Saturday, September 12, 2015

Upcoming Events September-October 2015

Some really interesting history-related events coming up in the next couple months! As I find more I will edit this post, but for starters, here are events sponsored by the Pettaquamscutt Historical Society, the Rhode Island Historical Society and lectures by historian Christian McBurney, author and founder of The Review of Rhode Island History, an online journal of Rhode Island History.

But first, I would also like to take this opportunity to send my heartfelt best wishes to Old Colony Historical Society Archivist, Coventry Historic District Commission Chairman and former Director of the Paine House Museum Andrew D. Boisvert, who is leaving for Washington DC on October 1! Good luck Andrew! Your history shirts and enthusiasm for documentary evidence and material culture will be missed!

Andrew Boisvert, April 2014

Next, I would like to announce that the Pettaquamscutt Historical Society will be making a VERY IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT at the Narragansett Towers on October 5, 2015.

Join PHS as we make history!

Also, Pettaquamscutt Historical is open these days through December 19, 2015:
  • Wednesday 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.
  • Thursday 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.
  • Saturday 11 a.m. - 4 p.m.

And now, The Events.

Author Lecture: Spies in Revolutionary Rhode Island by Christian McBurney
Sunday September 13, 2015 at 2 p.m. Babcock Smith House Carriage House, 124 Granite Street, Westerly, RI. Sponsored by the Westerly Historical Association.

"Espionage played a vital role during the American Revolution in Rhode Island. The British and Americans each employed spies to discover the secrets, plans and positions of their enemy. Author Christian M. McBurney unravels the world of spies and covert operations in Rhode Island during the Revolutionary War." (Excerpt from review)

Public Lecture: Fort Kearney, Top Secret WWII German POW Camp, by Christian McBurney and Brian Wallin
Wednesday September 16, 2015, 4:30 p.m. at the URI Bay Campus Coastal Institute Auditorium, Saunderstown, RI.
RSVP to Rhode Island Sea Grant at (401) 874-6800 or to reserve a seat, though reservations not necessary. (This event has already received some nice press.)

Public Lecture: "Remembering the Great Gale" by Robert P. Emlen, Brown University Curator and Senior Lecturer in American Studies
Wednesday September 16, 2015, 6:30p.m. at the Aldrich House, 110 Benevolent Street, Providence Rhode Island

"On a Saturday morning in 1815, 11-foot-plus storm surges blasted the coast of Rhode Island, driven by what experts believe was a Category 4 hurricane originating in the West Indies and making landfall in New England.Scores of ships and hundreds of buildings were destroyed, and the Providence waterfront itself suffered rampant damage amounting to an estimated quarter of the city's total valuation at the time. Although few lives were lost in Rhode Island, a total of 38 New Englanders are reported to have died in the storm. Join Robert Emlen for a look back on the two hundredth anniversary of this natural disaster."

Tickets are $10; $5 for RIHS and Historic New England members'. Advance purchase is required here or by calling (401) 728-9696.

Author Talk: Kidnapping the Enemy: The Special Operations to Capture Generals Charles Lee & Richard Prescott by Christian McBurney
Thursday September 17, 2015, at 6:00 p.m. at The Mary Elizabeth Robinson Research Center (formerly known as the Rhode Island Historical Society Library), 121 Hope Street, Providence, RI. Sponsored by the John Russell Bartlett Society.

"Christian McBurney relates the story of these remarkable raids, the subsequent exchange of the two generals, and the impact of these kidnappings on the Revolutionary War. He then follows the subsequent careers of the major players, including Lee, Barton, Prescott, and Tarleton. The author completes his narrative with descriptions of other attempts to kidnap high-ranking military officers and government officials during the war, including ones organized by and against George Washington. The low success rate of these operations makes the raids that captured Lee and Prescott even more impressive." (Excerpt from review).

Walking Tour: Remembering The Great Gale of 1815
Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015 3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m., starting from The John Brown House Museum, 52 Power Street, Providence, RI 02906

Barbara Barnes (RIHS Tourism Services Manager) and Dan Santos (Historic New England Regional Site Manager for Southern New England) will lead a fascinating tour visiting the very places in Providence that bore the impact of the Great Gale of 1815. This special event will take participants back in time to a major moment in Rhode Island history.

Tickets are $10, and registration is required by emailing or by calling (401) 273-7507 x2.

Author Talk: Kidnapping the Enemy: The Special Operations to Capture Generals Charles Lee & Richard Prescott by Christian McBurney
Saturday, September 19, 2015 at 10:00 a.m., Winslow House, 634 Careswell Street, Marshfield, Massachusetts.

Author Talk: Spies in Revolutionary Rhode Island by Christian McBurney
September 19, 2015, Saturday, at 2:00 p.m.: Atria Aquidneck Place, 125 Quaker Hill Lane, Portsmouth, RI.

The 2015 Newell D. Goff Lecture: "514 Broadway: A&L Tirocchi Gowns and the American Dream" by Museum of Fine Arts Boston Curator Pamela Parmal
Sunday, Sept. 20, 3:30 pm, Aldrich House 110 Benevolent Street, Providence Rhode Island

"The Tirocchi sisters and their employees produced exquisite dresses for high-society women in the early 20th century and left an unparalleled archive of garments, fabrics, ledgers, photographs, and correspondence. This talk is presented as part of the RIHS's Rhode Island by Design series for 2015, highlighting the role of design in Rhode Island history.

Strong demand for seating is expected, and RSVPs are required. Click here to reserve admission, email, or call (401) 331-8575 x136!

Public Lecture: Voices from the Back Stairs: Domestic Servants in New England by Historic New England museum historian, Jennifer Pustz
Monday, September 21, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. at the Governor Henry Lippitt House Museum, 199 Hope Street, Providence, R.I. Doors open 6:30 pm, lecture begins 7:00 pm. Light refreshments to follow.
$5.00 Historic New England and Preserve Rhode Island members; $10.00 nonmembers; buy tickets online here or call 617-994-6678.

Although domestic servants made everyday life in grand homes possible, their identities and roles within the household have long been hidden. A lecture by Jennifer Pustz, museum historian at Historic New England, illustrates the diversity of domestic service in New England over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Smithsonian Museum Day Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015

  • Pettaquamscutt Historical Society
    11 a.m. - 4 p.m. at the Old Washington County Jail with free family friendly tour and activities

  • Heritage Day Western Rhode Island Civic Historical Society
    At the Paine House Museum Station Street, Coventry RI 02816, with free tours of the Paine House, hot dogs, johnny cakes, yacht soda, games and colonial-era crafters providing public demonstrations of their trades.

  • Museum Day Live! Rhode Island Historical Society (Smithsonian Affiliate)
    Free admission to: the John Brown House Museum 52 Power Street, Providence RI and the The Museum of Work & Culture 42 South Main Street, Woonsocket Rhode Island.
    This event will help launch "What Cheer Wednesdays," an experimental program with a pop-up sensibility featuring rotating weekly offerings, as well as chats with curators, docents, and educational staff. What Cheer Wednesdays will also feature free admission, starting September 30, 2015.

Author Talk: The Spirit of '74: How the American Revolution Began by Ray and Marie Raphael
Wednesday, September 30, 2015 7:00 p.m. at the Worcester Historical Museum, 30 Elm St, Worcester MA 01609

The Spirit of '74 is the story of what happened between the Boston Tea Party in December of 1773 and the battles of Lexington and Concord in April of 1775, detailing how vitally important those sixteen months were to the overthrow of British rule and the founding of our nation. Worcester and Worcester County played key roles in this history that is often overlooked in standard narratives of the American Revolution. Worcester county militiamen from 37 different towns shut down the Royal Courthouse on September 7, 1774, in the largest peaceful display of civil disobedience at that time. This effectively ended British authority in the rural sections of Massachusetts. Worcester was also the center of military activity with the largest store of guns and ammunition in the colony. In fact, General Gage considered sending troops to seize these stores, but realized that the people of Worcester would put up too much of a fight and his troops would not be able to return safely to Boston. He chose instead to seize the stores held at Concord.

Ray Raphael is the author of seventeen books, including The First American Revolution, which details the closing of the courts in Worcester. Marie Raphael is the author of two historical novels and has taught literature and writing at Boston University, College of the Redwoods, and Humboldt State University.

Author Talk: Kelly Sullivan Pezza
Murder & Mayhem in Washington County Rhode Island

Saturday October 3 at 2 p.m. at the Old Washington County Jail

"Rhode Island’s Washington County hides a dark past riddled with macabre crimes and despicable Kelly Sullivan Pezza is a native of Hope Valley, Rhode Island, and has worked as a journalist for southern Rhode Island newspapers for seventeen years. With an education in law enforcement and many years of experience as a Rhode Island historian and genealogist, she has written hundreds of articles and several books concerning historic true crime and unsolved mysteries in Rhode Island." (Exerpt from review)

Author Talk: Cynthia Johnson, James DeWolf and the Rhode Island Slave Trade
Wednesday October 7 at 6:30 p.m. at the Kingston Free Library's Potter Room
Co-Sponsored by PHS and Friends of Kingston Free Library

"Over thirty thousand slaves were brought to the shores of colonial America on ships owned and captained by James DeWolf. When the United States took action to abolish slavery, this Bristol native manipulated the legal system and became actively involved in Rhode Island politics in order to pursue his trading ventures. He served as a member of the House of Representatives in the state of Rhode Island and as a United States senator, all while continuing the slave trade years after passage of the Federal Slave Trade Act of 1808. DeWolf's political power and central role in sustaining the state's economy allowed him to evade prosecution from local and federal authorities--even on counts of murder. Through archival records, author Cynthia Mestad Johnson uncovers the secrets of James DeWolf and tells an unsettling story of corruption and exploitation in the Ocean State from slave ships to politics." ( review)

Public Lecture: “Villages, Maize, and the Narragansett: New Information on the Formation of a Traditional Indian Territory along the Rhode Island Coast” by Joseph N. Waller, Jr., PAL
Joseph Waller, Jr. of the Public Archaeology Lab will discuss the excavations at the Salt Pond archaeological site, also known as RI 110
Tuesday October 13 at 7 p.m. at the URI Bay Campus Coastal Institute Auditorium, Saunderstown, RI.
Co-Sponsored by the Pettaquamscutt Historical Society and the Tomaquag Museum

Public Lecture: "Unfortunate Ends: Gleanings from the Death Notices of Early Rhode Island Newspapers" by historian Robert Geake
Wednesday October 14th at 7:00 p.m. at the Warwick Public Library, 600 Sandy Lane, Warwick, Rhode Island. Sponsored by the Warwick Historical Society

Pettaquamscutt Historical Society: Lanterns & Legends Tours
At the Old Washington County Jail, Kingston RI
  • Thursday, October 15, 6-9 p.m.
  • Saturday, October 17, 6-9 p.m.
  • Thursday, October 22, 6-9 p.m.
  • Saturday, October 24, 6-9 p.m.
  • Thursday, October 29, 6-9 p.m.
Tickets available on Eventbrite soon!

Public Lecture: “The South Kingstown Quakers Meeting House Fire of 1790: The Application of Archaeological Forensics” by Dr. E. Pierre Morenon, Rhode Island College
Tuesday October 20 at 6:30 p.m. at the Peace Dale Library
Co-Sponsored by PHS and the Peace Dale Library

Also, see my article Digging Up The Past: Archaeology at the Old Quaker Meetinghouse, about Professor Morenon's excavation at the Quaker Cemetery and Meeting House site in the summer of 2013.

Public Lecture: “Hidden History: A Demonstration of GPR on the Quaker Cemetery" by Dr. Jon Marcoux, Salve Regina University
Saturday October 31 from 10 a.m.- 1 p.m. at Quaker Cemetery on Old Tower Hill Road (parking available at the Southern RI Chamber of Commerce)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Reflecting on “Money I Have None:” Colonial Rhode Island’s Tradition of Negotiating Their Taxes and the Coming of the American Revolution"

"Money I Have None," the revision of the paper I presented at the New England Historical Association in the spring of 2013 ("₤200 Indet more then is Due Me:" Taxation and Negotiation in Colonial Rhode Island) is now up on Christian McBurney's Online Journal of Rhode Island History,

As I was about to graduate after defending and submitting my MA thesis (with revisions) in 2011, I realized I needed to do more work on my C.V., which was practically non-existent at that time. I began trawling through the vast collection of notes for my MA thesis, looking for a story I could tell in about 10 double-spaced pages. There was a vignette I had developed in my MA thesis from some intriguing and perhaps unique sources that I literally stumbled across while looking for something else -- actual property lists generated by colonial-era taxpayers on the eve of the American Revolution (for an example of one these property lists, see image embedded in the tweet below). I thought a paper focusing on these might make a decent presentation at NEHA, especially since the tax records for those years also include some unique information regarding these same lists. I remember discussing this possibility with my thesis advisor Ron Dufour in the spring of 2012, as I was preparing to graduate. He was concerned that the topic "wasn't sexy enough," that it might be rejected or perhaps even worse, only attract a small handful of attendees at the conference. Which led me to post this slightly snarky tweet poking my advisor while I was responding to NEHA's CFP:

Fortunately, the topic was "um, yes" sexy enough to get accepted for the New England Historical Association's Spring 2013 Conference, and there was a decent turnout for the session at the conference. Entitled "Eighteenth-Century Political Economy," I was paired up with two other public historians, one presenting a biography about John Fisher's exploits during the American Revolution, and the other examining the effects of the Treaty of Utrecht on trade in northern New England. During his comments, session chair Dominic DeBrincat said my paper brought to light key procedures regarding colonial tax assessment, but suggested I try to make more explicit the links between the how local taxes were assessed and collected and the issues related to imperial taxation that boiled over in the American Revolution.

Granted, there were a lot of things I would have liked to have included in the NEHA paper -- it's amazing how being very strictly limited to a 10 page paper and a 20 minute presentation forces an economy of words -- a lot of interesting points are lost on the cutting room floor because there is simply no room, no time, for them. Still, his point was well-taken. Even in my MA thesis where I was not up against a 10 page limit, that point was lost in a sea of details, and it should have been the denouement of the NEHA paper.

That was the main revision I made in the new article -- to argue more forcefully that the top-down non-negotiable imperial taxation system put the British Empire on a collision course with Rhode Islanders locally assessed and negotiated tax system. Taxation without representation, or "virtual representation" (as British PM George Grenville referred to it) and away from Britain's long-standing policy of salutary neglect combined with Britain's 1751 currency regulations were anathema to Rhode Island's political economy. Local property-holders accustomed to negotiating their taxes either face-to-face with a tax assessor or justice of the peace, or through democratic localism -- viz-a-viz a majority vote at town meetings directing their deputies in the General Assembly -- were baffled and angered by the new taxation regime. These changes in tax policy, piled upon a new monetary policies that stressed Rhode Island's economy and a stricter policing of Atlantic trade, were cause for Rhode Islanders to first burn the H.M.S. Gaspee and then join the American Revolution. That point is made very clear made in this version of the paper.

♦ ♦ ♦

I recall reading (here and here) that outside of one's family and academic committee, most theses and dissertations are read by no more than three or four people. A depressing fact, given how many years and how much effort it takes to write one (in my case about seven summers, since I was a part-time graduate student and full-time teacher, and the only time the repositories of primary sources were open coincided with my work hours). Reciting "₤200 Indet more then is Due Me" to a roomful of historians at NEHA in 2013 probably enlarged the audience for that particular aspect of my thesis tenfold. But publishing it on Christian McBurney's blog has opened up opportunities to reach a comparatively vast new audience. The analytics seem to be down at the moment, but the last count I saw my paper on Small State Big History had been "viewed" over 60 times in less than a month of being posted. Even this humble blog has had (as of today, August 13, 2015) 31,121 views (!) in its four-year existence. As the anonymous author of the blog 100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School points out:
"Typically, it takes months of research, writing, and revision to produce a journal article that will be seen by fewer people in its author's lifetime than will visit this blog in an hour."
Another point well-taken. If the purpose of public history is to reach and educate as much of the public as possible, then blogging would seem to be one of the best platforms today for that purpose. As a teacher for many years, I have passed along some modicum of historical lore to somewhere between two and three thousand individuals I've had as students. It is humbling to imagine that with the single act of starting this blog (which was also part of my plan to build up my C.V. in 2011) I have reached ten times as many people in four years as I have as a teacher for over 25. Similarly, posting 140-character history blurts on Twitter (in lieu of blogging about everything I find interesting here) has had a similar (if unpredictable) expansion of audience, as well as opening myself up to an entire network of historians (the so-called #Twitterstorians), and opportunities such as HistoryCamp.

Other opportunities to reach new audiences with this story of colonial taxation have presented themselves. As a smallstatebighistory author, I was invited to be interviewed by Bruce Newbury on the local talk radio station 1540 AM WADK Newport last month, and the station archived the interview as a podcast (which you can listen to here). Next Monday evening, several writers for the Online Journal of Rhode Island History (including Robert Geake, Russ DeSimone, Maureen Taylor, Tim Cranston, and myself) have been invited to Smith's Castle in North Kingstown for a panel discussion. We will be talking about our areas of historical interest related to our articles, our experiences writing history, and the future of writing vis-a-vis blogging.

It this last point, the significance of blogging (a key piece of what has become "digital history") that should be at least as interesting to talk about with these historians as discussing the finer points of Rhode Island History, particularly given that our audience at next Monday's roundtable will likely be only a fraction of the viewers we have had online. Blogging -- is it the future of public history? Given falling metrics for museum visits and declining membership in historical societies, it may very well be.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Roman Britain on SlideShare

A couple of years ago I took a paper that I wrote for a graduate reading seminar on the history and archaeology Roman Britain and turned it into a three-week adult learning course at URI's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (aka OLLI).

I had a lot of fun putting the class together. It was an opportunity to re-enter an area of interest that I came very close to making into a career at one time in my life. I made a blog for the class, put together handouts for class discussions primary and secondary sources, downloaded YouTube videos (no network connections in the room I was in; TY YOUTUBE DOWNLOADER) and reworked some notes from a Western Civilization course I taught into PowerPoint presentations (no network connections precluded using Prezis or other online presentation resources). The feedback I got for the course from my students was very positive; I still run into people that remember me for no other reason than they took the class and enjoyed it. I am planning to do some more Roman history classes at OLLI in the near future.

Unfortunately, I only "emailed myself" the notes for the first week; due to the lack of internet access I didn't send myself the other materials I used for the class, and a catastrophic hard drive failure later that fall meant that I lost the other PowerPoint I constructed for the class (I have been slowly getting better at backing up important stuff sooner rather than later, or in this case,, too late).

But I still have the presentation for the first class/week, and through the miracle of SlideShare, please enjoy the presentation for the first class of "A Brief History of Roman Britain"