Commonplace
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Publick Occurrences 2.0

September 30, 2009

Thinking Like an Early American Historian

Filed under: Colonial Period,Social History — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 12:38 pm

. . . about college students having sex. Got your attention? It’s not what you think. My attention was called on Facebook to a piece on the NYT site: “At Tufts, an Attempt to Prohibit Sex When a Roommate Is in the Room.” Kids having sex in public naturally did not turn the incisive historical minds on FB to our own college experiences — speaking for myself, we ate a lots of  pizza, drank a lot of beer, and studied a lot, without nearly as many opportunities to test our sexual ethics as they seem to have at Tufts these days. Instead, we early American historians thought of bundling, the scandalous youth sexual practice of colonial New England.

For civilians who happen on this post, bundling was a courtship custom where unmarried young men and women slept together, bundled up in blankets on a bed. Lest it seem too sexy,  a board was put in-between the two and the girl could be encased in a stout bag to protect her the virtue. Mom and Dad (and presumably others) often stayed in the room, just like a Tufts roommate.

From a decent-seeming scholarly article on bundling that happens to be available online:

Bundling is probably the best known courtship practice of colonial America, even though very little research on the topic has ever been published. It appears to contradict the otherwise sexually strict mores of the Puritans. It meant that a courting couple would be in bed together, but with their clothes on. With fuel at a premium, it was often difficult to keep a house warm in the evenings. Since this is when a man would be visiting his betrothed in her home, they would bundle in her bed together in order to keep warm. A board might be placed in the middle to keep them separate, or the young lady could be put in a bundling bag or duffel-like chastity bag. The best protection against sin were the parents, who were usually in the same room with them. It may not have been good enough, however, as records indicate that up to one-third of couples engaged in premarital relations in spite of the public penalties, such as being fined and whipped, that often resulted (Ingoldsby 1995).

While bundling scandalized or amused outsiders who witnessed or heard about the practice, rural New Englanders did not regard it as risqué at all. In fact, as recounted in Rev. Samuel Peters’  General History of Connecticut, Yankees placed bundling a good deal higher on the moral scale than the new-fangled, citified courtship practice of sitting on a French sofa. (Also, bundling was a lot cheaper, because while everyone had beds and blankets, you had to buy a sofa and have room in the house for it that was properly heated.)
From Peters on Google Books:
Apologies to any social historians who may have more bundling expertise than me if I am spreading any common myths here. Please enlighten us!

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September 21, 2009

Who Could Possibly Organize American Historians?

Filed under: American History,Ben Carp's Posts,Education,Historians,Internet — Benjamin Carp @ 9:40 pm

Larry Cebula over at Northwest History has an interesting post with some suggestions for reforming the OAH.

Read the whole thing, but I’ll boil his suggestions down to the nuggets:

  1. Make the JAH into an exclusively electronic publication
  2. Shake up the conference (he prefers discussions and e-discussions to roundtables and traditional panels)
  3. Establish an open, moderated blog (sort of like a Metafilter for historians)
  4. Reach out to people interested in American history in various local venues
  5. Provide database access to historians outside the academy
  6. Take a firm hand in wrangling grants.

I agree with point 1, I’m in sympathy with point 2, I’d skeptically welcome 3, I’d be all for 4 if it could be proved feasible, and I agree with 5 and 6 in principle, at least.

I shared Professor Cebula’s post on Facebook, and got various responses.  I’ll let Jeff weigh in himself, but my favorite comment was from another senior scholar: “The rot set in when they changed the name of the journal.  What was wrong with The Mississippi Valley Historical Review?”  (Date of name change: 1964.)

I’m an OAH member, and I feel lucky every time the annual conference is held at a nearby town (I like seeing American historians outside my subfield and hearing a few interesting papers, although they always seem to schedule all the early American history panels to run concurrently), or every time the JAH has articles that interest me.

I’m not so selfish as to demand that the organization feature more early history at the expense of, say, the twentieth century (although the twentieth century would probably win a contest for Most Depressing Century Ever), but I admit that I sometimes regard the organization with something of a shrug.  As long as early American history has its own journals and conferences, I’m prone to feel a bit complacent about what the OAH puts out.  On the other hand, not everyone has the luxury of such specialization (and I myself teach at least through 1877), and it’s good to have an organization that can take a broader view.

Anyway, I’d be intrigued to see the OAH put some of Cebula’s ideas into play.

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September 19, 2009

The Balance of Power in North America, 1794

Filed under: American Indians,Early Republic,Military — Jeffrey L. Pasley @ 7:22 pm

Not around here much lately, I know. The beginning of the school year, a lingering summer project, and really depressing public occurrences have all played their roles. Today, however, let me share something I found in an old newspaper — I look at those sometimes — that fits into a theme I have worked into Common-Place before:  the central and often-overlooked place of Indian affairs in the politics and policy of the Founding era.

The item comes from the New Year’s Day, 1794, issue of Greenleaf’s New York Journal, that city’s most important Democratic-Republican paper. It gives an account of the fighting strength of all the Native American peoples that the U.S. government knew anything about at the time. The tribal names do not quite match up with the ones in use today, and it would difficult to assess the accuracy of the numbers, but the proportions are fairly eye-popping. The unnamed officials thought they were facing more than 58,000 Indian warriors at a time when (according to a message from War Secretary Henry Knox), there were less than 4,000 troops in the whole U.S. army!  I guess it is no wonder a frontier military build-up (and Indian war) was the biggest project of Washington’s administration, besides the public finance system that paid for it.

Indian_fighting_strength_Greenleaf's_NY_Journal_1-1-1794—————-
Now playing: The Whigs – Give ‘Em All A Big Fat Lip

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