The American Revolution Reborn:
New Perspectives for the Twenty-First Century


By on

home_revolutionAs July 4 nears, the issues raised at the conference seem particularly appropriate for us both as Americans and New Yorkers with many historic sites related to that war.

The American Revolution Reborn: New Perspectives for the Twenty-First Century conference was held on May 30 to June 1, 2013, at the American Philosophical Society very near the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. This free event originated by and was made possible through the generosity of Frank Fox operating through the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. The McNeil Center, the Library Company of Philadelphia and the future Museum of the American Revolution hosted receptions as part of the conference.

The goal of the conference was to identify new directions and trends in scholarship on the American Revolution. The stated intention was for this conference to commence an ongoing series of conferences (annually?) to further explore and develop the emerging trends encompassing the study of the era of the American Revolution. The specific themes to be addressed in this inaugural conference were Global Perspectives, Power, Violence, and Civil War. The absence of some themes not addressed in the conference was a topic of discussion in some of the Q&A sessions and among the attendees and will be addressed in this essay.

The format of the conference differed from the traditional conference. A call for papers was issued and my impression is that this call primarily was aimed for cutting edge scholarship, for the young scholars in the midst of writing or who had just completed dissertations. Some grey-beards/hairs were included as well based on their research and they joked about their age in their presentations. The accepted applicants were instructed to submit a 10 page paper (8-14 in practice as it turned out) to the conference organizers who then made them available on-line to the registrants for the conference. So for example, I downloaded and printed the papers prior to the conference.

At the conference itself, each of the presenters had 8 minutes to speak. Most presenters used that time to summarize their written papers. One presenter, David C. Hsuing, Juniata College, used his allotted time quite creatively and imaginatively to speak more metaphorically beyond the limits of his paper. He used environmental terms from his environmental-based paper dealing with the edge between the forests and fields to characterize this conference on the impact of the American Revolution as an edge zone. CONFERENCE ATTENDS WERE ENCOURAGED TO CREATE EDGES IN THEIR OWN COMMUNITIES for future study. I have added the bold caps to better reflect his speaking tone, an example of the difference between oral performance and written text in reconstructing history. Hsuing received a deserved hearty round of applause for his innovative presentation. I also was struck by his mention of American imports of northern European timber via Riga because as it turns out, my family was in the lumber business in Riga before my grandfather came to this country. It never occurred to me that I might hear about Riga and lumber in an American Revolution conference. However since Jews were not allowed to settle there at the time of American Revolution, I can’t claim a direct connection to the war effort. Close, but not quite.

Following the three or four 8-minute presentations in each session there was ample time for questions. The organizers of the conference, Michael Zuckerman of the University of Pennsylvania in particular, wanted to maximize discussion opportunity with the audience on the new scholarship which had been presented. His hopes were more than fulfilled as each session led to numerous questions which fully exhausted the allotted time. The audience of over 200 people throughout the length of the conference was fully engaged in the discussion of the presentations. There were no “helicopter” or “parachute” attendees or presenters who whisked in and out for their own session only or only for part of the conference. Even veteran (usually referred to as “senior”) scholars acknowledged that they had learned something new.  For example, Caitlin Fritz’s, Northwestern University, paper “The United States in the Age of Revolutions: A Reconsideration” comparing the American responses to the revolutions in Haiti and those led by Bolívar a generation later and Kate Engel’s, Southern Methodist University, paper “Transatlantic Protestantism and the Challenge of the American Revolution” on the split of transatlantic co-religionists during the Revolution (as American churches would split into northern and southern branches before the Civil War) were referred to by numerous commentators and questioners throughout the conference. Presenting in the first session helped imprint these papers as a prism through which subsequent papers and discussions could be viewed.

After each session of presentations by those who had been accepted in the call for papers, the stage was turned over to invited eminent scholars to comment on the papers just presented. Here is where the funding for the conference really kicked in as this group was international in scope and even when American not necessarily local. As usual in this situation, they did not always exactly comment on the previously presented papers, although some tried more so than others. Instead, they often veered into what was of interest to them. By no means did this detract from the quality of their presentations but it did demonstrate the old adage that you can lead a scholar to water but you can’t make them talk about the exact subject you want them to talk about.  These presentations led to ample questions and discussion as well frequently among people who know each other well.

At the end of the conference Zuckerman was one happy camper.

Editor’s Note: This post is the first of a five-part series based on a conference on the American Revolution Peter recently attended. Once they are all published, if you would like a copy of the essay, email Peter at feinmanp@ihare.org.

22 thoughts on “The American Revolution Reborn:
New Perspectives for the Twenty-First Century

  1. Kim Rogers Burdick

    Thank you. I am interested in anything and everything you may be e-mailing related to this topic. I grew up in upstate New York surrounding by RevWar land grant farms, and have a long-term interest in this topic.

    Also, if you are willing to send me a link, I can post it on the American Revolution Round Table of Northern Delaware’s Facebook Page.

    So glad you are doing this!

    Thanks for all you do.

    Kim Rogers Burdick

    Reply
    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      Thanks for spreading the word in Delaware. The url is this webpage. I will send you the essay shortly.

      Peter

      Reply
  2. Brian Mack

    Can I please have a word copy of your essay? Thank you for bringing this to light. Also, I think a big Rev War conference in this state is needed badly to bring this history and all of its surviving sites to the front of NY state history where it belongs. I hope this Rev War in NY conference takes off, it is long over due. What do you think is the reason(s) that NY and the Rev War don’t seem to connect? I know we don’t have George Washington’s mansion but we do have many sites related to him in some way and not to mention the other countless sites throughout NY.
    Thanks for your time and I do remember you bringing the teachers to the Museum.
    ,
    Brian

    Brian Mack
    Fort Plain Museum

    Reply
    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      Hi Brian,

      When we visited you it was just before Irene and the flooding was at the eastern end of the Valley. I hope it will be possible to put together some Mohawk Valley Teacherhostels/Historyhostels in the future.

      I have had some American Revolution Teacherhostels/Historyhostels in the past including at West Point where we did visit various locations connected with Washington on both sides of the Hudson. Some of them will be mentioned in subsequent posts. But we do need a conference which brings together the scholarship right here in New York about the state’s role in the war.

      Thanks for writing,

      Peter

      Reply
  3. Wayne R. Strasbaugh

    Peter-

    Please send me the Word copy of your essay on the Conference, which I also happened to attend.

    Wayne R. Strasbaugh

    W3R-PA
    W3R-US

    Reply
    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      Hi Wayne,

      I did meet a couple of people from W3R at the conference as you will see in a subsequent post. Although I am writing for New York History, the responses from PA, CT, and DE show the interest is more widespread.

      Thanks for writing.

      Peter

      Reply
  4. Eugene Boesch

    Peter:

    I would be interested in aspects of such a conference. I have done work
    on a few Revolutionary war related sites in Westchester over the years.
    One of the more interesting was along the Woodlands Viaduct on the Bronx
    River Parkway in white Plains. We recovered some material likely related
    to the battle including a fragment of human bone. I find it interesting
    that as cars speed along that section of the parkway, passengers remain
    unaware of the events that transpired there in October, 1776.

    Eugene

    Reply
    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      Hi Eugene,

      It’s interesting to contrast the comment from the upstate reader who grew up with the American Revolution all around her and who knew it and here in Westchester where we drive over it and ignore it for the most part.

      Peter

      Reply
  5. Priscilla Brendler

    Hello Peter
    This sounds interesting. I’d appreciate your sharing a copy with me.

    Take care and stay cool….

    Priscilla Brendler, Exec Dir, GHHN

    Reply
    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      Hi Priscilla,

      Thanks for writing and I will send you the essay. I hope there is some way to get GHHN involved in promoting the American Revolution in the Hudson Valley.

      Peter

      Reply
  6. Tom Fleming

    Peter: I’d like a copy. If you’re mailling it, my address is 126 Magna La, Westbrook Ct.06498

    Tom Fleming

    Apropos of the Civil War theme, I’ve just published A Disease in the Public Mind, which tracks the path from the Revolution to the Civil War, explaining why we are the only nation in the world to fight such a horrendous war to end slavery.

    Reply
    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      Thanks for writing. I will email you the essay. As you will see in the subsequent posts and the essay, the American Revolution as a civil war and its continuation to the Civil War were part of the conference discussions.

      Peter

      Reply
  7. Kim Burdick

    Love to hear people talking about W3R! Makes my heart sing after several years of a very bad dry spell!

    I have added Peter’s link to the W3R Facebook Page, the George Washington Society Facebook Page, and also to American Revolution Round Table of Northern Delaware’s Facebook Page!

    Keep the conversation rolling!

    Kim Burdick, Chairman Emeritus
    W3R-USA

    Reply
  8. Peter Dworkin

    Please send the word file/essay you describe in today’s email, the one related to the UofP conference.

    I’m going to get more familiar with your Institute and work and may give you a phone call.

    Thanks,

    Peter Dworkin
    Vice President, Corporate Communications
    Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
    Tel. 914.847.7640
    peter.dworkin@regeneron.com

    Reply
  9. John Reilly

    Dear Peter:

    Please send a Word Copy of your plans on the American Revolution in New York

    John Reilly

    Reply
  10. Mellissane Schrems

    Thanks for the post. AS I teach and have done research in this field. I am very interested and look forward to your future posts on this.
    MPS

    Reply
  11. James S. KaplanJim Kaplan

    Peter,

    I read with some interest your account of the conference in Philadelphia, and certainly support your efforts to hold a similar one here in New York. Out of curiousity, were there any presentations on General Horatio Gates, or Marinus Willett. As you may know from the emails I have circulated, we did this July 4 hold a 7 a.m. wreath laying ceremony at Trinity Church graveyard, at which the New York City chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution laid a wreath on the newly installed plaque in Trinity Church graveyard to General Horatio Gates, the Sons of the Revolution laid a wreath on the grave of Alexander Hamilton, and I on behalf of the National Democratic Club, laid a wreath on the grave of Marinus Willett. Reverend Anne Mallonee, the vicar of Trinity Church spoke about the Church and its history,

    Even though there were only about 35 people (most of whom were from my all night walking tour) I was very encouraged that the event had the backing of Trinity Church, and the Daughters and Sons of the Revolution, and in my view was breaking new intellectual ground
    in highlighting the graves of Gates and Willett. I will send you in a separate email the brochure, and if you have not received it, article which I wrote entitled “Marinus Willett: New York’s forgotten Revolutionary War hero and Statesman” which appeared in the most recent issue of the DAR’s national magazine the American Spirit.

    Give me a call if you would like to discuss further.

    Jim Kaplan
    212-471-8456

    Reply
    1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman Post author

      Jim,

      Neither military history nor New York fared well at the conference as you will see in the third post. The conference also was dedicated to new scholarship and not intended to be comprehensive covering all aspects of the American Revolution in two days. In the event there ever is an American Revolution conference in New York City a field trip, not necessarily at night! to the places you lead tours to would be appropriate. For that matter, if New York ever created a Path through History on the American Revolution in the city, it also would be appropriate.

      Maybe you could submit a guest post to New York History summarizing the results of the research in your article and describing the event.

      Peter

      Reply
    2. Brian Mack

      Hi Jim,
      Can I please get a copy of your article on Marinus Willett? As you may know, Willett’s headquarters during the end of the Revolution was Fort Plain/Fort Rensselaer located in the Mohawk Valley (not Central NY). I also like the NYC tour you put on each year, I hope to make it down there for it one of these years.
      Thank you,
      Brian Mack
      Fort Plain Museum
      brianm248420@hotmail.com

      Reply
  12. Rosemary Vietor

    Yes, we would like a copy. We would be interested in the religious history segment especially, since Bowne House is part of that story. We have had programs and symposiums on the subject, would be happy to discuss further with you.

    Rosemary Vietor

    Reply
  13. Nicole Yancey

    I think putting together efforts would bring innumerable and significant benefits to all parties involved in the same project which is to highlight the American Revolution. I am talking about support and cooperation in tracing the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route, a 680-long water and land routes from Newport, RI to Yorktown, VA, used by the U.S Continental Army and the French Expeditionary Forces as well as French fleet during the summer of 1781. The Route was designated national Historic Trail in 2009 and cover a combination of strategic trails and waterways through 9 states. With the French fleet blocking the Chesapeake, thus trapping Cornwallis and his British army in Yorktown, VA, and depriving them from British reinforcements from New York or a sea escape, Washington and Rochambeau siege of Yorktown ended in Cornwallis’surrender to Washington on October 19, 1781.

    Reply

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