Liberty! or Liberty? // Revolution! or Revolution?

We concluded our Age of Revolution seminar by walking Boston’s landmark Freedom Trail with historians and guides from the Boston National Historical Park Service and the Bostonian Society. Nat Sheildly, a historian from the Bostonian Society, discussed the challenges he faces at the Old State House in interfacing with so many visitors coming from such varied backgrounds, with such varied expectations of their time on the Freedom Trail. One key insight he shared with us that he tries to impart to visitors was shifting their approach to the American Revolution from “Liberty!” (exclamation point) to “Liberty?” (question mark).

That shift from exclamation point to question mark is a useful takeaway. In theory, there is already a question mark attached when scholars study revolution: there were plenty of questions about revolution that were embarked upon when coming into this seminar. But for me personally, at least, I have come away from the Age of Revolution seminar questions not only about the revolutions themselves, but also about the ways we study revolutions. To oversimplify, my attitude towards my own work has shifted from “Revolution!” to “Revolution?” (complete with a “whose/which/why/how” modifier attached). In this post, I want to briefly highlight a few key (and hopefully not too disconnected) threads that I don’t want to lose as we move into summer.

Over the year, we were exposed to a range of diverse methodologies and approaches within the various disciplines that provoked a number of useful questions (please forgive me if I liberally use the pronoun “we” to refer to seminar members—please do elaborate/contextualize/disagree in comments!). A primary concern that has arisen over the course of this year is what, exactly, constitutes a “text”? I’ve realized that I came into this year thinking I had a far more liberal definition of the word than I actually do: the word itself is deeply imbricated in print culture, and my own push to learn to think “outside” disciplinary, heavily “western” lines in terms of what constitutes a primary source, or a text, has been further challenged by the availability of sources. The bibliography assignment (for graduate students) is what brought this to the foreground, and is what proved perhaps the most useful in highlighting how very “western” and textually oriented our disciplines are. How do we include experience in a bibliography? Ceremonies, places, rituals, performances, riots, meetings: these are difficult (but not impossible) to translate into textually dominated disciplines. There is space for representing visual culture (e.g. Laurent DuBois’s presentation of the blocks from Duke’s Haiti Lab— http://fhi.duke.edu/haitiamber/), but the ecstasy, passion, or violence of experience can be uncomfortable. I share Faith Smith’s concerns over the discomfort with voodoo; this seemed a prime example where the seminar shied away from non-“traditional” texts/experiences, possibly due to lack of expertise with content, but also quite possibly because we lack the/shy away from/do not privilege the acquisition of a vocabulary for discussing a non-textually based tradition. However, in my own research for both bibliography projects (in which I endeavored to locate sources that worked with voodoo), the amount of scholarship within my own discipline that was grappling with this problem of what constituted a “text” was quite limited. To re-ask and elaborate on a question of Jane Kamensky’s from many seminars ago: what is the difference between what is left out and what is narrated over, and where is the overlap, and are those two things different depending on the historical time?

This question of “experience” is part of what appeals to me about Nagmeh Sohrabi’s question posed to the seminar in our final discussion, as to the “rupture” between experience and history and whether revolution can be studied in the long durée. Jane Kamensky noted that the “oscillation” between the ordinary and extraordinary can be hard to capture, and “oscillation” seems a useful word to keep in mind in thinking about revolution (partly since the etymology of “revolution” has become so distant from the word itself). I think it is critical to keep thinking about how time “flattens” experience (again, quoting Sohrabi)—and this makes it even more important to continue seeking out areas (like the blocks, like artistic representations, the room in the Old State House, like novels) that seek to recapture the experience, that seek to imbue some of the texture back into the history: that try to breathe life into the moments we spend so much time staring at on paper.

These questions of how and what we study have often led to a discussion of “success,” albeit in varied capacities. The word “success” has become increasingly triggery and suspect for me over the course of this year. The word first cropped up with our first seminar session in which we asked what revolutions counted, essentially based on what constituted success—whether the American Revolution was actually just a civil war (the first time I’d ever heard of such an idea), whether the Haitian Revolution should count at all based on inclusion in historical study (a different kind of success). This continued to be a question asked during Q&A at our symposiums, but also in varying ways throughout our seminar sessions. So, can we “successfully” study revolution in the long durée? Which revolutions were “successful”? Is a revolution only a revolution if it was “successful” in keeping the new government in place? What constitutes “success”? This isn’t to say that evaluative questions, of both the revolutions and of how we study them, shouldn’t be asked. But the framework and language of “success” that is built around the Age of Revolution strikes me as limiting in that it is a very easy rabbit hole to go down and get stuck in. Perhaps this is because the “success” of these revolutions, from a content/historical standpoint, is so tied up with an Enlightenment framework and discourse. When Phil Gould visited the seminar, he talked about how difficult it was to discuss revolution without using an Enlightenment discourse. I’m not sure if/how that bears on the particular “success” framework that so influences our respective studies of these revolutions.

I’d like to close by just bringing a few threads together that deal with the post-revolutionary period. It seems that a focus on the post-revolutionary period of each revolution and a subsequent lengthening of the timeline, or a potential shift in focus away from temporality, may be helpful for contextualizing or further nuancing the “success” framework. During our closing symposium and also our during our Freedom Trail walk, there was much discussion of the increased need in revolutionary study for a focus on the post-revolutionary period, particularly as a counter to the “Liberty!” (exclamation point) ideology (or, potentially, the fixation on “but was it a success?”). It’s particularly interesting that the need for a focus on the post-revolutionary period was discussed in direct relation to public history (the Freedom Trail walk) and public education (Jill Lepore’s talk). The post-revolutionary is, as Sue Lanser called it a few seminars ago, both tragic and ironic, and provides a marked counter in tone.

I am (predictably) ending the year with far more questions than answers. The questions and issues raised by this seminar will surely keep on expanding/growing/spinning out, and I look forward to continuing this discussion off-line and in person—though, sadly, no longer together in seminar. Thank you all for a truly remarkable year.

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Bringing the Age of Revolution Out of the Classrom

This past semester, the question of how to bring knowledge of the Revolutions out of the classrooms has been a major thread in our seminar’s conversations.

When touring the revolutionary collections at the MFA, we discussed the challenges of inserting race and gender into the common narratives of the American revolution, and how to make this knowledge accessible outside of the academy. When she visited our seminar, Julia Douthwaite, who teaches French studies at Notre Dame, made a strong case for diversifying the ways in which we teach the revolutions, by bringing the stories that we tell outside of colleges and into impoverished neighborhoods and public libraries.  While Douthwaite was primarily concerned with keeping the humanities alive (as well as stories of revolutions), Jill Lepore in our most recent symposium addressed the stakes of bringing scholarly knowledge of the revolutions to broader audiences, from both the political and civic perspectives. Lepore sees the political uses of American revolutionary history (which she coined the “tyranny of the American Revolution”), and the centrality of the revolution in the rhetoric of Tea Party members, as a worrisome development. Historians, she argues, have something to say about the relationship between the past and the present, and have a responsibility to explain the revolutionary origins of the United States better than they currently are.

Considering how prevalent this theme has been, it was perfectly fitting that we would end our year-long inquiry into the Age of Revolution, not in our usual classroom, but in the streets of Boston! For this last session, we went on a revolutionary tour of Boston and met with employees of the Bostonian Society and the National Park Service, who struggle daily with the question of how to improve the public understanding of the American Revolution.

Financial constraints and the need to cater to the general public’s expectations of a revolutionary tour figure prominently among the challenges of practicing public history that they highlighted. Competition is fierce with the commercial historical tours, which are led by people who have at most a basic knowledge of the American Revolution. Furthermore, National Park rangers are expected to “deliver what people want”, which is often a retelling of America’s heroic past and its pantheon of famous revolutionaries.

Yet, instead of telling a simplistic story of the revolution, some park rangers and professional historians, such as the ones we have met this Sunday, are working together to tell a better and less celebratory narrative; a coherent story that shows the “big pictures” and fully captures the nuances of the revolutionary period. In particular, they seek to explain the role of commerce, the origins of “liberty” and its contested meanings, and the importance of slavery in the unfolding of the revolutionary events. As Nat Sheidley, the Director of Public History at the Bostonian Society, explained to us: “Visitors come here thinking that the Revolution was ‘liberty!’. We want them to leave thinking: ‘liberty?’.”

Eric, the park ranger who led us through revolutionary Boston, believes that telling individual stories of ordinary people who made the revolution, alongside well-known “heroes”, can not only shed light on what the revolution meant for people at the time, but also demonstrate how complex “freedom” was in their everyday life. Eric was most convincing when telling the story, based on his own archival research, of a free man of African descent whose wife and children were enslaved.

This unusual tour of Revolutionary Boston left me both hopeful and worried. Hopeful, because there are people, like Eric and Nat, who are, as Eric said, “crafting better stories” for the public. Worried, because I wonder what happens when history becomes a commodity. Can historical sites attract people without fundamentally distorting the past? Do we necessarily have to feed into a consumerist approach to history to promote historical knowledge?

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Elizabeth Fries Ellet’s The Women of the American Revolution and the Politics of Historical Appropriation

Our final symposium of the semester featured Jill Lepore, Laurent Dubois, and Howard Brown, with each scholar addressing the broad theme of the “ends of revolution.”  In her talk, Lepore interrogated the ways in which the American Revolution has been appropriated and reinterpreted to fit current political ideologies.  Each generation, she explained, has used revolutionary rhetoric, symbolism, and even fashion to support a range of beliefs – from Martin Luther King’s invocation of the civil disobedience of the participants in the Boston Tea Party, to antiwar veterans’ march from Concord to Lexington in a “Peoples Bicentennial” in the 1970s, to our current Tea Party members’ donning of tricornered hats and insistence that their views are the legacy of the Sons of Liberty.[1]

Lepore’s talk got me thinking about how women might fit into this picture.  Of course, women are highly visible in today’s Tea Party (and Lepore’s New Yorker article on the same topic features an illustration of a tricornered Sarah Palin).   But what of the women of the revolution itself?  These historical actors have also been subject to political appropriation.  In this blog post, I would like to briefly analyze one particular work of historical interpretation, Elizabeth Fries Ellet’s The Women of the American Revolution, a three-volume biographical set published from 1848 to 1850.

Ellet

Elizabeth F. Ellet in an 1847 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book, from the Library Company of Philadelphia

Ellet’s volumes contain over 120 biographies of both well-known women (like Abigail Adams, Martha Washington, and the cross-dressing soldier Deborah Sampson), and more obscure ones, like Hannah Gaunt of South Carolina.  A woman “of masculine proportions and strength,” Gaunt used her physical prowess to protect her father’s home from marauding Tories during the war.[2]  Historian Carol Berkin explains that “Ellet’s history was not a call for women’s political equality,” and that it drew upon nineteenth-century beliefs in woman’s “inherent moral superiority, her natural piety, her maternal instincts, and her domestic role….”   That is, it was a work that celebrated the contemporary ideals of republican motherhood and “true womanhood,” and inscribed these qualities onto women of the past.[3]  For example, Hannah Gaunt may appear to have challenged true womanhood with her “masculine proportions,” but once the immediate dangers of revolution were over she shed her gender-defying strength and distinguished herself as an exceptional wife and mother, “the kindest and most benevolent of women.”[4]  For Berkin, this affirms Ellet’s allegiance to the gender roles of her time: a woman’s duty to her family was such that if it was under threat, she could reasonably and admirably morph into “an Amazon in both strength and courage,” as did one Mrs. Merrill of Kentucky when she killed or wounded four Indian intruders with an axe.  But once that threat was over, she must retire as the warrior mother, and return to being the republican one.[5]

I appreciate Berkin’s observation that these revolutionary heroines were products of Ellet’s own time – just as the Tea Party’s Paul Revere is a reinterpretation, molded as much by current conceptions of politics and morality as by contemporary ones.  Berkin’s point, then, is reminiscent of Lepore’s.  But to follow through with Lepore’s inquiry into the political remolding of the revolution, we must recognize the potential significance of 1848, the publication date of Ellet’s first volume.  It was also, of course, the year of the first American woman’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York.  This confluence of dates could mean nothing; Ellet does not seem to have attended the convention, and we have no way of knowing what her reaction might have been to Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Declaration of Sentiments, or to Stanton’s (very radical) call for woman suffrage.  But we do know, by way of a footnote in the edited papers of Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, is that Anthony herself turned to Ellet for assistance in 1860, when a woman fleeing her abusive husband sought asylum in New York for herself and her daughter.  Ellet helped conceal the fugitives, and Anthony wrote of the sensationalized case in a letter to Stanton.[6]  This might not bear much connection to The Women of the American Revolution, but it does indicate that Ellet operated in circles that at least overlapped with those occupied by the most prominent American women’s rights advocates.

Mercy Otis Warren, the subject for whom Ellet felt her "deepest admiration," according to Carol Berkin

Mercy Otis Warren, the subject for whom Ellet felt her “deepest admiration,” according to Carol Berkin

In addition, the 1840s saw the passage of several Married Women’s Property Acts, with Ellet’s home state of New York enacting its version in April of 1848, about three months before the Seneca Falls Convention.  Though married to a South Carolinian in 1835, Ellet had returned to live in New York – without her husband, though still married – in 1845, the year before she began work on her biographies.  This was also when she began an allegedly “flirtatious” correspondence with the married (though far from reputable) Edgar Allen Poe.[7]  In New York, Ellet was living alone, at a great distance from her husband, and was corresponding freely with a married man.  One wonders what the possibility of increased rights for women might have meant to her, as a woman already defying convention.

By the time she was writing her 120 profiles of revolutionary women, then, Ellet was in a geographic location and in a domestic situation that challenged, and at times directly contradicted, the precepts of true womanhood.  Ellet’s proximity to Seneca Falls, her distance from her husband, her willingness to assist a woman fleeing domestic abuse, her association with Anthony, her access to new state laws modifying the strictures of coverture, and her correspondence with Poe may not have worked in obvious ways to shape to shape her writing.  In an article for the Journal of Women’s History, historian Scott E. Casper insists that even though Ellet “challenged the male understanding of history from within,” her depiction of revolutionary women did far more to affirm the primacy of domesticity than to question proscribed gender roles.   Casper acknowledges the publication’s chronological confluence with the Seneca Falls Convention, but quickly dismisses any consideration of its influence on Ellet’s writing because she never overtly “challenged the political, legal, or social structure of her day” – tacitly (and in my opinion, erroneously) suggesting that formal, organized agitation was the only way to state opposition to gendered restrictions.[8]

As I think about the project that Elizabeth Fries Ellet felt compelled to undertake in the 1840s, though, I’d like to heed Jill Lepore’s call for a more thoughtful analysis of the political uses of the American Revolution.  In doing so, it is necessary to question what exactly Ellet’s politics may have been – in a time before formal political representation was a reality for American women.  And while it would be irresponsible to conclude that Ellet’s own unconventional biography dictated the tenor of the biographies she crafted for The Women of the American Revolution, I am not sure that Berkin’s and Casper’s insistence that Ellet adhered to and celebrated accepted gender roles is any more defensible.  For as Lepore demonstrates, appropriation of the American Revolution is rarely a straightforward matter.

 

 

 


[1] Jill Lepore, “Tea and Sympathy,” The New Yorker (May 3, 2010).  Also see Lepore’s book on the same subject, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010).

[2] Elizabeth F. Ellet, The Women of the American Revolution, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs & Co., 1900), 344.

[3] Carol Berkin, Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), xii-xiii.

[4] Ellet, 345.

[5] Ellet, 317.

[6] Ann D. Gordon, ed., The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, vol. 1 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997), 457-58n.

[7] “Elizabeth F. Ellet,” Portraits of American Women Writers That Appeared in Print before 1861, The Library Company of Philadelphia (available online at http://www.librarycompany.org/women/portraits/ellet.htm).

[8] Scott E. Casper, “An Uneasy Marriage of Sentiment and Scholarship: Elizabeth F. Ellet and the Domestic Origins of American Women’s History,” Journal of Women’s History 4, no. 2: 10-35, 10, 24.

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The Robespierre “Type” in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Our excerpt of Julia Douthwaite’s The Frankenstein of 1790 and Other Lost Chapters from Revolutionary France closed with a persuasive argument that representations of Robespierre post-Terror birthed a new kind of villain: the Enlightenment-bred individual whose good intentions, we might say, pave the road to hell. Douthwaite writes that, “Villains of the early-modern age and the Enlightenment… operated within their own social milieu or sought to bring down the mighty” (227). A villain who comes from within the Left, who articulates Enlightenment principles, is a shock to the revolution and particularly, Douthwaite argues, to a society post-Terror. This is reminiscent of Foucault’s assertion in History of Sexuality, Vol. I that “Power is tolerable only on condition that it mask a substantial part of itself. Its success is proportional to its ability to hide its own mechanisms” (86). The “villain” who is ensconced within revolutionary ideology—who, as we discussed two seminars ago, perhaps goes “between” revolutionary and counter-revolutionary moments, engaging with alternate discourses and sympathies—is a potentially terrifying actor.

Maximilien Robespierre (Adélaïde Labille-Guiard)

Maximilien Robespierre (Adélaïde Labille-Guiard)

More than argue simply for the creation of a new type of villain, Douthwaite implicitly makes a case for why this type emerged. The text latently links the emergence of this Robespierre type to the creation of a unified Terror narrative; Robespierre’s legibility as a villain was arguably critical to grounding the Terror within a particular temporal frame. (Douthwaite spends much time chronicling historians’ debates over the Terror, which I will not get into here.) Robespierre emerged, Douthwaite writes, as an example of “ambition run amock,” an example that “ordinary characteristics shared by many of us… may cloak hidden malevolence” (224, 227). He was a lightning rod around which to construct a grand narrative that had an identifiable beginning and end.

However, Douthwaite also assumes that society learned to adapt to this new type of villain, that the society post-Terror was more skeptical (“nor does anyone trust in principles anyway”) (227). Post-Terror villains might look to lofty principles to defend their actions (e.g. the cliché “the end justifies the means”), but the people those principles are invoked on behalf of may not be as invested in the principles themselves, at least according to Douthwaite. This complicates her argument regarding the efficacy of these villains and the terror they invoke. If the power of Robespierre-like villains is in their ability to emerge from within the system and thus have the benefit of appearing to conform, and thus to surprise, how powerful are they if the people (or the audience) ultimately expect them to betray their “principles,” or to have never been fully faithful to them in the first place?

A recent incarnation of the Robespierre type is currently on the big screen in Marvel’s latest blockbuster, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I want to suggest, here in a very limited space, that the character of Alexander Pierce is an example through which to further question how effective, or powerful, this type of villain is, all the while keeping in mind Douthwaite’s implicit argument as to why the Robespierre type emerged in the first place: as a character with which to ground, and offer an explanation for, a phenomenon associated with a particular system of power. (And here is my obligatory disclaimer for spoilers.) In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it is not just that a villain is defeated, like in single title Marvel films such as Iron Man, or that a cataclysmic event is stopped, such as in The Avengers. Rather, a particular villain is seen to have had a hand in an entire system that was purportedly morally “good.” Indeed, for the first time in a Marvel film, destruction of a singular villain is not sufficient: the entire system—or the representative embodiment of that system—must be destroyed. However, whether the death of a “villain” or the destruction of an organization means that moral right has been restored is a (postmodern) question that remains unanswered.

Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) and Captain America (Chris Evans)

Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) and Captain America (Chris Evans)

The “particular villain” in this case is Alexander Pierce (played by Robert Redford), secretary of an unnamed department (probably state) whose “good” intentions lead him to be involved with a secret organization, HYDRA. This secret organization festers within SHIELD, an intelligence branch of the United States government that until now has been largely seen as “good” within the Marvel universe. HYDRA’s goal is simple: to manipulate worldwide conditions so that humanity is willing to relinquish their freedom in the interest of their security; this calls to mind Benjamin Franklin’s oft-quoted line, that those who would sacrifice safety in order to secure liberty deserve neither liberty nor safety (Americanists, please correct me if I’m taking that out of context). The film is obsessed with the shadowy line between freedom and security, and, indeed, the ease with which HYDRA has assimilated itself into SHIELD calls into explicit question the purportedly straightforward missions of institutions; one of the main characters, Black Widow, is disturbed that she “can’t tell the difference” between who she’s taking orders from anymore. This explicitly blurs the purportedly clear moral framework in buzzwords like “freedom” and “safety,” words tossed around but which require significantly more nuanced attention than they receive.

What marks Pierce as the film’s villain is that he is largely responsible for masterminding, and ultimately pushing through, a mission which would massacre twenty million people worldwide. Singled out because of their electronic history, these individuals are selected by a computer algorithm and, according to Pierce, are merely being eliminated before they can become full-fledged threats. “If you could prevent attacks before they happen, wouldn’t you?” is the question he poses to the world security council. It’s like the Terror in a single day, on a worldwide scale, courtesy of twenty-first century technology.

At this point, villains from within are almost expected—it is not a surprise, narratively speaking, that Pierce turns out to be the leader of HYDRA. Rather, what stands out about Pierce is that he actually comes off as the epitome of the Robespierre-ian idealist. He never once articulates selfish motives but seems to believe wholeheartedly in the purity of HYDRA’s mission: world order at a terrible cost. He is even humanized: he has a peculiar gratitude to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), the director of SHIELD, for saving his daughter’s life decades ago, and when trading favors with Fury early on in the film, Pierce requests that Iron Man visit his niece’s birthday party. If Nick Fury is the redeemed man with a past, right down to the eye patch and billowing cloak, Alexander Pierce is the wolf in lamb’s clothing (or, rather, a politician’s suit), someone who fervently believes in the purity of his mission. What makes him frightening, perhaps, is his fervor, which, in our day and age, more closely resembles what the media calls the terrorist or freedom fighter.

Today, Douthwaite’s Robespierre type—the idealist from within, the one who turns against the nation in the purported interests of the nation—is perhaps best embodied by villains identified as terrorists (and notably, the film includes a subplot that blatantly tips its hat to Edward Snowden). Pierce is not identified as a terrorist in the film, but he fits the type: his death in and of itself at the film’s end is not seen as a sufficient end to the terror at work. This is commented on in the film: “cut off a head, two more will take its place.” The corruption of a government agency demands destruction of the whole agency, according to Captain America/Steve Rogers, and not just the replacement of corrupt individuals: this is represented physically by the destruction of a building. Captain America: The Winter Soldier enacts the fantasy of (literally) tearing down the entire structure. But however symbolic that may be (storming the Bastille or razing SHIELD headquarters), ideas are not held within a building, and physical containment, especially in the age of technology, is ultimately not sufficient to stop a perceived “threat.”

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is, ultimately, a commentary on the inefficacy of an ideological war (of a war on Terror), a commentary about how little physically marked places and people matter to the maintenance of power. It refuses the assertion that tyranny, or bad politics, or a terrorist organization, can be thwarted with the destruction of a building, or the death of one man. In the end, people are not the sole, sufficient, or satisfactory embodiments of ideology. This is the point historians make when they challenge accepted timelines of the Terror, or the explicit identifying of a Terror phenomenon that differed from other periods of violence throughout the French Revolution.

A few questions to conclude: how might we continue to think about this Robespierre type and its descendants, about its efficacy in our current culture and the skepticism of post-Revolution and, perhaps especially, postmodern audiences? Where do we see these examples most—i.e., are they most relevant when they are needed to somehow physically demarcate/contain uncontainable ideologies or phenomena? And of course, any continued comments on Captain America: The Winter Soldier and its relationship to revolutionary themes (e.g. on the fraught project of Captain America himself as a national icon, which there wasn’t room for here) are welcome.

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Rethinking the Limits of Revolution: Family and the French Revolution

In our symposium and seminar on the topic of the “limits of revolutions”, we talked about the limits of revolution at length- especially in relationship to race and gender. While it is important to recognize the limitations of the Atlantic revolutions, I tend to agree with Jane’s comment that the concept of limits can itself be “limiting.”

For example, until recently historians of the French revolution have debated whether the revolution was “good or bad for women”, thus framing the revolution as either an entirely positive or an entirely negative event. This question necessarily calls for responses that lack nuances and fail to take into account the multiple identities of women and the different aspects of their lives. In fact, during the symposium, Suzanne Desan, the author of a fantastic book about the ways in which French revolutionaries sought to change the family, The Family on Trial in Revolutionary France, referred to the “complexity and fluidity of women’s position” during and in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Even though women were denied full citizenship, they participated fully in the French revolution, and the revolution did improve some aspects of their life.

One area in which revolutionary changes did benefit women was that of marital law, and the introduction of divorce in particular. On September 20, 1792, the French National Assembly passed a decree regulating divorce, which for the first time in France opened the possibility of completely severing marital relationships. For the authors of the decree, divorce was inextricably linked to the concept of liberty: it was “a consequence of individual liberty which an indissoluble engagement would destroy”. More specifically, by making marriage a civil contract that could be terminated by either party, the French revolutionaries sought to give more power to women and give them the possibility to end relations which were harmful, not only for the women themselves, but also for the nation.

As several of its clauses demonstrate, liberty and equality stood at the center of the divorce decree. In particular, its authors postulated an unprecedented level of equality between husbands and wives:

I.2 “Divorce shall take place by mutual consent of the husband and wife.”I.3. “One of the spouses may have a divorce decreed by the simple allegation of incompatibility of disposition or of character”

IV. Effects of divorce with regard to children: “In the case of divorce by mutual consent or by the request of one of the couple for simple cause of incompatibility of disposition or of character, without any other indication of motives, the children born of the dissolved marriage are confided accordingly: the girls to the mother, the boys, aged less than seven years also to the mother; after that age they are sent to and entrusted to the father, nonetheless the father and the mother can make on this subject another arrangement that seems proper to them…”

Thus, with this decree, women were granted the possibility to end their marital relationship, and husbands and wives shared equal responsibility in deciding who would take care of the children following a divorce.

So, what do we do with this evidence, and what does it suggest about the impact of the French Revolution on women and gender relations? Instead of answering these questions, I want to suggest a set of questions that would allow us to fully capture the (positive and negative) consequences of the Revolution for women, by avoiding the question of whether it was “good or bad” for them.

1. What was the decree of divorce for? What were the revolutionaries’ motivations for passing such a law? And what does it reveal about the relationship between gender and nation-building?

2. What is the relationship between law and practice, and more specifically, what was the impact of the divorce decree on the lives of women? Did women take advantage of it, and if so, who, when and how? What were the immediate consequences of the decree?

3. Did the introduction of divorce help reconfigure the French family according to the revolutionaries’ vision?

4. What was the intellectual legacy of the divorce decree? Considering that divorce was abolished in 1816, not to be reintroduced until 1884, did the effects of divorce on women and gender relations persist even during the time when divorce was suppressed?

5. Did this law have an impact abroad? And how does a global perspective of family law look like?

These questions point to several lines of inquiry; about the revolutionaries’ motivations and the pace of social and cultural change, in particular the short-term consequences and long-term legacy of divorce. The answers to these questions would certainly show the complexity of the impact of the French Revolution on women, which ultimately suggests that if we want to fully understand the age of revolution and its impact on race and gender, we need to start with “good” questions.

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“To Toussaint L’Ouverture” as an Elegy

William Wordsworth’s “To Toussaint L’Ouverture” is one of the frequently discussed literary works in the historical writings on the Age of Revolution. One can easily see why: ostensibly making a hero of Toussaint Louverture, the most prominent revolutionary during the Haitian revolution, the poem is one of the few literary representations of the revolution in Western literature and one of the fewer positive ones. While the poem, at surface, expresses Wordsworth’s admiration for a black hero, critics like Cora Kaplan (in the article we read last semester) have drawn attention to complexity of the poem, questioning the heroic quality of Toussaint in it. Perhaps, the fact that Toussaint is represented as a ‘hero,’ they suggest, is less important than the way in which he is represented as such. Along this line of investigation, in this post, I shall address some of the peculiarities of Wordsworth’s poetic representation of Toussaint, by reading it as a specific instance of a literary genre—that is, as an elegy. (To explain generic characteristics of “To Toussaint L’Ouverture” is one of the aims of my final project, which deals with the issues of representation and language in the Age of Revolution. Hence, I do more than welcome any thoughts or comments on this post.)

To begin with, let me quote the whole sonnet, as it was published in 1807:

Toussaint, the most unhappy Man of Men!

Whether the rural Milk-maid by her Cow

Sing in thy hearing, or thou liest now

Alone in some deep dungeon’s earless den,

O miserable Chieftain! where and when

Wilt thou find patience? Yet die not; do thou

Wear rather in thy bonds a cheerful brow:

Though fallen Thyself, never to rise again,

Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind

Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies;

There’s not a breathing of the common wind

That will forget thee; thou hast great allies;

Thy friends are exultations, agonies,

And love, and Man’s unconquerable mind.

When one reads the poem as an elegy, one of its striking peculiarities is that the speaker laments over a person who is not yet dead but dying. Perhaps it might not seem so odd at the factual level. Wordsworth first published the poem in The Morning Post on February 2, 1803, probably having read the news that Toussaint had been imprisoned in the Fort de Joux since June, 1802, and Toussaint died two months after the poem appeared in the newspaper. Still, it seems to me quite an unusual choice that Wordsworth highlights the hero’s vulnerability by describing the ‘present’ moments of dying, rather than, for example, his past acts of heroism. It seems all the more peculiar because Wordsworth does so both by relying on the elegy tradition and appropriating it in his own way.

That is, Wordsworth uses figures and rhetoric peculiar to elegies with a twist in representing Toussaint. One of those twists is, as I said, his choice to mourn anticipated death. To mourn the death to come seems not only unusual in the elegy tradition—I do not know any precedent to it—but also is presented as unusual in the poem, especially by Wordsworth’s eccentric use of the sonnet form. The poem is a Petrarchan sonnet which consists of two quatrains (that is, two four-line sections) and two tercets (two three-line sections) and each section in the sonnet usually functions as a unit of meaning, similar to paragraphs in prose. Yet Wordsworth betrays the reader’s expectations by making it unclear in the first quatrain whether Toussaint is dead or not, whether he hears the maid’s song, or lies dead alone in the den. Wordsworth, in other words, holds back the information that the reader desires to know, in order to register effectively Toussaint’s being on the verge of death.

The fact that Wordsworth mourns for a dying person, rather than a dead one, is important because it enables him to express his paradoxical wish for Toussaint’s recovery. Because Toussaint isn’t dead yet, Wordsworth could dearly wish him not to die: “die not” (line 6); “Live, and take comfort” (line 9). Again, it seems peculiar that Wordsworth asks the dying hero not to die. Compare, for example, the injunctions in Milton’s “Lycidas,” where he requests shepherds not to grieve for his dear friend’s death: “Weep no more, woeful Shepherds, weep no more.” Similarly using imperatives, Wordsworth, however, makes an impossible demand that a dying person stop dying. Wordsworth’s wish is thus not just wishful but almost paradoxical in that he acknowledges the impossibility of his demand. In asking a question, “where and when / Wilt thou find patience?” (lines 5-6), for instance, he suggests that Toussaint will soon find patience through death, as the ‘patience’ here means something close to the “calm, self-possessed waiting” (Oxford English Dictionary 1.c.), associated with martyrdom in Luke 21:19. Wordsworth’s presentiment of Toussaint’s death, moreover, is underscored by the word that follows this rhetorical question, “Yet” (line 6). By putting the contrastive conjunction before voicing his wish for Toussaint’s recovery (“Yet die not”), Wordsworth betrays his sense that, as he has all along expected, Toussaint would not improve in the end. Indeed, the paradox in Wordsworth’s wish is stated clearly after a few lines, when he speaks to Toussaint thus: “Though fallen Thyself, never to rise again,/ Live and take comfort” (lines 8).

Why, then, does Wordsworth express those futile wishes? Of course, they are expressions of his grief. In addition, I suggest that, in mourning Toussaint in such a particular way, Wordsworth attempts to make Toussaint a symbol of republican virtues or of “love, and Man’s unconquerable mind” (line 14). It is worth noting how Wordsworth reformulates his demand, “die not”: “do thou/ Wear rather in thy bonds a cheerful brow” (lines 6-7). What Wordsworth wishes for here is not so much Toussaint’s composure as the appearance of it. In other words, his insistence on taking a cheerful posture can be taken as an expression of his wish for posterity to remember Toussaint as such, that is, as embodiment of fortitude. Every act of mourning is directed to the living, not the dead, but it is particularly true in the poem. The poem is, in other words, about how one should remember Toussaint Louverture . Even nature will remember him, rather than merely bewailing his death (as it is natural in a pastoral elegy): “There’s not a breathing of the common wind/ That will forget thee” (lines 11-12). Yet, if one question is answered at this point, a series of questions follow: why does he write an elegy so as to make Toussaint a symbol? Why does he make it explicit that he makes him an embodiment of a certain value? Why does he mourn so conspicuously?

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Who Counts?: Women and the Title of “Traitor”

While researching primary documents for my bibliography, I stumbled upon a “Black List” of Tories printed in Pennsylvania in 1802. Though I doubted there would be any women among them, there was still that small seed of hope—and simple curiosity about what such a list looked like, since my research hours aren’t typically devoted to primary documents about the American Revolution. Unsurprisingly, there were no women listed, but rather a lot of men with names like John and James, and even Benedict Arnold.

The list demonstrates what a traitor looked like in the early republic: for the most part, white men of property. Such a list seems to counterintuitively (or, perhaps, intuitively) reinforce a definition of citizenship, for to betray one’s country, it follows that one has to belong to a country. Treason, by definition, is betraying one’s own country, one’s own people. However, in a revolution, these lines become blurred: what is being betrayed, and by whom, and in the interest of what? Who belongs where? What, precisely, is the “country” in question? One man’s treason is another man’s patriotism.

For the purposes of this post, I am specifically interested in the question of who can betray, because to ask who can betray also indicates who can belong. Women were infamously excluded from official citizenship in both the American and French constitutions, and yet there is ample evidence of women participating in revolution in varied and layered ways, “revolutionary” and “counter-revolutionary” alike. However, while women’s participation in revolutionary activity clearly was not enough to merit citizenship or recognition in either the American or French case, participating in counter-revolutionary efforts was, in revolutionary France at least, enough to be sent to the guillotine.

In the colonies, statutes on treason were uniformly gender neutral in using the term “persons,” thus understanding treason as a crime both men and women could commit. However, Linda Kerber writes that oaths of allegiance “seem almost always to have been selectively imposed on men” (358). Though it seems that opportunities to try women for treason were few, states had other legal avenues through which to root out and “test” loyalist women—or, rather, women who had been married to loyalist men. Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Virginia sought to determine a wife’s loyalty apart from her husband by way of property rights, only allowing a loyalist “widow” to claim her dower right (technically a third of her husband’s property) if she continued to reside in America. This option for recourse through the legal system in itself complicates a notion of citizenship (not to mention the principles of the revolution, given that the widows were only allowed their property if they reneged on any personally held convictions or hope of reuniting with family elsewhere). However, I haven’t found records of any women who were either arrested and/or executed for counter-revolutionary activity during the American Revolution and would welcome suggestions (though the case of Bathsheba Spooner has loyalist connections).

In France, conversely, numerous women were executed during the Terror. However, many women were arrested and executed in connection with their families’ sympathies. The legal notion of coverture, by which a woman was legally subsumed (and theoretically protected) under her husband also seemed to imply that she could be condemned with him; indeed, there are records of multiple generations of families, grandparents through grandchildren, being sent to the scaffold together. Even Madame Roland, a considerable threat to the Jacobins in her own right, was arrested at least partly as a political move against her husband. Roland was a radical writer and salonnière who was intimately connected with the Girondins. Her husband, Jean-Marie Roland, was a prominent politician who had fled Paris prior to the Terror. Madame Roland’s arrest and subsequent execution are considered to have been a part of Robespierre’s attempt to purge the Girondins, but, perhaps more importantly, to flush out her husband, who was in hiding. Jean-Marie Roland committed suicide shortly after hearing of his wife’s execution.

However, some women were arrested due to their own individual revolutionary activity, independent of marital status. Marie-Olympe de Gouges, author of the Declaration of the Rights of Woman, is a prime example. A longtime ally of the Girondins, she was also sympathetic to Marie-Antoinette and, in the face of the Jacobins’ increased radicalism, called for a more tempered government. In 1793, she published a pamphlet that considered a constitutional monarchy (among others) as a potential form of government, which led to her arrest and eventual execution. Her official charge was sedition and harboring monarchist sympathies—or, trying to overthrow the current state power (Madame Roland was similarly charged).

Though a direct comparison between American and French counter-revolutionary women would be a fraught enterprise, I think that comparing the cases side by side is highly suggestive. For one, both revolutions raise questions regarding the treatment of married women and the varied uses and implications of coverture (disregarding the fact that, as a legal doctrine, it is antithetical to the principles of both the American and French Revolutions). Moreover, there are both practical and theoretical distinctions between executing women en masse and officially naming them as traitors in a published document. Naming traitors years after the fact doesn’t only discredit the people named; it further articulates a discourse of proper citizenship and helps further the ever-evolving project of creating the ideal subject. It keeps names like “Benedict Arnold” in the air. When women were sent to the guillotine during the Terror, they were largely anonymous. Madame Roland and Marie-Olympe de Gouges were published writers and notable personalities, but in most cases, those women remain faceless, nameless—they are not remembered as traitors or counter-revolutionaries, but, rather, as victims of the Terror.

So, at the end of the day, when it comes to being a “traitor,” is it important to be named in order to be remembered? Can we think about this in connection with citizenship, and how being “counted” as a traitor connects to “counting,” in some respects, as a citizen?

Bibliography

Black List. A List of Those Tories who took part with Great Britain, In the Revolutionary
War, and Were Attained of High Treason, Commonly Called the Black List! To
which is Prefixed the Legal Opinions of Attorney Generals, McKean & Dallas
.
Philadelphia, 1802.

Kerber, Linda K. “The Paradox of Women’s Citizenship in the Early Republic: The Case
of Martin vs. Massachusetts, 1805.” The American Historical Review 97.2 (1992):
349-378.

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People, Sources, and Counterrevolution: Or, What to Do with Molly Brant

One of our seminar meetings last semester featured Kathleen DuVal, Amy Freund, and Emma Rothschild, who all shared work dealing with different aspects of “people and revolution.” In introducing her work, Kathleen DuVal spoke of the intrinsic appeal of biography when attempting to understand a significant event. By focusing on people, we can attempt not only to understand the event itself, but also to glimpse how people lived within that event – how they responded to it, how they influenced it, or simply how they coexisted with it. DuVal argued that the Age of Revolution was particularly ripe for a biographical approach to the study of events, in large part because the Enlightenment accentuated a focus on the individual, and on his or her perceptions of both their exterior and interior worlds. She then introduced her concept of “slightly important people” – individuals who have received little or no attention from historians, but who nevertheless allow us some new insight into the people and events that populated and punctuated their lives. They may be “slightly important” because of their occupations, because of the people with whom they interacted, or because of their accomplishments. But DuVal also suggested that this importance is largely connected to sources. People become “slightly important” when they leave behind a written record, allowing historians access to a life and an experience that would otherwise remain unknown.

But what happens when the sources just aren’t there? How else might an individual – slightly important or otherwise – enter into historical memory? This question has been on my mind for some time now, so I was delighted when the topic of people and absent sources entered into the discussion at our latest seminar meeting. The topic, counterrevolutions, also introduced the theme of people and counterrevolution, and we were tremendously lucky to have scholars Ada Ferrer, Marie-Hélène Huet, and Phillip Gould as our guests. All three challenged us to think more critically about our sources – to place them into a complex and evolving transatlantic context, to think about one piece in relation to an individual’s canon of work, and to interrogate the evolution of literary styles and symbols. But it was Ferrer’s work on the revolution in Cuba in 1812 that introduced me to the fascinating questions that can be asked – and in some cases, answered – when the source base is problematic. Or, as Ferrer demonstrates with the case of rebellion leader José Antonio Aponte’s book of drawings, when a key source may be missing altogether.

What, then, is a scholar to do? In the case of the Cuban rebellion, the absence of Aponte’s sketchbook does not mean that Aponte himself has been absent from the historical record, and it does not mean that he has been left out of (recent) historical inquiry. There are descriptions of the drawings, from Aponte himself, because Aponte was interrogated about his book before he was executed (though Ferrer points out that this source is far from unproblematic – with questions answered under duress, and a scribe mediating Aponte’s words). But the fact remains that historians have never seen the book – a fact that is inherently frustrating, but is at the same time (for me, at least), galvanizing.

Which finally leads me to a most intriguing – yet source-poor – counterrevolutionary figure: Molly Brant, a Mohawk woman who aided the British as an informant, most notably assisting in the British victory at the Battle of Oriskany in 1777. Using DuVal’s terminology, Brant could certainly be considered slightly important. She had influential family connections: she was the sister of war hero Joseph Brant, and the wife of Sir William Johnson, the Superintendent of Northern Indian Affairs. She lived in significant places, moving from her Mohawk village of Canajoharie (in present-day upstate New York), where her family hosted several important colonists, including Johnson, to Fort Niagara, where she helped maintain relations between the British military and the Iroquois. And without a doubt, Brant seized the possibilities the revolution provided her, transforming herself into a valuable, if unconventional, diplomat for Loyalist forces. Yet this slightly important woman produced no documents of her own. Like Aponte, she was important enough for her contemporaries to mention her, which has certainly helped carve out a (small) place for her in historical memory. In many ways she fits DuVal’s biographical imperative: she helps fill in the meaning of revolution, she allows us to understand war from another perspective, and most importantly, she provides insight into the opportunities that the American Revolution – or, perhaps, the rebellion – could create for an individual. And she fits nicely into Ferrer’s methodology, which refuses to be cowed by the absence of sources.

But what can we really do with Molly Brant’s obscure biography? If we are to accept that the lives of individuals can help us better understand the experience of (counter)revolution, then Molly’s role as a cultural and political go-between, representing both Mohawk and Loyalist interests, can give important insight into how the war allowed – or perhaps required – groups and individuals to reconstitute their alliances, and it demonstrates in particular how the Mohawk negotiated a changing political and strategic landscape. Through Brant we also see the opportunities that war could provide for women. But what else can Molly Brant do for us? What other questions should we be asking? How else can we mine sources, or constructively interrogate their absence? How can we rise to the challenges that she – and countless others – present?

Plaque in Ontario honoring the Loyalist Molly Brant.  Despite her "slight importance," there are no visual representations of her.

Plaque in Ontario honoring the Loyalist Molly Brant. Despite her “slight importance,” there are no visual representations of her.

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Counterrevolutions, Empires, and Canada

Encampment of the Loyalists in Johnstown, 1925, (after an original), National Archives of Canada
“Encampment of the Loyalists in Johnstown,” National Archives of Canada

When we think about the relationship between revolution and counterrevolution in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world, perhaps we should be thinking about Canada. Modern Canada’s constitutional foundations have their origins in the Constitutional Act of 1791 and the resettlement of thousands of Loyalist émigrés fleeing the American Revolution. The act split French Canada into two new provinces: Upper Canada–roughly corresponding to modern-day Ontario and predominantly British in character–and Lower Canada, analogous to modern-day Quebec and chiefly retaining its French culture. Each province received their own elected legislatures and legal structures, one based on British law and custom, the other following French precedents.

I propose to think about this new Canada as not one but three counterrevolutions. First, as a Loyalist counterrevolution. Although still yoked to the British Empire, the new Canada offered low taxes, cheap land, and a measure of republican government that promised to avoid the excesses of democracy that had threatened to overwhelm the American Revolution. The Crown also took measures to ensure the establishment of the Anglican church in Canada, putting an effective end to nearly two centuries of the “Catholic menace” in Quebec. In effect, the American Loyalists in Upper Canada succeeded in securing imperial support for many of their Patriot adversaries’ original goals.

But Canada was also a conservative imperial counterrevolution: with the 1791 Constitution, the Crown acted to prevent another American Revolution by firmly securing Canada within London’s imperial orbit. The new government strictly regulated the press, limited access to the electoral process, and encouraged the establishment of a new governing aristocracy unwavering in their allegiance to the monarchy. Each of these actions aimed at curbing the sources of friction that plagued the Crown’s relationship with the thirteen seceded provinces–inflammatory newspaper editorials, the growth of a recalcitrant upper class, and broadly-conceived constitutional rights concerning the sovereignty of the people. 1791 was the first test of a mixed imperial/constitutional government that became the hallmark of the new British Empire.

Finally, it might be possible to imagine Canada’s new constitution as a British counterrevolution in the face of an increasingly radical French Revolution. Edmund Burke, one of the act’s chief proponents, had published his counterrevolutionary pamphlet Reflections on the French Revolution the previous year. Burke and Parliament’s growing fear of the French mob might be one reason behind the clear division of Canada into separate British and French zones–if the Constitution’s concessions to republicanism proved inadequate to French Canadians, a divided populace would be easier to control. In any event, the new Canada emerged shortly after French Revolutionaries forced a reluctant Louis XVI to adopt the 1791 Constitution, severely limiting the powers of the French monarchy. Burke might have found this poetic.

What do we gain when we think about Canada as a counterrevolution? I will offer a transnational suggestion: as historian Alan Taylor has argued, acknowledging the existence of a second republican government on the American continent demands a re-conceptualization of the gains and limits of the American Revolution. In other words, can we now imagine a Canadian dimension to the 1787 Constitutional Convention and the “Revolutionary Settlement,” itself often described as an American counterrevolution? Similarly, how does Canada’s constitution compare with the Haitian constitutions promulgated between 1801 and 1816, and the French constitutions of 1791-1804? Is it noteworthy that in an age of constitutional turmoil, Canada emerged with a relatively solid government structure? If nothing else, the idea of Canada-as-counterrevolution insists that we include Canada in any transnational discussion of an Atlantic Age of Revolution.

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Impressions from the MFA: How to (Re)Present the Americas

Last Thursday’s visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, was a precious experience. It was one of our ‘laboratory’ sessions of the Sawyer seminar, and we spent most of our time seeing the “Art of Americas” wing, which displayed the artworks in the U.S. and other parts of North and South America. Not only the wing’s size but the beauty of its collection impressed me very much. And, above all, I admired the concept and organization of the wing itself. As the curators told us, the ‘Americas’ wing aimed to present the arts of both Americas in such a way to fully represent the U.S. history in the broader context of the Atlantic world. If the MFA had been oriented toward Boston and New England, they explained, it was making effort to be both more national and international by means of acquisition and rearrangement of artworks in the wing. The MFA’s ambition to represent the Americas in the plural, rather than ‘America’ (equated with the U.S.) alone, was what made our experience of artworks exciting, though it did not always achieve its ambitious goal.

One of my favorite works in the wing was the chairs, as they seemed to best exemplify the wing’s achievement. On the first floor of the wing, there was a row of the eighteenth-century chairs, which came from all over the U.S. and Barbados. If I had seen each of them by itself, I wouldn’t have been impressed as I was. There was something deeply instructive about the way in which the chairs were placed and presented. The presentation enabled me to compare different styles at a quick glance. Moreover, it stimulated my curiosity about the social and cultural contexts that underlied such a variety of style. I came to ask myself the questions concerning the relationship between the furniture’s appearances (shape, size, and color) and the regional peculiarities (such as climate, material wealth, social stability, and so on). For example, finding the chair from Barbados to be bigger than others, I wondered if its size would tell something of the opulence of the colony and perhaps of the need for magnificence in life style on white settlers’ part. In short, the display of the chairs was instructive in the best sense: thought-provoking.

Yet some parts of the Americas wing did not achieve this level of consistency in presentation. And the focus on geography, in particular, made it somewhat difficult for the artworks to be representative of the Americas. It was unfortunate that this innovative wing resorted to conventional ways of presenting arts by sticking to geography especially when it comes to South America. The ‘South America’ section on the first floor (Gallery 135, whose official name was “New Spain and the Spanish Tradition”) would be a case in point. It was the only gallery on the first floor that was devoted to the arts of South America, being surrounded by the galleries that featured those of colonial New England and the newly made United States. I believe I wasn’t the only one who could not quite understand the connection between the South America gallery and the adjacent ones. Nor could I get over the sense that various paintings, ornaments, and furniture were lumped together in this gallery just for the reason they came from South America, from Mexico, Cuba, and so on.

All of these impressions, then, point toward the fact that the theme-based, rather than the geography-oriented, organization of the wing would have been much more effective in representing the Americas. Some might object that all the museums have limited resources and, therefore, have the limits in achieving its mission statement. But I doubt that this is the case of the MFA. In my view, it is less a matter of the collection or acquisition than a matter of display and conceptualization. Suppose the MFA would create a gallery that is centered around the slavery and/or slave trade in the Atlantic world. The Cuban chest in the South America gallery, the grandeur of which we admired very much, then, will be placed in this new gallery, testifying the luxury based on the exploitation of slave labor. There, it won’t sit alone but will find a good company in a British plantation owner, William Beckford’s exquisite chest, which we actually found in the European arts wing. Furthermore, what if they would spare a room for ‘race’? It surely would provide the audience with good insights on the issue, demonstrating the diverse ways of representing races in North and South America. Do they have enough works for this gallery? What immediately comes to my mind are the costume paintings, again, in the South America gallery (but, alas, they are on loan), which portray a variety of racial types in the colonial society in South America. These paintings would go very well along with other American paintings on African or Native Americans around the same period. If it would take too much effort to adjust the organization of the permanent collection, a temporary exhibition would suffice for the time being to make the “Art of Americas” wing more representative and instructive.

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