Commonplace
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 1, 2004 Contact: James David Moran
(508) 471-2131 (office)
(508) 248-4694 (home)
(508) 783-5085 (cell)
jmoran@mwa.org (e-mail)

The face of counter-terrorism
Online history journal bridges scholarly and public worlds
as it explores pre-twentieth-century
American history and culture

Worcester, MA–Just as many 18th century Americans believed you could judge a man’s character by his facial characteristics, today’s security-obsessed American culture is banking on the science of biometrics to identify terrorists. Writing in the October 2004 issue of the online journal Common-place, (www.commonplace.org) Christopher Lukasik, links current facial identification systems with early America’s fascination with physiognomy and points out the inherent errors in both. Lukasik’s article, "The Physiognomy of Biometrics," notes that both systems have difficulty with the simple fact that people change. Aging, weight gain or loss, changes in hairstyle, illness, accident, and cosmetic surgery have all been found to alter presumably permanent biometric characteristics. Besides the unreliability of biometrics, Lukasik’s article also warns of its potential for violation of rights to privacy.

Another feature in the October issue, "Slaves in Algiers, Captives in Iraq," by Anne Miles, uses the backdrop of an 18th century play to discuss the historic and current roles of women as captives and captors in Muslim society–from the rescued American soldier Jessica Lynch to Lynddie England and her comrades at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

A lively account of archival research on the island of Dominica, where personalities are as important as papers is the subject of "Tales from the Vault"; "The Common School" column describes how a class of middle-schoolers examined Abraham Lincoln’s developing statesmanship by translating the eloquent president’s words into their own, and "Object Lessons" shows that politics are electric and electricity political in a 1770 cartoon broadsheet about the dangers of the immaterial and invisible forces originating in the rebellious American colonies.

The October issue also includes book reviews of: Brook Farm: The Dark Side of Utopia by Sterling Delano; The Two Princes of Calabar, by Randy J. Sparks, Bodies Politic: Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830, by John Wood Sweet, and Public Markets and Civic Culture in Nineteenth-Century America, by Helen Tangires.

This is the final issue for Jill Lepore and Jane Kamensky, founding editors of Common-place. Five years ago they started the on-line journal "in an effort to create a common place for historians, curators, archivists, journalists, and history buffs to share what they know about early America, and to teach each other to ask new questions."

Edward G. Gray, associate professor of history at Florida State University, who served as an editorial board member and a column editor from the very first issue will debut as editor with a special, themed issue on the early Pacific in January.

Florida State University, Ed Gray’s home institution, will join the American Antiquarian Society as a nongoverning partner for the next four years. The university will contribute important things to our enterprise, including course release time for the editor, graduate assistantships devoted to the publication, and technical support.

The October issue of Common-place will be on-line through December and then will be available among the journal’s archived issues on the website. Individuals may "subscribe" to the journal in order to be notified of the publication of each issue and occasional between-issue "extras." Common-place readers can join in the discussion of any of the journal’s features by visiting the "Republic of Letters," a message board on the website.

About Common-place

The web magazine aims to provide "a common place for exploring and exchanging ideas about early American history and culture," says co-editor and founder Jill Lepore. "A bit friendlier than a scholarly journal, a bit more scholarly than a popular magazine, Common-place speaks–and listens–to scholars, museum curators, teachers, hobbyists,

and just about anyone interested in American history before 1900." Common-place readers can join in the discussion of any of the journal’s features by visiting the "Common-place Coffeeshop," a message board on the website.

About the American Antiquarian Society

The American Antiquarian Society (AAS) is a learned society and independent research library, specializing in all aspects of American history and culture through 1876. Founded in 1812 by the patriot printer and publisher Isaiah Thomas, AAS is the third oldest historical organization in the United States and the first to take the whole nation as its scope. The AAS library is the preeminent repository of pre-twentieth-century American printed materials and related manuscript and graphic arts materials in the world.

The Society also sponsors an array of programs to encourage the use of its collections and to foster a greater understanding of American history. The main office for Common-place is at AAS, 185 Salisbury St., Worcester, MA 01609-1634; telephone (508) 755-5221.

About the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

The Gilder Lehrman Institute (GLI) promotes the study of the American past by organizing seminars and enrichment programs for teachers; supporting and producing publications and national traveling exhibitions; creating innovative history high schools, history programs, and Saturday academies; establishing research centers at universities and cultural institutions; granting and administering a major fellowship program for work in leading archives; and seeking to build national and international networks of people and institutions involved in American history.

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