Archive for the ‘Catching Up’ Category

It’s a whole new year of dissertating!

January 24, 2011

2010 ended with a burst of utter unproductivity on my part. Illness, the holidays, and general fatigue with the topic all played a part, and as it turned out I was unable to finish Chapter 3 before the year ended. I think I had dramatically underestimated just how much I had to fit into this chapter, and how much care would be needed in juggling it all! Then 2011 began with an amazing treat, a God Street Wine excursion on Jam Cruise, where I got to play 2 shows, watch dozens of others, and enjoy a weeklong, no-kids vacation with Lisa on a cruise ship surrounded by fans and musicians.

Returning to Princeton in a phase of unwelcome winterish weather, I first got caught up in the job search for American Revolution junior scholars, and then, slowly, returned to the world of Chapter 3 and the trials of Laussat.

I expect to finally finish the chapter tomorrow, although it may take an extra day of polishing before I’m ready to send it off to my advisers and readers. Looking it over I think it’s pretty good, definitely my best chapter yet, and the first one to be based on truly original research (the first two mainly synthesized historiography). It is also long; it will be over 14,000 words I think when finished.

I do have high hopes that Chapter 4 will be easier; one reason is that it will be based, at least in part, on the Omohundro paper I presented last June on The Dreamers. More thoughts on that as I get into it!

Still making progress

November 30, 2010

Well, okay, posting at Crescent City Confidential has dropped off to nothingness. But I am still writing a dissertation. At this point I’m about 6,500 words into chapter 3, and will definitely finish it this week.

Chapter 3 is underway

November 8, 2010

Well, I have neglected CCC for a couple weeks. I finished a draft of Chapter 2, and also polished up Chapter 1, about the end of last month. Now I am well into my note-taking and outlining for Chapter 3, on Laussat and the transfer of power in 1803. I should take today, Tuesday, and Wednesday to finish this (Still have to assemble notes from Laussat’s Memoirs and the HNOC papers, plus the Robertson volume and a couple other things) and start writing the chapter on Thursday the 11th. I also will be meeting with David Bell on Wednesday to discuss the question of what a Napoleonic Louisiana might have looked like; and going to see Caitlin Fitz’s McNeil paper on Friday about American impressions of Spanish colonial independence struggles and slave emancipation. Hoping to have Chapter 3 in the can before Thanksgiving.


October 13, 2010

Moving, for me, never fails to be a disruptive, unsettling experience. We moved in to our new house the weekend of the 1st and 2nd, but it has pretty much interrupted my dissertation work for 10 days, until today. Unpacking things from boxes; cleaning; arranging furniture; putting stuff in storage; buying new things. It all takes time and all has to be done in consultation with Lisa. So I basically lost a week.

Today I got back on track with over 1,000 words and a good plan, finally, for how to arrange this second chapter. Schedule to revised soon, but I think I can catch up in the next week or so.

Catching Up: Origins, I

May 13, 2009

Catching Up: a new category to explain things I’ve done in the year (+) before I had the brilliant idea to start this blog. This post is the first of a few that will explain how I originally got involved with my topic.

Like most of the best moments of my life, this one took place on the softball field, the summer of 2007, after I’d just finished my first year of grad school.

I was chatting with Michael Gordin, a now-tenured (congratulations, Michael) then-junior faculty member in the History of Science, who taught me in History 500, and who has written a couple cool books about the origins of the nuclear arms race. As I explained to Michael, I’d become interested in the broad question of why the United States expanded: why the U.S. didn’t remain confined east of the Appalachians, while the western territories remained in the hands of European colonial powers, Indian nations, and/or become new independent settler republics. Any of those outcomes were very real possibility, and I’d become convinced that the continent-wide superpower that emerged after 1850 was not a predetermined or even the most likely outcome from the perspective of the generation that lived through Revolution and Constitution.

And Michael asked a very logical, straightforward question: “That’s all about 1803, right?” In other words, it’s all about the Louisiana Purchase, in which the US doubled its land mass for $12.5 million in the diplomatic deal of all time with cash-strapped Napoleonic France. In other words, there’s no real mystery about why the US became a continental power: it was because of the fortunate accident of the Louisiana Purchase.

And I was crestfallen: how simple it seemed, and how empty and simple my fascinating question sounded, in light of Michael’s obvious reaction.

But as I thought about it more, I started to think … No. It was not, in fact, all about 1803. The movement to attach Louisiana, and thus the West, to the new nation, was a project that began well before Robert R. Livingston arrived in Paris in spring ’03 and started making cash offers. And, even more importantly, it was not a process that was finalized in any meaningful way by the signing of the Louisiana Treaty. In a way, that was not the end of the process, but only the beginning.

The agreement that gave the U.S. a vast (and vaguely defined) chunk of the North American interior was the dubious, hasty covenant of two Revolutionary states, seen as illegitimate by the crowned heads of Britain, Spain, Prussia, Austria, and Russia. It not only had not been agreed to, but was vigorously objected to, by the actual power occupying Louisiana: Spain. It took no account or recognizance whatsoever of the Indian population that was, in fact, the only population on most of the territory’s square miles. Nor did it ask the consent of the only major concentration of European-descended inhabitants of the territory, the French-speaking, Catholic Spanish subjects of New Orleans and its immediate hinterland.

Attaching this territory and this population to the revolutionary republic that was the United States was not the product of a few pen strokes in Paris, but the work of thousands of people over several decades. It involved varying degrees of coercion, violence, persuasion, and diplomacy, and a considerable degree of yielding to powerful local interests. (In fact it can much better be understood in terms of co-opting and cooperating with local elites than in terms of Washington “ruling” a distant colony.) The Battle of New Orleans, on January 8th, 1815, was a major watershed event in the story; but the process was not really complete until 1820, when the Senate ratified the Transcontinental Treaty resolving the western border of Louisiana and giving the Floridas to the United States.

My dissertation won’t tell this entire story: only the New Orleans part of it, how the process of attachment to the U.S. intersected with the simultaneous process of the growth of a great commercial city. But the larger story will always be in the background, providing a frame and context for the local phenomena I’ll be looking at.

And for these ideas I thank Michael (who I’m sure has no recollection of this incident), and that pleasant June day on the softball field.