Karin Wulf begins 2016 with a call to look at and look for #VastEarlyAmerica. Join in the search!
The depth and breadth of the field we refer to as “Early America” is astonishing. One of the many joys of my job is the near-constant reminder of the field’s wide reach. I email with, view on social or mainstream media and read work by and about scholars all over the world. One minute I am reminded of James Brooks’ forthcoming book on the Hopi Awot’avi Massacre of 1700, the next a class twitter project on the Stamp Act, and the next a meditation on the meaning of removing slave cabins from plantation sites. I’m sure many of you have this same exhilarating experience of the capacious field we teach, write and read about.
There has been no end of consideration in the pages of the William and Mary Quarterly and elsewhere about what Early America is, where it is, when it begins, and when it ends. In 2006, Alison Games introduced a forum on Atlantic History by asking about the significance of geography as a framework. In 2008, Claudio Saunt asked us to think about the continental geography of the field as reflected in WMQ essays. In 2012, James Merrell wondered about how the language of the field, introduced from colonialism itself, shapes inquiry. These are just a few of many examples of essays in the journal that query the nature and shape of “early America.”
It has been ever thus, and yet it is the case that the increasingly global outlook of scholars of every field has added more dimensions to a field that already encompasses four centuries and four continents. In 1989 the OI published a guide to monographs in the field, Books about Early America: 2001 Titles. In the Journal of American History in 2003 Joyce Chaplin speculated that the volume might need to be expanded to include 10,001 Titles; just five years later in the JAH Chris Grasso and I observed even that might not be enough, that scholars in the field “labeled early America have been geographically expansive when considering what is relevant to “America,” creatively imprecise about the end of the “early” period, and readily energized by ideas and methods developed outside history departments.”
To my mind these conversations are all to the good, and the range of scholarship that pushes us to think about our field offers tremendous potential for self-reflection in the course of our regular scholarly work. Every day this year I’ll be tweeting about #VastEarlyAmerica, about the incredible variety of things Early American that I see crossing my desk or screen, that I hear at a conference or seminar table, or over a cup of tea or a glass of wine. This isn’t meant to be systematic or representative of anything but my day; I’ll mostly reference something I came across reading, and I’ll post links as often as I can.
Perhaps you’ll join me, by posting using the hashtag #VastEarlyAmerica and by writing to share with me–so that we can share here with others–some of your experiences of this extraordinarily vibrant and vast field of study.