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Common-place discovers blogging in the early Republic
Online history journal explains why bloggers belong in the history of reading

Worcester, MA. —The July 2005 issue of Common-place, the online history journal, finds that today's bloggers have historical antecedents in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, though not just in political pamphleteers like Thomas Paine.

Instead, writer W. Caleb McDaniel, whose feature, "Blogging in the Early Republic" finds a more useful comparison to prolific writers like Henry Clarke Wright, an antebellum American reformer whose eclectic interests ranged from antislavery to radical pacifism, health reform and beyond. Wright flourished in the abundance of print in the in the mid-nineteenth century, much as today's bloggers thrive on information overload in cyberspace.

"Historically, when an abundance of public information is conjoined with democratized ideas about the flow of information, something like blogging usually results," McDaniel writes. "The central challenge for us, as it was for them, is not how to gain access to an abundance of information, but how to decide what information to acquire and which associations to make."

Another view of Thomas Paine—that of a revolutionary inventor—is presented by Common-place editor Edward G. Gray in "Talk of the Past." Gray relates how the famous Revolutionary War pamphleteer spent the last years of his life trying to create a reliable, sturdy, weather-resistant bridge that could span rivers without impeding water traffic.

"Paine saw in bridge design a handmaiden of social and political change," Gray writes. "In encouraging freedom of movement, bridges could free individuals to better themselves."

Writer Gordon M. Sayre questions whether the bicentennial celebration of Lewis and Clark ignores an earlier explorer who crossed the continental U.S. before them. His feature," A Native American Scoops Lewis and Clark," tells of a Yazoo Indian named Moncacht-apé, and the narrative of his journey by a French historian of colonial Louisiana, Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz.

In "The Inca Priest on the Mormon Stage," writer Jeremy Ravi Mumford paints a vivid word picture of Mormon leader Brigham Young, who acted the role of a high priest of the Inca religion in a popular nineteenth century play.

"His casting . . . invoked a literary tradition that praised precisely those deviations from Anglo-American norms for which the Mormons themselves were most reviled," Mumford writes in a feature that also highlights the Mormon fascination with the Masons and Masonic ritual.

In "Ask the Author," Sarah M. S. Pearsall, a fellow at the Newberry Library, discusses with Alfred F. Young, author of "Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier," the challenges he faced in writing the story of an ordinary young woman who disguised herself as a man to join the Continental army.

Young notes that one problem with doing life histories of ordinary people for whom there are sparse sources: "it is very labor intensive and the profession is not prepared to encourage collaborative or team work to facilitate these sorts of projects."

"I also think professional historians should be more open to what self-trained, so-called amateur historians can teach them," Young says. "Patrick Leonard, a former Pinkerton detective who had been researching Sampson for years, took me to the sites of her life. Beatrice Bostock, a descendent, showed me the dress her mother had kept and the cup plate, handed down from Deborah. Daniel Arguimbau took me around the land he farms which was the Sampson farm and into the house in which Deborah lived."

In "Common Reading," author Caleb Crain credits independent historian Peter Kafer with unveiling the dark but true history behind one of the first Gothic novels ever written in America, Edgar Huntly, by Charles Brockden Brown. Crain, an aficionado of Brown, "his novels are thick with allusions to the events of his day," he writes, links elements of Brown's novel with the real-life swindling of the Delaware Indians out of 1,200 acres of land in 1737. Two decades later, the once friendly Delawares brutally attacked white colonists during the French and Indian War.

"Brown embellished, exaggerated, transposed, fantasized," Crain quotes Kafer. "But what he wrote was grounded in verifiable experience. And in memory."

"Tales from the Vault" offers author Richard S. Newman's account of tracking down information on Richard Allen, one of the best-known black leaders of the early republic. Newman is the author of Black Founder: Richard Allen, African Americans and the Early Republic. Allen, a former slave, fabled black activist, and founder of Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia, left no daily journal, no private correspondence, no family papers for scholars to mine. While he did not leave a voluminous paper trail, Newman discovered that Allen's incessant involvement in public and black community-building activities continues to provide details about his life and thought.

In "The Common School," Andrea Maxeiner, who teaches advanced placement U.S. history at Hicksville High School in New York, explains how she uses folk songs to teach American history.

"I find songs to be one of the best motivators a teacher can employ," Maxeiner writes. "I use them to set the mood, to illustrate an aspect of history, to trace the history of popular culture, but especially as an important primary source. Once the students begin actively listening to the songs, their enthusiasm for the material grows," she continues. "For me, it is clear that songs are taking them into another world, another time, and another place. What could be more gratifying for a history teacher?"

The following book reviews are also included in the current issue of Common-place: Richard Godbeer's Escaping Salem: The Other Witch Hunt of 1692, reviewed by Gretchen A. Adams; Stephen P. Rice's Minding the Machine: Languages of Class in Early Industrial America, reviewed by Joshua R. Greenberg; Craig Thompson Friend's Along the Maysville Road: The Early American Republic in the Trans-Appalachian West, reviewed by Kim M. Gruenwald; and Andrew Burstein's Jefferson's Secrets: Death and Desire at Monticello, reviewed by Suzanne Cooper Guasco.

Two new features debut in this online edition of Common-place. "Common Reading" invites authors to discuss a book or books—old or new, good or not so good—that have influenced their thinking. Longer and more in-depth than an ordinary book review, "Common Reading" gives authors a chance to delve deeply into other's writings about the past. "The Common-place Web Library" reviews and lists on-line resources and websites likely to be of interest to our viewers. The Library itself will be an ongoing enterprise with regular new additions and amendments, so the editors encourage viewers to check it frequently.

The July 2005 issue of Common-place will be on-line through September and then available among the journal's archived issues on the website. Individuals may subscribe to the journal to be notified of publication of each issue. Common-place is published quarterly, in October, January, April, and July.

About Common-place

Common-place is a common place for exploring and exchanging ideas about early American history and culture. 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. Common-place is sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society and the Florida State University Department of History.

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.

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