Last week, I posted a recap of the American Revolution Reborn Conference, the first conference dedicated to the study of the American Revolution since 1976. This week, I will share how the conference has helped me to rethink my research and how I plan to apply its ideas to my scholarship. Like my recap, the ideas gained from this conference are too many for one post. This comprises the first of a 2-post series.
As I listened to the commentary on the pre-circulated papers and conference themes, I couldn’t help but think about my own work. Is my 1750-1830 periodization of the Revolution too big? Can I understand how the people of Albany, New York experienced the Revolution and War for Independence without paying attention to the arguments of the Revolution’s causation? How do the themes of Global Perspectives, Civil War, Violence, and Power apply to how the Albanians experienced and understood the Revolution and War for Independence?
I have let these questions percolate in my brain for nearly 2 weeks and have drawn the following conclusions.
Conference participants called for both an expansion and narrowing of the Revolutionary period. Those who advocated expansion primarily discussed starting the period at 1775 and ending it at 1825. Those who argued for narrowing the period prefer 1774-1787. A few scholars even discussed expanding the period backwards to 1750.
I believe that to understand the Revolution in Albany, I must begin in 1756, the year many Albanians began to question their place in the British Empire. In 1756, Lord Loudoun arrived in Albany. Loudoun and his fellow British officers treated the Albanians as foreigners, not as fellow Britons. Albanians strove to demonstrate their Britishness during and after the war. Yet when they failed to convince Britons of their Britishness, a majority of Albanians opted to join (or at least not hinder) the patriots’ war.
The Albanians participated in the Revolution and fought in the war to find acceptance and a national identity. They did not complete their quest until ca. 1830. Therefore, I must date Albany’s Revolution as taking place from 1756 to roughly 1830.
I do not believe that scholars can separate the causes of the Revolution from how Americans and Britons experienced the war. The ideology that caused the Albanians to support (or not hinder) the Revolution shaped how they perceived and endured its events.
While some Albanians discussed “republican ideals," most viewed the Revolution in less grand terms. For the majority in Albany the Revolution and war centered on questions: How do we safeguard our local sovereignty? What does it mean to be British, are we British? How can we find acceptance and inclusion in a national identity? These ideas shaped how Albanians experienced the war.
I believe historians can best use a global perspective when examining the causes and legacy of the Revolution. However, I am not convinced that such a large and international viewpoint will provide great insight into how Americans experienced the Revolution, which became the central theme of the conference.
The Albanians participated in the larger Atlantic and western North American world through trade before the Revolution. During the Revolution and War for Independence, they followed the actions of the Continental Congress and hoped for international aid, but they focused most of their attention and efforts on the politics of military supply, fortifications, and ways to keep their community safe. For the Albanians the Revolution and War for Independence constituted local experiences.
Please check-in tomorrow for more on how I plan to apply the lessons of the American Revolution Reborn Conference to my scholarship.
I've shared my thoughts on how to tackle periodization, causation, and global perspectives when it comes to studying the Revolution, please leave a comment to share yours.