Big history is making a comeback in the subfield of early American history. Or perhaps I should say that bigger history is once again of interest to scholars and, as an acquisitions editor, I am seeing exemplary work that shows what can be accomplished when one takes on the challenge of offering a more grand and sweeping account of events.
The contrast here is with the more fine-grained, local, and sometimes fragmentary work that came to the fore in the decades-long rise of social and cultural history. Rightfully weary of the big histories of famous men, military conflicts, and affairs of state, historians turned to the particularities of events and personal experience. In so doing they did scholars and lay readers alike a great service by putting us in contact with the daily and intimate aspects of history (often using diaries and court records), the experience of lesser-known historical actors (often women and people of color), and informal practices that structured experience (often unregulated markets, social networks, and resistance movements). And, as a result, today no one can do legitimate research and write meaningful narratives while overlooking these rich dimensions of historical experience. Continue reading “Outbox: Trends in the History of Early New York”→
As I wrote about the histories of working-class smoking, tobacco control, and nicotine addiction in my book, Clearing the Air: The Rise and Fall of Smoking in the Workplace, I was often reminded of my own difficult past as a heavily addicted cigarette smoker. In fact, the project stemmed from two important sources: first, my discovery of unique documents that detailed the history of working-class smoking practices at Hammermill Paper Company in Erie, Pennsylvania, during 1915; and the insights gained from my own hellish experiences with nicotine addiction. For eleven years, throughout what was my twenties, I was a regular smoker who came to know very well the power of addiction and how tobacco use facilitated challenges to managers’ authority at work.
I began smoking as a new student in college in order to socialize with other individuals who happened to be smokers: in other words, I started using tobacco to fit in with a new peer group. My addiction to nicotine unfolded very quickly, occurring over a period of no more than a month in the fall semester of 1992. Sadly, I took to smoking very, very easily. By December 1992, toward the end of my first semester in college, I needed nearly a pack of cigarettes every day in order to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Continue reading “The Labor of Addiction: A Personal History of Smoking in the Workplace”→