans' experiences as they struggled to subsist in Jefferson's yeoman republic. In support of this project, Irvin spent spring 2014 as the Emilia Galli Struppa Fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and 2016-2017 as the Patrick Henry Writing Fellow at the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College.
This lecture explores the history of tarring and feathering, a ritualistic form of violence that, though most commonly associated with the Revolutionary War, persisted in the United States at least until the 1970s. Violent episodes of tarring and feathering punctuated most every major social crisis in U.S. history, from the Second Great Awakening to antebellum debates over slavery, from the labor wars of the early twentieth century to the aftermath of World War I, from the crusade for prohibition to the campaign for civil rights. In moments such as these, private citizens deployed tar and feathers to establish and strengthen political, moral, ethnic, and/or national boundaries. By means of physical assault and spectacular ostracization, tarring-and-feathering mobs thrust transgressors out of their imagined if not their actual communities.