Welcome back to another academic year in Oxford, where the Early American Republic Seminar continues its mission to bring together an interdisciplinary network of scholars focused on the United States between Revolution and Reconstruction. Our autumn term card showcases works-in-progress from four historians at different stages of their careers and with wide-ranging interests, which we hope will appeal to a diverse audience. We begin with an Oxford-Virginia special: classical reception in early America, as Stephanie Lawton presents a snippet from her doctoral research on presidents, death, and classical rituals in the early United States. Our remaining three papers together present different angles on the ways in which persecuted and enslaved people of colour in the early republic navigated the extraordinary challenges they faced in a period of American history characterized by white supremacy, slaveholding, and repeated attempts at the ethnic cleansing of native peoples.
All of our events will be held in seminar room 1 at the Rothermere American Institute on South Parks Road in Oxford. PLEASE NOTE: due to a scheduling conflict, our Week 2 seminar with Jane Dinwoodie will begin at 4pm, not 5pm.
Week 1: Wednesday 16th October, 5pm
Stephanie Lawton (Virginia), ‘Praises to the Dead: Classical Influences in Eulogies for George Washington’
‘Tombs. Eulogies. Death Masks. Triumphal processions. One expects to encounter these words in a history of the ancient Greco-Roman world. But in the nineteenth-century, Americans performed similar rites to commemorate the lives and legacies of popular president-generals. Why did Americans use rituals from more than two millennia earlier to commemorate their own heroes?’ UVA PhD candidate Stephanie Lawton will discuss this question with reference to the celebration of George Washington’s life, and the commemoration of his death, at our first OxEARS of the new academic year.
Week 2: Wednesday 23rd October, 4pm (!)
Jane Dinwoodie (Cambridge), ‘Camouflage Tactics and Indian Non-Removal in the American South’
‘In 1830, the US Congress passed the Indian Removal Act. Statesmen envisaged a radical spatial solution that would cement American power in the South; in less than a decade, they proclaimed victory, having moved 65,000 Indigenous Southerners to Indian Territory. Two centuries later, historians stress its tragedy, but still see removal as a pivot that transformed Indigenous South into Cotton Kingdom. This paper tells a different story. From Appalachia down to the Gulf, members of the Five Tribes devised various means to resist deportation. One of the most effective – though least studied – was a strategy I call “camouflage tactics,” in which individuals made themselves illegible or invisible to outsiders. Camouflage encompassed a spectrum of action. By blurring their identity as removeable Indians, hundreds of Indigenous Southerners successfully avoided westward deportation. In doing so, they sustained an enduring Indigenous South, subverted US policymakers’ ambitions for a complete removal, and challenged American claims to sovereignty over the region in the decades beyond.’
Week 4: Wednesday 6th November, 5pm
Jessica Parr (Simmons College), ‘To Drink Samaria’s Flood: Tracing the Development of African-American Thought, 1760-1860’
Dr Parr joins us from Boston to discuss a new project on ‘the ways African-American thought developed in the early American republic in response to racial structures (political, legal, and religious) in the Anglo-Atlantic world. The aim is to engage meaningfully with the excellent recent scholarship on “freedom” and “unfreedom.”‘
Week 6: Wednesday 20th November, 5pm
James Mackay (Edinburgh), ‘”Refuge to Our Slaves”: Sites of Sanctuary for Refugees from Slavery in Revolutionary America’
‘My dissertation traces the movement, both voluntary and involuntary, of enslaved and freed people in the American Revolution. This paper is envisaged as part of my first chapter. I focus here on places of refuge for enslaved people in Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia between 1775 and 1776. I seek to explore how enslaved and freed people envisioned the presence and purpose of British forces and how freedom-seeking people influenced British policy toward refugees. My project endeavours to recover the diversity of the experiences of refugees from slavery as they declared their independence.’