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Early-American History

Graduate Study in Early American History

About the Program

The course of study in Colonial, Revolutionary-era, and Early National American history, c. 1492-1820, is designed to provide a comprehensive foundation for research and teaching. It is also intended to be sufficiently flexible for specialization in one of a variety of ways that best suits a student's needs and interests. In our program, you may pursue the study of Early America as part of a concentration in American history or in the history of Early Modern Europe. Most graduate programs at other universities offer only one or the other, but not both options.

Whichever focus you choose, the core component of your graduate study will be with the faculty in Early American history: Paul G. E. Clemens, James Delbourgo, Jan. E. Lewis, Peter Silver, and Camilla Townsend. You are also encouraged to work with our faculty in Early Modern Europe: Rudy Bell, Alastair Bellany,  and Jennifer Jones; as well as with Early American and Early Modern specialists in other departments, such as Emily Bartels and Christopher Iannini in English, and in History at Rutgers-Camden, Andrew Shankman.

As a student in the Early American history program, you will take the introductory reading course: PDR I: North America from the Era of European Expansion to the United States, 16th-18th Centuries. You will also take at least one writing seminar and three additional courses in either American history, early American literature (in the English department) or Early Modern European history. You will also define a minor field and take two courses in that historical concentration. Some possible minor fields in related areas include, but are not limited to, Comparative and Global History, History of the Atlantic Cultures and African Diaspora,  Colonial Latin American History, and American and/or English literature of the eighteenth century. 




Faculty in Early American History

The core faculty in the Early American History program are:

Paul G. E. Clemens (Ph.D., Wisconsin-Madison, 1974)

Paul G. E. Clemens is Professor of History at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, New Jersey, where he teaches colonial and American Revolutionary history as well as constitutional history. He has worked on the Atlantic economy, the history of the colonial Chesapeake region, early American material culture, and colonial labor systems. In addition to colonial history, he has an interest in American legal and constitutional history, and is currently at work on studies of the 1924 Leopold and Loeb kidnapping and murder case, and the legal challenges to wolf reintroduction in the national parks of the West. His most recent publications include “The Consumer Culture of the Middle Atlantic, 1760-1820,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d. ser., LXII (October 2005), 577-620 and Colonial America: A History in Documents, edited (Malden, MA and Oxford, England, Blackwell Publishing, 2008).

James Delbourgo (Ph.D., Columbia, 2003)

Delbourgo is a cultural historian of early modern science and the Atlantic world. He has published A most amazing scene of wonders: electricity and enlightenment in early America (Harvard, 2006), recipient of Harvard’s Thomas J. Wilson Prize, and co-edited with Nicholas Dew, Science and empire in the Atlantic world (Routledge, 2008). He is currently writing a book on Hans Sloane, collecting and empire in the eighteenth century. He welcomes interest from graduate students who wish to work in the following areas: early modern science and themes in science and technology studies, especially in relation to colonial, global and cross-cultural knowledges; natural sciences in North America from settlement to the Civil War, and in the Caribbean islands; early modern British Atlantic world; early modern travel, ethnography, geography and race; the history of collecting, museums and objects; the Enlightenment in Atlantic perspective.

Jan Ellen Lewis (Ph.D., Michigan, 1977)

Lewis is a member of the Rutgers-Newark/NJIT faculty as well as the Rutgers-New Brunswick graduate faculty. Her work explores the intersections among race, gender, family, and politics in the early Republic.  She is the author of The Pursuit of Happiness: Family and Values in Jefferson's Virginia (1983), and co-editor of The Revolution of 1800: Democracy, Race, and the New Republic, (2002); Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson: History, Memory, and Civic Culture (1999); and An Emotional History of the United States, (1998). Her most recent essays are “Defining the Nation: National Security and Civil Liberties in the United States, 1790-1898,” in Daniel Farber, ed., Security v. Liberty: conflicts Between Civil Liberties and National Security in American History (2008) and  “The Three-Fifths Clause and the Origins of Sectionalism,” in Paul Finkelman and Donald R. Kennon, eds., Congress and the Emergence of Sectionalism: From the Missouri Compromise to the Age of Jackson (2008).

Peter Silver (Ph.D., Yale, 2001)

Silver is an early American historian, with special interests in comparative colonial and imperial histories, American Indian history, and religious history.  He is the author of Our Savage Neighbors: How Indian War Transformed Early America (W. W. Norton & Co., 2007), which was awarded the Bancroft Prize and the Mark Lynton History Prize for 2008.  His current book project—with the working title A Rotten Colossus: Spanish and British America in the War of Jenkins’s Ear—will offer a single integrated analysis of the remarkable flurry of events—from nearly uncontrolled immigration and real and fancied slave revolts, to invasion panics, disastrous military expeditions, and widespread religious revival—that unfolded in and around North America and the Caribbean between about 1735 and 1745.  Drawing on source material in Spanish and English and emphasizing geographic areas where the the two would-be imperial powers’ activities overlapped, it attempts to give a new account of what kinds of interactions between Natives, Europeans, and Africans made for the most sustainable empires. He offers coursework in colonial and revolutionary North American history, Native history, and the history of the Atlantic world, and has advised doctoral work on mid-Atlantic cities, public health, and eighteenth-century political culture; consumerism in Iroquoia; the seventeenth-century Chesapeake’s Atlantic dimensions; slave conspiracy scares; and the extension of early United States sovereignty over Louisiana, but welcomes students with interests in a wide variety of early modern Atlantic and Native topics.

Camilla Townsend (Ph.D., Rutgers, 1995)

Townsend studies formative experiences in the Americas, both North and South, focusing particularly on Native American history and Native-European interactions. Her first book, Tales of Two Cities: Race and Economic Culture in Early Republican North and South America (Texas, 2000) was a comparative study of the divergent paths taken by the two regions, ultimately point toward the need for more work on the earliest generations after contact. She then wrote a pair of interrelated books, Pocahontas and the Powhatan Dilemma (Hill & Wang, 2004) and Malintzin’s Choices: An Indian Woman in the Conquest of Mexico (New Mexico, 2006), both prize-winning studies that attempt to illuminate new methodologies in studying silenced native peoples, especially women.  Since 1998, she has also been engaged in work on Nahuatl (or Aztec) language sources, which offer the most effective path open to us toward understanding indigenous perspectives independently from those of Europeans. Thanks to grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Philosophical Society, and most recently, the Guggenheim Foundation, she has been able to publish widely on the topic and has now almost completed a major work on the histories the Aztecs wrote for their own posterity—without reference to Spaniards—in the first century after the military conquest. Due to her wide-ranging research interests, she has worked with graduate students on early Native-European interactions in places as far from each other as New England, South Carolina and Colombia, as well as on projects involving the experiences of Africans in the New World.



Associated Faculty Specializing in Early America

Emily BARTELS (Department of English)

16th-century English perceptions of Africa, Elizabethan drama.  Recently published “Too Many Blackamoors: Deportation, Discrimination, and Elizabeth I,” SEL (2006).

Christian IANNINI (Department of English)

18th Century Literature and History.  Working on study, Fatal Revolutions: Caribbean Natural History, Atlantic Slavery and the Routes of Early American Literature.

Myra JEHLEN (Department of English)

Early American literature, feminist criticism

Andrew SHANKMAN (Department of History, Rutgers-Camden)

Early National Period.  Recently published Crucible of American Democracy: The Struggle to Fuse Egalitarianism and Capitalism in Jeffersonian Pennsylvania

Associated History Faculty

Rudolph M. BELL

Italian history, cultural history

Alastair James BELLANY

Early modern Britain

Jennifer JONES

French history, women's history



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