Friday, March 04, 2011

Report from SEA: Day 1

As I mentioned, I'm in Philadelphia this week for the Society of Early Americanists meeting, which is going excellently so far! I got into town Wednesday afternoon and spent a few hours at City Hall in a fruitless search for a couple probate files (more about which when I can write about that experience without saying things I shouldn't), then SEA kicked things off with a walking tour of Ben Franklin's Philadelphia and the evening's opening reception.

Yesterday we had panel sessions through the day: in the morning I attended "Preserving History in the New Nation," with great papers by Alea Henle, Whitney Martinko and Simon Gilhooley. Whitney discussed how some early promoters and settlers of the Ohio Valley region incorporated native mounds and features into their town designs and publicized them as "American antiquities." Alea looked at the preservation of Revolution-era papers and other materials in the early republic, noting the oft-used phrase "rescuing from oblivion" and delving into just what that meant.

The second panel session of the morning was "Early American Sentimentalism and Religion," which featured papers by Laura Stevens on James Walcot's The New Pilgrim's Progress, or, the Pious Indian Convert (which I'm going to have to read, since on Googling it I discovered that Walcot mentions Bermuda early in the book, in the context of the "Indian college" that was proposed for the island), Meredith Neuman on mediocre sentimentalist verse, and Abram Van Engen on the religious influences in William Hill Brown's The Power of Sympathy. Lawrence Zellner capped off the panel with a discussion of religious enthusiasm in Harret Beecher Stowe's historical novels.

In the afternoon the roundtable discussion on early American libraries that I organized for the conference was held; while there were six of us with lots to say and we went over time a bit, all the papers seemed well received and we got some good questions at the end (which prompted some excellent followup conversations throughout the evening).

Following the panel discussions we decamped for twin receptions at the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, where we got short introductions to the collections at each place, plus time to chat and socialize with the group. Because SEA is such a diverse bunch (book historians, literature folks, art historians, you name it!) it's a really excellent conference for cross-pollination and discussions across/among disciplines, as well as in-depth conversations over dinners and walks.

And now, off to the Friday panels, plus a visit to my friends at PRB&M before the evening's plenary sessions at the American Philosophical Society.

No comments: