Reflection from Guest Curator Samuel Birney

I will admit this project was a new challenge for me as an historian. I have done research for essays and, for the most part, delved into books and treatises or reviews regarding medieval or early modern Europe, which has been the focus for most of my studies at Assumption College. So, researching eighteenth-century newspapers from colonial America was a new transition for me. It was interesting to read through the newspaper advertisements and get an impression about what life was like for colonists just prior to the Revolution that defines most of American history.

I had assumed that colonists would have been more removed from European culture and influences, but they proved to be more interested in fostering and strengthening their ties and identity to England and Europe. The colonies were also widely involved with other colonial settlements and powers, such as the West Indies, Africans, and the Dutch and French, to name a few. As I suspected, alcohol played a large role in the colonists’ lives, due to its establishment as a far more reliable drink than water or milk. I learned a lot about how colonial life varied depending on one’s economic and social standing, from transportation in single seat private carriages for the elites to a relaxing drink at work for a poor laborer. The newspaper advertisements were interesting gateways to examine colonial life and culture, from a period when the American identity had yet to form, in spite, or perhaps, because of emerging tensions between colonists and the British.

For my research I mostly focused on sources available through a simple google search because the work was going to be featured on a blog page, admittedly one that goes through a somewhat extensive research review and editing process, and as such should have been easily accessible for readers. It was also much easier to scour through google for related articles and information on the newspaper advertisements and products or related subjects than going through a college database and having to narrow down the search results. Although because of this it was a little more difficult to find creditable sources of information, although I suppose that’s where the editing and reviewing process with Prof. Keyes came in to either give a go ahead or provide alternative options. It was nice being able to send in an analysis of my research and get suggestions for improvement or new articles to explore and incorporate. I would have to say that it made the experience less stressful than I thought it was going to be.

All in all, I would have to say that this has been a bit of an eye-opening experience for me as a historian. I have seen how useful it is to have other historians available to assist and guide one’s research and writing, something that has also been a part of special topics courses and the capstone research seminar. I have utilized newspapers, and advertisements, in a way I had never considered before, due to either a lack of interest or the lack of relevance with regards to my previous classes. It’s been difficult at times trying to juggle constantly working on this project with other assignments from both the main coursework and my other classes, but as with any project or essay, seeing the final result is a pretty cathartic experience. I got to learn more about a period of history that I had been sorely lacking in knowledge and appreciation of up until this point, and as an American and a student I am grateful for this experience.

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