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Current Issue Article Abstracts

Summer 2017, Vol. 37.2

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"The Open Violence of Desperate Men": Rethinking Property and Power in the 1835 Baltimore Bank Riot

Adam Malka

Using the 1835 Baltimore Bank Riot as a case study, this article asserts that white workingmen deployed legitimate power as property holders. It shows that the Bank Riot, which erupted over frauds related to the closing of the Bank of Maryland, actually had two legacies: an Indemnity law that promised remuneration to future victims of mob violence, and the legal exoneration of almost everyone who participated in its violence. These two legacies, it argues, both derived from the same belief in property rights – for property in the early republic had two meanings. First and most obviously, it referred to a physical asset, like a building; this is what that the Indemnity Act was designed to protect. Less obviously, property also connoted wages and households, and these were what the pardons honored. The riot’s dual legacy ultimately demonstrated that a municipality built to protect property rights allowed more than the affluent to make claims upon it. True, the bank rioters were not as wealthy as the men whose homes they destroyed, but as wage earners and patriarchs they were rich in other ways.

Almost no one associated with the Bank Riot ever received a meaningful punishment, and that, this article concludes, foretold a future in which certain forms of popular violence would be tolerated so long as they were justified in the name of property. In a city where many of the residents did not own wages and dependents, the possession of both was a privilege fraught with real power.

Martha Ann Honeywell: Art, Performance, and Disability in the Early Republic

Laurel Daen

Martha Ann Honeywell (1786-1856) was a visual artist and performer who traveled across North America and Europe to exhibit her embroidery, waxwork, miniature writing, and paper cutting as well as her atypically-figured body, which lacked arms and hands and had just one foot with three toes. Drawing on over two hundred newspaper advertisements that she published, over one hundred samples of her visual artwork, nearly thirty visitor responses, and one surviving letter, this essay examines Honeywell’s story and the strategies that she used to appeal to consumers and cultivate her business. It argues that she capitalized on new cultural and commercial opportunities in the early republic as well as long-held conceptions of disability in productive ways. Honeywell was a relentless traveler, seeking new markets internationally and in the American West. She also catered to her patrons’ desires for miniatures and silhouettes, which held popular appeal, and utilized advancements in print culture to generate publicity. At the same time, Honeywell’s techniques for attracting clientele were informed by ideas about disability, and congenital physical anomalies in particular, with deep roots in western culture. To accommodate her spectators’ curiosities about her body, she juxtaposed her artistic capacities and physical incapacities in ways that elicited shock and amazement. In addition, to ease visitors’ fears about disability and anxieties about viewing her impairments, she presented familiar and socially acceptable traits that aligned with their expectations of the body, gender, and class. In the end, Honeywell’s mastery of these dual strategies of the spectacular and the conventional—along with the possibilities that the early national marketplace presented—produced what may seem like an unexpected outcome. Rather than condemning, fearing, or deriding her uniqueness, customers proclaimed her to be uniquely American, an exemplary woman and citizen.

Symposium on Hamilton, An American Musical

Introduction: Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton: An American Musical and the Early American Republic

Catherine E. Kelly

Will the Real Alexander Hamilton Please Stand Up?

Joanne B. Freeman

Since his death in 1804, Alexander Hamilton has appeared in American culture in many forms. Post-Civil War nationalist, Progressive-era pro-active statesman, Cold War capitalist hero: Hamilton has been all of these things and more. But he has never been what Broadway's Hamilton has made him: an American folk hero. Given Hamilton's active distrust of democracy, it's a surprising and unlikely role, but in the troublous times of twenty-first century America it has real power, presenting Americans with a glory-filled Founding myth and a heroic advocate of the American Way. This Great Man view of the Founding is problematic in many ways. But as historically inaccurate as it is, Broadway's Hamilton has much to offer, restoring a sense of contingency to what is all too often seen as an inevitable success story, humanizing historical figures in a way that brings the past to life, and inviting people to analyze the nation's Founding myths anew.

The American Revolution Rebooted: Hamilton and Genre in Contemporary Culture

Andrew M. Schocket

Hamilton: An American Musical, while distinctive, is fairly representative of recent cultural productions representing the American founding era, fitting the three main characteristics of what this article labels "American Revolution rebooted." First, patriotism is assumed of the protagonists, usually heterosexual white men; second, patriotism consists of supporting a personal, libertarian version of "freedom"; and third, consensus is achieved by the violent expulsion of others.

Crooked Histories: Re-presenting Race, Slavery, and Alexander Hamilton Onstage

Heather S. Nathans

Recovering a mostly forgotten collection of plays dating back to the turn of the nineteenth century, this article demonstrates how artists used Hamilton to consider critical moments in the nation’s passionate and often painful debates about race, citizenship, and belonging.

Toward a More Perfect Hamilton

Marvin McAllister

This essay examines the ambitious representational mission, color-conscious casting, and hip hop/musical theater fusion of the ground-breaking musical Hamilton. In particular, the piece highlights the unqualified successes of the production team, as they used performed whiteness and race-bending to reinvent casting, marketing, and story-telling on Broadway. However, the essay also acknowledges the historical and political shortcomings of this commercially unrivaled musical and suggests dramaturgical improvements for future professional and amateur productions.

World Wide Enough: Historiography, Imagination, and Stagecraft

Benjamin L. Carp

Hamilton: An American Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda and director Thomas Kail is both an intriguing and imperfect vehicle for understanding the history of the American Revolutionary Era. Although the show simplified the image of Alexander Hamilton and focused on an elite narrative of the American Revolution, the show is not meant to be strict history. Instead the show benefits historians with an imaginative retelling for a contemporary audience, invites multiple interpretations of history, and encourages further conversation.

"Make 'em Laugh": Why History Cannot Be Reduced to Song and Dance

Nancy Isenberg

Historians have a stake in the Hamilton: An American Musical's multiple inaccuracies and in the larger picture Lin-Manuel Miranda paints of the founding. The Hamilton franchise, which stretches from the stage to the best-selling book and album and which is supported by commercial media, operates at a remove from academic historians’ expertise. Professional historians are therefore obliged to hold cultural producers of popular history more accountable and defend the profession and practice of history.

Surveying the Fields


Carolyn Eastman

Fatal Convergence in the Kingdom of God: The Mountain Meadows Massacre in American History

Sarah Barringer Gordon, Jan Shipps

This article examines religion, violence, and westward migration in early national and antebellum America. In treating the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857, the authors demonstrate how recognition of religion enriches understanding of the event and its roots in culture and geography. Close attention to and careful interpretation of the lives of the leaders of Methodist migrants (who were killed at Mountain Meadows) and the local Mormon militia (who did the killing) yield vitally connected strands of personal and spiritual history. Placing both men in their religious communities and probing their family strategies reveals how much they had in common. These shared beliefs and practices affected Mormons’and Methodists’ understanding of the meaning of migration, as well as the role and nature of the Kingdom of God in American expansion. The approach taken here takes a panoramic view of the fatal convergence in southern Utah, and integrates religious history with scholarship on empire, slavery, patriarchy, Native dispossession, westward migration, and their reverberations in history. In light of these overlapping beliefs and histories, the massacre is revealed as more intimate, a fratricide among white men who imagined that their religious identities were locked in fatal conflict, but many of whose basic assumptions were shared. This article also engages with the challenges presented by an incomplete archive (all records of the train were lost – likely destroyed by the perpetrators), and the rewards as well as perils of using family histories and survivors’ accounts, as well as more traditional archival materials.

Comment: Borderlands of Violence

Ari Kelman

The Mountain Meadows Massacre is not only a part of Mormon or Methodist history but of American history. Empire building, patriarchy, gender, and genocide all play a role. This comment on Gordon and Shipps' article asks whether it is a non-traditional narrative intended to challenge readers’ conceptions of historical writing.

Comment: "Fatal Convergence in the Kingdom of God"

Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp

This comment on Gordon and Shipps' article maintains that converging strands of religious zeal for building an earthly kingdom of God and expanding the American empire. The authors' use of vernacular history adds to the richness of competing narratives.


Building the Empire State: Political Economy in the Early Republic by Brian Phillips Murphy (review) by Naomi R. Lamoreaux

Privateers of the Americas: Spanish American Privateering from the United States in the Early Republic by David Head, and: Privateering: Patriots and Profits in the War of 1812 by Faye M. Kert (review) by Brian Rouleau

Liberty's Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America by Jen Manion (review) by Ashley Rubin

The Founders and the Idea of a National University: Constituting the American Mind by George Thomas (review) by Mark Boonshoft

The First U.S. History Textbooks: Constructing and Disseminating the American Tale in the Nineteenth Century by Barry Joyce (review) by Johann N. Neem

American Antiquities: Revisiting the Origins of American Archaeology by Terry A. Barnhart (review) by Charles Allen Wallace

Great Lakes Creoles: A French-Indian Community on the Northern Borderlands, Prairie du Chien, 1750–1860 by Lucy Eldersveld Murphy (review) by Michel Hogue

Frontier Democracy: Constitutional Conventions in the Old Northwest by Silvana R. Siddali (review) by Nicole Etcheson

The Prophet and the Reformer: The Letters of Brigham Young and Thomas L. Kane ed. by Matthew J. Grow and Ronald W. Walker (review) by Nathaniel Wiewora

Founding Sins: How a Group of Antislavery Radicals Fought to Put Christ into the Constitution by Joseph S. Moore (review) by Ned Landsman

Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County by Jr. David F. Allmendinger (review) by Patrick Rael

The "Colored Hero" of Harper's Ferry: John Anthony Copeland and the War Against Slavery by Steven Lubet (review) by Frank Cirillo

Free Labor: The Civil War and the Making of an American Working Class by Mark A. Lause (review) by Joanne Pope Melish