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July 1, 2006 Contact: James David Moran
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Online history journal finds flower power in the 19th Century

Worcester, MA— Long before "flower power" of the 1960s, passions for flora were embraced by middle class American women of the nineteenth century, writes author Annie Merrill Ingram, whose article, "Victorian Flower Power" is among the features in the October 2006 issue of Common-place, the online history journal.

The fairer sex was encouraged to study botany as an appropriately feminine form of science. An unanticipated result was that science "literally opened doors for women, permitting them to step outside and ramble though the woods searching for specimens," Ingram notes.

Perhaps the most important "public" function of the collection, preservation, and artful display of flowers was conservation, she adds: "The work of these botanizing women raised national consciousness about the need to save America's vanishing native species."

While middle-class women of the Victorian era were outside discovering nature and growing flowers, the men in charge were inside reaping the benefits of capital that had its origins in Colonial times. Writing about "Insurance in Colonial America," Eric Wertheimer describes the opening of the first insurance office at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia in 1721.

"In so doing, he marketed a product that helped to define and broaden what it meant to be both civic-minded and self-interested," Wertheimer writes. "Insurance—as we see played out in post-Katrina debates about public responsibilities versus private capabilities—has always resisted its formulation as an exclusively private or public method of improvement and safety."

Insurance underwriting gained influence in the political and cultural development of the new nation because it became a primary source of finance capital, Wertheimer concludes.

A flourishing trade in iron, slaves and rice played an important role in the development of Colonial South Carolina and forged an improbable link between South Carolina and the Baltic, writes Chris Evans in "How Sweden Went Global and Carolina Got its Hoes."

"Rice revolutionized life in Carolina, making the colony the richest in British North America," Evans notes. Rice cultivation at the time was enormously labor intensive, requiring "endless labor with the hoe, breaking up the soil and clearing weeds." Ships that sailed from Charleston harbor loaded with rice came into port filled with iron tools manufactured in England from Swedish iron.

By mid-1740, slave insurrections, the intrusion of Queen Anne's War into transatlantic trade curbed the fortunes of the Carolina colony; the rice trade didn't recover until the Revolutionary War.

Writing in "Talk of the Past," Common-place editor Edward Gray considers the Labor Day holiday, asking, "Who in fact are those "workers" we memorialize as we throw another hot dog on the barbeque?"

Maybe the best way for the non-laboring to pay tribute to the laboring is to lay around by the pool and reflect on the fact that this is not, for a change, our day," Gray writes. "Or maybe the thing to do is take this day as an opportunity to reflect on exactly what it is we do do."

In the letters of women living in and around Revolutionary and early Republican-era Philadelphia, Kate Davies was surprised to find a sense of disconnection many of them felt in relation to their political and literary cultures, their religions, their region, and their nation. Davies' article, "Reading Distance," is in Tales from the Vault.

Cindy R. Lobel traces the evolution of the dining room in the nineteenth century into an essential attribute of the middle-class American home. Her article titled," The Sideboard Takes Center Stage," is in Object Lessons.

In Ask the Author, Richard Lyman Bushman, a Mormon historian, reflects on his biography of Joseph Smith and raises the question, "What is the place of personal values and beliefs in scholarship?"

"To 'Do Now' or Not?" asks Stephen A. Schultz in The Common-School where he challenges the value of an almost universal component of secondary school history teachers' lesson plans.

"A 'Do Now' activity subtracts from the time needed to properly stimulate a class and adds the drawback of "dulling" the instruction by encompassing a drill that, by its very nature, is perceived as 'drudge work,'" Schultz writes. (More)

The presence of Shakespeare and the world he represents as the "lurking alter ego of Puritan New England," is the subject of Mark Peterson's humorous and enlightening essay, "Reading Puritans and the Bard: The Case for Brushing Up Your Shakespeare," in the Common Reading column.

The current issue of Common-place also contains the following book reviews: Denis R. Caron's, A Century in Captivity: The Life and Trials of Prince Mortimer, a Connecticut Slave, by Watson Jennison; Cathy Matson's The Economy of Early America: Historical Perspectives & New Directions by James Fitcher; Adam Hochschild's Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves, by Christa Dierksheide; Katherine C. Grier's Pets in America: A History and the website by Brett Mizelle; and Douglas Egerton's review of New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan by Jill Lepore.

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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