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.
Moses Rollins, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, did not wish to claim a disability pension. For forty years after suffering leg wounds during the Southern Campaign, Rollins shouldered the brunt of infection and fever. To raise money for medical care, in 1785, Rollins bound himself into three years of indentured servitude. As late as 1807, Rollins begged a doctor to amputate. Not until 1812, on the eve of his fiftieth year, did Rollins at last succumb to necessity and apply for the pension to which had long been statutorily entitled. In a petition to the Virginia Assembly, Rollins explained his reluctance to apply: “I have both fought and bled for the Independence of our Country, and I still have an independent spirit.” By examining the lives of Rollins and other veterans, this lecture investigates the relationships between disability and masculinity in an age of independence.