Topics of expertise
I am primarily interested in the Age of Revolutions, print culture, early North American political cultures, and Atlantic history.
Information in the Age of Revolutions
My first book project focuses on how North Americans learned about the revolutionary events of the Atlantic world in the late eighteenth century. How did news flows mediate between North Americans’ experience of “revolution” abroad and the actual events in places such as Paris, Port-au-Prince, Dublin, and Amsterdam? How did war, commerce, and even bad weather shape the news that Americans received, and how did this, in turn, shape their political responses to revolutionary events?
History of Bullshit
My second book project underway asks how the United States became submerged in a particular epistemic condition characterized by far too much of what philosopher Harry Frankfurt called “Bullshit.”
“The Reign of Error: The French Revolution and North American Information Politics, 1789–1795,” (Journal of the Early Republic, Fall 2019).
Why did Canadians and Americans experience the French Revolution so differently? Historians have usually attributed their perceptions of this event to ideological commitments. In this article, I argue that a significant, and largely unnoticed, part of this story involves the flow of news into these spaces. As a dataset of newspaper citations reveals, American observers engaged with significantly more news that arrived directly from France which reflected a revolutionary orthodoxy, while Canadians relied more heavily on Francophobic reports from London.
“Enquire of the Printer: North American Newspaper Printers, Advertising, and the Moral Economy of the Slave Trade, 1704–1807,” (forthcoming from Early American Studies).
Historians have long recognized that newspaper printers actively participated in maintaining the slave system in the United States. The thousands and thousands of runaway slave ads and slave sale ads printed in early American newspapers attests to this fact. But scholars have not paid much notice to another kind of advertisement that appeared in nearly every long-running eighteenth-century newspaper: slave sale ads that put the printer forward as the sale’s broker. These ads sparked a considerable amount of backlash in the late eighteenth-century, as some antislavery readers recognized the incongruity between printers as slave brokers and as agents of revolutionary politics.
“The Literati and the Illuminati: Atlantic Knowledge Networks and Augustin Barruel’s Conspiracy Theories in the United States, 1794–1800,” (forthcoming from Studies in Book Culture, Dec. 2019).
In the last few years of the eighteenth century, many North Americans came to accept a conspiracy theory originating from the works of a French Jesuit priest named Augustin Barruel. A cabal of Freemasons called “the Illuminati” did not, in fact, hatch the French Revolution. Nor did they scheme to subvert the United States afterwards. But as unreasonable as these claims seem today, they seemed plausible at the time. Other accounts of the so-called “Illuminati scare” emphasize the “paranoid” or conspiratorial mentality of the era. But an examination of the era’s knowledge production processes and the epistolary networks of Jedidiah Morse, the theory’s biggest American booster, reveals that a significant amount of evidence supported the theory according to the era’s epistemological norms.