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USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute celebrates its 1,000th event

Attracting more than 50 scholars, the institute hosts a conference on early American history

Fort Sumter, early american history
In the early dawn of April 12, 1861, a mortar shell burst over Fort Sumter, inaugurating the American Civil War. (Artist George Edward Perine)

Twelve scholars in early American history and culture presented papers on subjects ranging from the history of slavery to the development of capitalism at the 12th annual conference of the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute (EMSI).

Titled “World and Ground: New Early American Histories,” the conference was held March 6-7 on the University Park Campus.

”The conference theme refers to studies that use close, on-the-ground analyses of particular places or events to interrogate or illuminate larger interpretative paradigms, such as the Atlantic World, the rise of the nation-state and the spread of early modern empires,” said Peter Mancall, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities and Linda and Harlan Martens Director of EMSI.

The conference attracted more than 50 scholars, including faculty members and Ph.D. students from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and other area institutions, as well as long-term fellows at the Huntington Library. It marked EMSI’s 1,000th scholarly presentation since its founding in 2003.

Assessing the field

The idea for the event sprang from EMSI’s annual workshop that meets each May at The Huntington in conjunction with The William and Mary Quarterly, the leading journal in early American history and culture. This partnership began in 2004 and has led to 10 articles in the journal.

We thought this would be a good time to step back and assess the field more broadly.

Peter Mancall

“We thought this would be a good time to step back and assess the field more broadly,” said Mancall, professor of history and anthropology, and vice dean for the humanities. “We invited scholars whose work is at the cutting edge of early American history. The idea was to cut across topics and regions by using ‘world-and-ground’ methodology.”

According to Mancall, the broad geographical reach of the papers submitted confirmed that what used to be the focus of early American history — the 13 colonies along the Atlantic coast — has expanded to include the Southwest, Canada and the Caribbean. One scholar even included Mauritius in her paper.

The conference speakers will contribute their essays to a peer-reviewed volume titled “World and Ground” to be published by a leading academic press.

Other topics covered during the conference included the history of slavery, the development of colonial forts, antiquarian collecting practices and legal history. Rather than looking at localized studies to understand one area, the conference examined what a particular place can tell us about other general patterns, Mancall said. One example was a case study of Boston that enabled participants to examine how capitalism emerged in North America.

Participants were entertained with musical performances of historic music by USC Thornton School of Music students and alumni, including 18th-century sea shanties and a pirate ballad.

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USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute celebrates its 1,000th event

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