Today’s post comes from our interim Editor of Books, Paul W. Mapp.
From an editor’s point of view, and, I suspect, from the reading public’s point of view, the exciting feature of 2016 for the Books program here at the Institute was the publication of a good number of excellent titles. Equally heartening are the numerous and strong volumes to come in 2017. Together, our recent and impending titles will continue the Institute’s longstanding efforts to expand—and challenge—our collective knowledge of the early American world.
In a year in which national politics—and national disunity—has loomed large in the minds of many readers of Institute books, Robert G. Parkinson’s The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution, a rigorous study of how American revolutionary leaders created a narrow political unity through the rhetorical exclusion of American Indians and African-American slaves, will be of particular interest to scholars of the American Revolution and its contested legacies. Through a systematic and extraordinarily capacious reading of revolutionary newspapers, Parkinson has been able to trace the concoction, manipulation, and extensive circulation by Whig leaders of inflammatory—and often fictional–stories of hostile savages, rebellious slaves, and treacherous Tory and British instigators, enemies against whom white patriots could define themselves as a political community. It’s a weighty and troubling account, one that has already taken Parkinson to the editorial pages of the New York Times and Washington Post, newspapers which, like their peers across the journalist world, are mulling over the relation between how contemporary news stories are told and what modern voters do. Parkinson has written exactly the kind of substantial and searching book about the Revolution that revolutionary readers have been asking for.
Responding as brilliantly to scholars’ ongoing calls for a richer understanding of the formative role of African peoples in the early Americas is David Wheat’s Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean, 1570-1640. In a highly original and carefully documented study, Wheat shows how, after the catastrophic decline of the indigenous populations of the Caribbean, before the development of large-scale sugar production in the islands, and during the decades when Luso-Spanish dynastic union facilitated the forced movement of West Africans to Spanish America, peoples of Upper Guinea and Angola acted more as colonists and settlers than as slaves in core territories of the Spanish Empire. It was West Africans who comprised the demographic majority in parts of the Spanish Empire and who shaped nascent urban societies in cities like Havana, Cartagena, and Panama and their rural dependencies. In short, Wheat has uncovered an early Ibero-African world in the Caribbean.
Publication of works like David Wheat’s on the Caribbean, the Atlantic, and West Africa is one sign of the Institute’s ongoing efforts to move beyond the thirteen mainland British colonies to a “vast early America.” So too is the appearance of Jonathan Eacott’s Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830. Eacott shows how India, a centerpiece of the British Empire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and of global history in most centuries, was also central to the conception and operation of English and British empire in the seventeenth and eighteenth. In particular, he demonstrates that Indian consumer goods, moved in British ships to Africa, Europe, and the Americas, held the empire together economically and culturally. As he puts it, for many Britons and British subjects, the goods of empire established the good of empire.
While we’re most excited in any given year about the just-published books arriving in the mail and gracing our conference table, works for which I’m especially grateful to my recently retired predecessor Fredrika Teute, Institute editors spend most of their time working on the books that will be coming out soon. We’re looking forward to the imminent publication of books such as Douglas Winiarski’s monumental study of the Great Awakening and New England spirituality, Darkness Falls on the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England; Jennifer Van Horn’s insightful and provocative contemplation of The Power of Objects in Eighteenth-Century British America; Gideon Mailer’s careful examination of the importance of evangelical beliefs to John Witherspoon’s American Revolution; and editors Nicole Eustace and Fredrika Teute’s nuanced and wide-ranging collection of essays reconsidering the cultural aspects of the War of 1812 era, Warring for America: Cultural Contests in the Era of 1812. A good 2017 will follow a good 2016.
We are also delighted by the continued interest and accolades for books that appeared before 2016. Strong sales have helped us to bring out Gregory O’Malley’s Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619-1807 and William Pettigrew’s Freedom’s Debt: The Royal African Company and the Politics of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1672-1752 in paperback, thereby making two searching and original studies of Atlantic slavery accessible to more readers. Because of the enthusiastic reception of Mark Hanna’s Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570-1740, we’re hoping to move to a paperback edition of it as well in 2017. We’re appreciative of the hard work of authors—and prize committees!—and of the reader dedication that is bringing great success to great scholarship.
As I reflect at the end of the year about our program for annual reports and blog posts and such, the titles above call to mind not just the object of the press, publication, but also the often hidden editorial work that precedes it. Having taken on the interim editor’s job only recently, I am especially aware of my debts to others. Books like The Common Cause and Atlantic Africa were finished before I even started, and publishing them has seemed as easy as opening a FedEx delivery. What toiling over their successors has helped me to see better, from the perspective of an editor collaborating with a team of four professionals and six-or-so apprentices, is how much editing effort goes into those crisp tomes landing on our table: seeking, soliciting, and choosing among the many projects we’d like to publish; prevailing upon outside readers to look at manuscripts and helping authors put readers’ suggestions into practice; poring over the final version of arguments and gently indicating the two or three ways they’re not quite final after all—but could be with just a few minor keystrokes!—scrutinizing every line of a 400-page manuscript for clarity and correctness; inspecting every footnote for accuracy. These steps take time and exertion that should, if we’re doing the job right, go largely unnoticed by the reader. In short, the goal of our hard work is to give readers that erroneous sensation I briefly enjoyed when I moved into the editor’s office: that finished books appear magically of themselves. And that’s fine, since the deceptive ease of the final product helps us all forget the hard labor that went into it and encourages us to move with unchastened ambition towards that next book—the one where we’ll really get it right!
You can view the complete list of OI publications at the UNC Press website.