In which I miss studying early modern America

I’ve mentioned a few times on here that I tended towards the early modern period for my BA and MA, and switched to 1850-1950 for my PhD purely to make the ‘only children’ idea viable.  I still carry a torch for the early modern period, as demonstrated by my decision to teach on the first-year course.  In my third year of my BA, my special subject was ‘The English in America, 1607-92′, and a few things I’ve come across and read recently have reminded me of what I learned and how interesting I found it.

The first of these is comes from my teaching.  This course, naturally, has kept the early modern period in my thoughts for the past few months, but a few weeks ago, I taught a couple of seminars on the Spanish Conquest.  Although I didn’t really know about the Spanish side of things, having stuck with the English as the title of the course mentioned above suggests, a lot of my old knowledge sprung to the surface, and hopefully enhanced the lessons.  The reading was really interesting to me, and I was able to relate the two types of settlers by things they had in common: wanting to spread their particular religion, wanting to make money, how well they survived, and to what extent they made a pig’s ear of communicating with the Native Americans.  I even ended up telling my students about desperate English settlers turning to cannibalism, and ruining the story of Pocahontas for them.

The second was reading Edward Rutherfurd’s New York.  Despite having enjoyed another huge book of his, _London, _I took a long time to get round to reading _New York _for one reason and another.  This book spans 350+ years of a fictional family’s history, and is over 1,000 pages long, but I devoured it - especially the early parts, where the English and Dutch families had not been living there long, and still had relatively extensive connections with home despite the distance.  I found myself thinking ‘I remember this detail!’ as well as recalling my work on the retention of English identity and whether the Atlantic connected or divided.  I was surprised I remembered so much, actually.

The third came up on a trip to the Essex Record Office with the first-year students that I ended up partially covering earlier this week.  One of the sessions aimed to teach them some palaeography, and to this end they were given a letter from a Quaker settler in Pennsylvania to translate.  While they (and I!) struggled over the words, the content of the letter struck me as really interesting, and, as the archivist pointed out, not something you’d expect to come across in a county archive.  Apparently not much has been done with this collection of letters, which is a crime quite frankly!  I’d love to work with them if I could come up with an angle.  I’m pretty sure any future work I do (if I get to choose) will focus on the quality of family relationships, so perhaps they reveal something about those?  I think I may have been more inspired by the trip than some of the students!

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About Alice Violett

Reader of books, player of board games, lover of cats, editor of web content, haver of PhD.

Colchester, UK