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What’s in the June Issue of the Journal of American History?


The June issue of the Journal of American History is available online and in print. Included are articles by Douglas Winiarski, Richard Bell, Lara Vapnek, and Joanna Cohen’s Editor’s Choice article, “Reckoning with the Riots: Property, Belongings, and the Challenge to Value in Civil War America.” With topics ranging from the emergence of evangelicalism in the early trans-Appalachian West to wet-nurse labor in the late nineteenth century, this issue also features a digital history overview by Liz Covart, who surveys the growing field of history podcasting, as well as the Editor’s Annual Report for 2021–2022.

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How did the emergence of American evangelicalism and the rise of experimental religious communities impact westering families on the early American frontier? Douglas Winiarski reconstructs the life of Anne Bunnell, an Ohio settler who struggled to put her life back together after her husband, Abner, joined a celibate community of religious seekers known as the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing—the Shakers, as they were more commonly known. In his retelling, her story is a cautionary tale. Well known for their gender-inclusive religious beliefs and prosperous joint-stock villages, the Shakers also broke apart families and, thus, threatened the orderly settlement of the West. Winiarski’s richly documented microhistory sheds new light on the complexities of family life, religious revivalism, settler colonialism, women’s legal rights, mental health, and divorce in the early American republic.

The success of the Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave (2013) has left the impression that abductions of African Americans into slavery before the Civil War were rare and that middle-aged men such as Solomon Northup were the typical targets. Richard Bell shows that this was not the case. Kidnappers stalked free-soil cities across the early national United States with startlingly frequency and impunity. They rarely approached highly literate adults, instead developing custom-designed techniques to lure away poorly educated boys and girls with ruses that could swiftly separate them from their families. The young age of the many thousands of minors ensnared by such means informed their experiences of enslavement, shaped their opportunities for resistance, and, ultimately, powered the rise of a child-centered antislavery print campaign that would weaponize grief, sentimentalize family, and politicize sympathy.

Lara Vapnek explains how the labor of infant feeding shaped the meaning of motherhood by examining the practice of wet-nursing at the Nursery and Child’s Hospital (1854–1910) in New York City. Elite women who volunteered as hospital managers positioned themselves as moral mothers, detached from the bodily labor of breast feeding and responsible for the welfare of poor white mothers and children. The impoverished immigrant women served by the institution had little choice but to work as wet nurses. Institutional records reveal the dependence of elite women on wet nurses, the precarity of poor women’s motherhood, and the vulnerability of their infants.

Joanna Cohen explores how and why Americans contested notions of value in property in the nineteenth century. She focuses on the claims for lost and destroyed property made by the victims of the New York City draft riots in 1863. Whereas the city sought to impose a strict scheme of market valuation on claimants, the victims themselves proposed evaluations that recognized their emotional losses. Setting these claims into Americans’ long-term struggle over how to reconcile property’s commercial and sentimental functions, Cohen argues that the city attempted to resolve this tension by privatizing the problem of emotional attachments to belongings. Through an exploration of the city’s effort to manage the problem of emotional value, she reinstates the problems posed by emotional attachments to property at the center of our histories of capitalism, arguing that the management of feeling was critical to the development of a capitalist political economy.