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JAH Articles Open for Junto March Madness

jmm16Every spring the history blog The Junto holds a March Madness tournament exploring sources for understanding early America. This year, the tournament’s spotlight has fallen on academic articles. In collaboration with their readers, the Junto has assembled a field of 64 articles that will compete for readers’ votes.

The Junto’s readers voted 21 articles from the Journal of American History into the field. Some of them are classics, such as Edmund Morgan’s 1972 OAH Presidential Address, “Slavery and Freedom: The American Paradox,” published in the Journal’s June 1972 issue (the article that anticipated some of the arguments of his classic 1975 book American Slavery, American Freedom—incidentally, the volume that won the 2013 Junto contest). Others are very recent, such as Caitlin Fitz’s article on “The Hemispheric Dimensions of Early U.S. Nationalism,” published less than a year ago in the Sept. 2015 issue of the JAH.

The first round of voting is now open—vote for your favorites here. Polls close on Saturday at noon, so get your votes in!

To allow readers without institutional subscriptions to participate in the tournament, the Journal of American History and Oxford University Press have removed the paywall for the 21 JAH articles in the field for the length of the tournament. Below, you’ll find links to each of these open articles. More recent articles are also accompanied with the “preview” paragraphs that the Journal published for articles beginning in the mid-1990s.

Below the fold, check out articles from this millennium accompanied with preview paragraphs.

The story that the British general Jeffery Amherst attempted to infect Native Americans with smallpox at Fort Pitt in 1763 has become a commonplace of American history. But is the story true? And, if the attempt was made, could it have worked? Was it an isolated incident? Elizabeth A. Fenn, whose essay won the Louis Pelzer Award for 19990, takes a new look at the evidence regarding smallpox transmission in eighteenth-century America. She shows that contemporary military ethics left ample room for acts of biological terror, that means of spreading smallpox were well known, and that accusations of deliberate smallpox infection arose frequently. If incidents of willful contagion were not common, they were probably not so rare as historians previously believed.

Jill Lepore contrasts an old genre of historical writing, biography, with a rather new one, microhistory. Unlike biography, which emphasizes the singularity and significance of an individual’s life, microhistory takes an individual’s life as an allegory of broader issues affecting a culture as a whole. Surveying works from many historical fields—from Jonathan Spence’s The Question of Hu to Alan Taylor’s William Cooper’s Town—to define the contours of microhistory, Lepore meditates on historians’ intimacy with their subjects and its consequences for their writing.

The anthropologist Ann Laura Stoler examines the relevance of postcolonial studies to American history by exploring how matters of the intimate—sex, sentiment, domestic arrangements, and child rearing—figured in the making of racial categories and the management of empires. She identifies convergences in the regulation of the intimate by European colonizers and Americans—at home and abroad—and circuits of shared knowledge that created transnational links among imperial regimes. Treating comparison, not as benign methodology, but as itself a tool of colonial projects, she asks why historians of North America celebrate some comparisons and avoid others. The politics of intimacy, Stoler argues, is a key site for understanding how colonial regimes of truth were imposed, worked around, and worked out.

Did the liberal and republican traditions of the United States subvert slavery? No, argues François Furstenberg, in the early republic they could justify slavery. Furstenberg shows that the narrative of the American Revolution presented in early national print culture grounded freedom and virtue in resistance. If those who resisted oppression earned their freedom, it followed that those who remained enslaved must be tacitly consenting to their own subjugation. The liberal-republican principle of consent thus legitimated slavery. Furstenberg suggests that the professional division between intellectual history and the historiography of slavery has led scholars to overemphasize the contributions of American liberal and republican traditions to the history of liberation and to neglect their equally significant contributions to the history of oppression.

In assessing the influence of the Enlightenment in the British American colonies, early American historians have tended to focus on urban elites. John Fea instead explores a parallel rural Enlightenment through a study of the short life of Philip Vickers Fithian, a diarist from southern New Jersey. The complex configuration of Fithian’s social world—full of British books and nearby friends—demands that we rethink the distinction between cosmopolitanism and localism on the eve of the American Revolution and consider how cosmopolitan aspirations could be reconciled with local attachments in a rural community.

Also check out the Teaching the JAH component for this article.

In the early years of contact between Europeans and Indians, women often mediated between cultures. Scholars have examined extraordinary women such as Pocahontas and Sacagawea who acted as cross-cultural emissaries, but this emphasis on women’s agency has obscured the more coercive traffic in women that was central to Indian-European relations. Juliana Barr illuminates this darker side by exploring how some Indian women, exchanged as captives and slaves, became political and economic pawns in relations among Indian, Spanish, and French men in the borderlands of colonial America. She uses the Indian slave trade to explicate geopolitical relations among European and native powers and to expand our vision of Indian women, to portray them as not only negotiators but also victims of change.

Revising questions that Charles Beard raised in 1913, Woody Holton offers a new economic interpretation of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. He connects debate about the Constitution with disputes about the political causes of the recession of the 1780s. One line of thought blamed the recession on an excess of democracy, manifested in state legislatures’ willingness to forgive debts and taxes. Such policies discouraged investment, proponents of limiting popular rule argued. Critics of this explanation excoriated the high state taxes intended to pay interest to owners of government bonds for discouraging economic effort by artisans and farmers. Holton uses this nearly forgotten labor-based analysis to challenge assumptions that the tumult of the 1780s shows the dangers of democracy.

While the story of antebellum America’s capitalist development has most commonly centered on the urban and industrial transformation of the North, Joshua D. Rothman argues that the booming southwestern cotton economy exposed the anxieties and tensions of the era in their most acute forms. Examining the 1835 hanging of five supposed professional gamblers in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Rothman suggests that qualms about the morality of participating in a speculative market economy might have been eased through violence as much as through religious revivals and reform activities. In so doing, he calls for a rethinking of our understandings of regionalism, class development, and the market revolution in pre–Civil War America.

Who is interested in the Enlightenment, let alone the American Enlightenment, today? This is the question raised by Nathalie Caron and the late Naomi Wulf in this in-depth historiographical essay, which won the 2012 David Thelen Award. They review the literature on how the Enlightenment has been addressed in the United States over the past twelve years and on how historians in general have been dealing—or not dealing—with an American Enlightenment. From an outsider’s perspective, the essay provides fresh insight into what turns out to be an ideologically fraught paradigm that has been co-opted across the political spectrum. Their essay does so by incorporating Enlightenment historiography into public debates about American national identity, political culture, and religiosity, as well as secularization and modernity.

At the same time that the United States was embarking on what supporters called a “second war for independence,” Spanish Americans were embarking on their first. Caitlin A. Fitz returns the War of 1812 to that hemispheric setting, showing how the Americas’ nearly simultaneous wars against Europe gradually prompted U.S. observers to imagine the Western Hemisphere as a happily independent republican family at a time when Europe seemed to be crumbling under the weight of dynastic alliances and monarchical tyranny. That sense of inter-American unity, she asserts, inspired people throughout the United States with patriotic pride and visions of international importance.