Category History Methods

My interview on the Dangerously Good podcast

Ghost Tallies in the Census

In my previous post I explained that historians have overcounted slaves in the New York census of 1830. Instead of the traditional count of 75 or 76, I estimated that there were in fact only between 38 and 51 slaves actually tallied on the census forms. One reason for the latter-day counting error, evident in […]

Foreign Soldiers in the U.S. Civil War (Dutch, German, Danish, English, etc)

Last year, I and my two co-authors Anders Rasmussen and Robert Faith published an article (in the well-regarded Journal of American Ethnic History) about foreign-born men who were forced against their will into the Union army during the American Civil War. In 1862-1863, at the peak of “impressment” claims, over one thousand men complained that […]

What is “Dad History”? Giving a Label to a Popular Genre of History Writing

About  a week ago, there was an active post on the r/History subreddit about “Dad History.” Some of the responses suggest that the original post had just coined the term “Dad History”, and this may very well be the case, because I find little use of the term elsewhere online. Dad History is mostly “Blokes, […]

Book Review: Marcus Collins and Peter N. Stearns, Why Study History? (London Publishing Partnership)

University history class enrollments are down nationwide and fewer students are majoring in history. Now is the time for a book to come along to save history departments, or at least to provide good arguments for students to major in history so that history departments can flourish again. This book, directed at undergraduate students who […]

Book Review: David Kaiser, A Life in History (Mount Greylock Books, 2019)

David Kaiser,  A Life in History (Mount Greylock Books, 2019) This autobiography is organized around a central question that preoccupies the author’s life: “Why could I not get tenure in a history department at an elite university?”  The answer, Kaiser suggests, is two-fold. First, generational conflict between the Silent Generation and his own Boomer Generation […]

Book Review: William Caferro, Teaching History (Wiley-Blackwell, 2020)

This book might be categorized as a memoir or more precisely a set of reflections about teaching history. It is only secondarily a guide or how-to book about teaching history. Caferro has been teaching history at the university-level for 35 years. He graduated from Yale, began his career as an adjunct teacher, taught for a […]

Review of Richard Bell, Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped Into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home (Simon & Schuster, 2019)

In the summer of 1825, five free black boys were kidnapped in Philadelphia and sold as slaves in the South. Each had been lured to a ship at the harbor with promises of good pay to help unload fruit. The con man they followed was an African American, John Purnell, who earned high wages working […]

Metal detecting and material culture

When I was much younger, I interned for 4 months at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. It was about that time when I discovered “material culture” as a field of study. As a historian raised on a steady diet of old papers, I couldn’t make much sense out of material culture. It seemed to me […]

A Self-Lynching Slave or a lesson in textual criticism?

A peer-reviewer suggests I consult a certain digital history website. The website no longer exists. God damn digital humanities. Anyway, looking further at the guy who supposedly built a great website in 2018, I find this text from 1767 and an attempt at explaining it: Is he serious? Is this actually his interpretation (below) of […]