In the Spring of 2017, Jane Kamensky (HIST) and Pete Pellizzari (TF) worked with ten undergraduate students enrolled in a course called "HIST 1002: The American Revolution" at Harvard University. Each student was assigned a place in the British Atlantic world: five mainland colonies that would eventually fall within the boundaries of what would become the United States and five colonies scattered across the Atlantic touching the Caribbean, Nova Scotia, Europe, and Africa. Enmeshed in networks of trade, culture, and war, all of these places are connected in one way or another. Each speaks to the regional diversity, interdependence, immense scale, and overall complexity of Britain’s eighteenth-century empire.
Each of the exhibits is made up of three individual essays. The first analyzes the place itself, focusing on visual representations in contemporary maps and printed material. What are the local characteristics of the place and how does it relate economically, politically, socially, or otherwise to the larger British Atlantic world? The second essay examines an object or set of objects that come from or pass through the place. Organized around a close, analytical reading of revolutionary era objects, these essays investigate where and how “things” are connected to place and space, and what their role is within wider transatlantic streams of trade, labor, and material culture. The final essay focuses on the people that inhabited these places; their lives, their social status, and their connection to colonial America and the British empire.
Below are brief introductions to each of the ten places that the class examined as well as the course syllabus. Thank you for visiting! We hope you explore the objects and exhibits further!
Jamaica, Britain’s wealthiest colony, had a lot to lose by joining the rebellious colonies, namely commercial and security advantages offered by the British empire. Not surprisingly, the two drew closer together.
Early maps depicting plans to expand South Carolina illustrate Charleston’s importance as a metropolitan hub during the revolution. Charleston’s aristocrats were some of the wealthiest people in the colonies, and the city attracted artisans from all over because people could afford to pay for their luxury items.
Newbern, North Carolina represented a meeting point between the North and the South. A provincial town with river access to the Atlantic, Newbern was an important trading port in North Carolina, published and circulated the transatlantic North Carolina Gazette, and was particularly well-connected to both Charleston and Philadelphia.
Germantown held an important place in the 18th-century world. It stood as an agricultural and manufacturing hub, producing fine linens and leather. Additionally, Germantown, located just six miles from Philadelphia, emerged as intellectual leader in the Revolutionary period. The town precociously condemned slavery; it was a haven for immigrants, especially Germans. Additionally, the city attracted many of the leaders of the colonies, who owned homes in the countryside. During wartime, Germantown became a site of warfare including the famous Battle of Germantown in which the Continental Army threatened the British possession of Philadelphia in 1777.
At the time of the Revolution, Albany was a frontier city. At the interface between the Iroquois confederacy and the bustling port of New York City, Albany both retained its identity as a former Dutch settlement and served as a point of exchanges of culture, goods, and diplomacy. Its position on the Hudson River and proximity to major Canadian forts also made it a strategically important position, evinced by the movement of British troops toward the area in 1777 campaign.
Situated on Aquidneck island in the colony of Rhode Island, Newport was a coastal city and featured an important port which dominated much of the city's landscape. Newport, Rhode Island was also the center of the Battle of Rhode Island in August, 1778. The battle ended in a modest British victory and was one of the earliest examples of cooperation between the Americans and the French during the American War of Independence.
Halifax, Nova Scotia is located on the coast of what we refer to today as Canada, just north of Maine. The British won the territory from the French after the 7 Years War. During the Revolution it was a British naval base and seaport and became a refuge for Loyalist soldiers and civilians during and after the war.
At the time of the Revolution, Bristol, England, was a mid-sized seaport on the western coast, grounded in global trade systems by its economic ties west into the American colonies, south into Africa, and east into the heart of England. A hub for shipping and manufacturing, Bristol’s investments in the Revolution were motivated by its reliance on the Atlantic trade network and cultural connections to British colonies all over the world. Throughout the eighteenth century, Bristol’s upper class saw itself as a crucial voice in English politics and society and did its best to make itself heard across the world.
Located at the bottom tip of Spain and the entryway to the Mediterranean, Gibraltar was a strategically important location that saw competing attention by European powers during the 18th century. Britain had taken Gibraltar during the 1704 War of Spanish Succession, and this wound smarted angrily in the minds of the Spanish. During the American Revolutionary War these competing interests came to a head, and British Gibraltar was besieged by Spanish and French forces from 1779 to 1783. No American combatants fought in the Siege, and all the fighting was located outside the limits of colonial America.
Senegal was one of the centers of the massive slave trade that fueled much of the British expansion that occurred in the 18th century. The capture and forced removal of humans from this region in West Africa provided a cheap labor source for the empire and played an integral role in the transatlantic trade that tied England to her colonies in North America and the Caribbean.