Vol. 17 No. 4 : Summer 2017


Curating the Past That’s Alive in Our Minds

My generation of historians and curators has worked hard to claim a space for critical history in our museums and historic sites and, at the same time, to make our storytelling emotionally compelling.


Imperial Enlightenment

John Dixon’s welcome study of Cadwallader Colden is the most comprehensive of the few biographies we have of this important North Briton colonial.

Power, Space, and Race: Evangelical Gotham

Even as New York was becoming an evangelical power center, it nevertheless also remained a foil against which ministers committed to the New England ideal of village life—homogenously white and Protestant—could rant and rail.

Slaughterhouse Rules: The Deregulation of Food Markets in Antebellum New York

Baics’s primary concern is to understand the benefits and costs of public markets and their deregulation for the living standards and material well-being of all of the city’s inhabitants.

The Origins of Pinkster: An African American Celebration in North America’s Dutch Communities

Dewulf is right to address the important West Central African influences on North American celebrations such as Pinkster. West Central Africans played an important role in many American slave communities, as several scholars have shown in recent years.

Ask the Author

American Prophecies: African American News in the Antebellum Era

We talk with Benjamin Fagan about the first black newspapers in the United States, biblical inspiration for freedom, and the place African Americans sought in society.

The Common School

Ben Franklin’s World

Podcasts serve as a gateway to other media about history, serving as a tool for historians to engage with people who have an interest in the stories they tell.

Notes on the Text

Loving the Plant That Saves You

Readers are invited to imagine both the agency of plants and the very human limits to our imaginations.

Poetic Research


The next morning I was discussing My Bondage

Object Lessons

The Business of Building Books

Sponsored by The Chipstone Foundation.

Thinking about books as objects that were processed, stored, and packaged by industrialists (I use the term advisedly, instead of “printer”) like Isaiah Thomas helps re-orient the way we think about literature in early America.

Web Library

The Digital Paxton

… when you visit Digital Paxton—which you can do from your desktop or your smartphone—you’ll automatically enter the introductory path.


To Our Readers

The American Antiquarian Society (AAS) is very proud of Common-place and the contributions it makes to scholarship and a broader public. We believe it is the premier on-line journal of early American history and culture and we are convinced that its editors, beginning with Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore, and continuing with Edward Grey, Cathy Kelly, Anna Mae Duane, and Walt Woodward, are chiefly responsible. We remain deeply indebted to Jane and Jill for their inspiring conception and leadership of the journal from its formation seventeen years ago. Truly Common-place has served as a common forum between the academy and the general public – illuminating, educating, and engaging a wide variety of people in many aspects of America’s past.

Over the next twelve months the American Antiquarian Society is undertaking a comprehensive evaluation of all our programs so as to create a strategic plan to provide a fresh, forward looking road map for how we will engage and serve all our constituents in the coming decade. To do so, we are including Common-place in our assessment of the current state of electronic publishing and the Society’s strengths and capabilities.

Here is the current plan: Anna Mae and Walt Woodward will remain as editors through Volume 18, Issue 2, to appear in the spring of 2018. That will be followed by two special issues in the summer and fall of 2018. As of October 2018, the strategic plan including Common-place will be completed and it is our expectation that a plan for the journal’s direction and control will be in place.

We encourage everyone to join us in this examination of Common-place. Please contact James David Moran, AAS vice president for programs and outreach, at jmoran@mwa.org with your thoughts about Common-place and the Society’s program evaluation and planning. To all of you who have created the Common-place community we extend our deepest appreciation and thanks, your help going forward will, we trust, make the AAS an even more productive contributor to the understanding of American history and culture.

Tales from the Vault

What the Artist Saw and What the Editors Ignored: Charles Willson Peale’s Wartime Journal and the Perils of Historical Editing

Historical editors can never fully anticipate the needs of future historians, but hopefully with a growing respect for the full documentary record, including material that might, to some, be considered unimportant, editors will begin to add accounts, images, and other addenda and make them searchable, as the editors of the George Washington papers have done.