March 20

GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Dubreuil

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Boston Chronicle (March 20, 1769).

“Wants Employment.”

This advertisement caught my eye because of the “Wants Employment” part. Someone was looking for a job that involved “Writing, either in Merchants Books or any otherwise, consisting in Penmanship” or “tak[ing] Charge of a Store.” The advertiser claimed that he was good at writing. According to E. Jennifer Monaghan in Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America, students first learned “round hand,” which took several years, and “during this time the student might well be exposed to, without being expected to be fully master of, italic print and roman print.”[1] Since he mentions “Penmanship” this advertiser may have learned more than one “script.” It was difficult to learn how to write because students had so many different scripts to learn.

The end of the advertisement was in a different language. It says, “Ubi est Charitas?—Not in Town.—Honi soit qui mal y pense.” The first part is Latin for “Where is the love?” The second part is French for “Shame to him who thinks evil of it.” By inserting these quotations in other languages, the advertiser demonstrated that he was indeed well educated, the sort of person that a merchant would want handling accounts and letters. There is another aspect concerning how this advertiser tries to find a job. He says that anyone who sends him a message “shall be immediately waited on.” He is letting prospective employers know that he is punctual and eager to work.



Rather than elaborating on the advertisement that Zach has selected for today, I am devoting this entry to some comments on incorporating the Adverts 250 Project into my classes, collaborating with undergraduate guest curators, and how their work shapes the project. This is the fifth semester that I have invited students to contribute to the project to fulfill some of their course requirements. This work began in a Public History class (Spring 2016) and has continued in Colonial America (Fall 2016), Revolutionary America (Spring 2017), Public History (Spring 2018), and Revolutionary America (Spring 2019).

I ask each student to serve as guest curator for a week. They are responsible for creating an archive of all the newspapers for their week that have been digitized by Accessible Archives, Colonial Williamsburg, and Readex. Then they select an advertisement to feature each day of the week. I specify that one of those advertisements must concern the experiences of enslaved men, women, and children, giving the students an opportunity to enhance the work they simultaneously undertake as guest curators of the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. The other advertisements must focus on commodities or consumer goods and services. That allows us to continue examinations of the consumer revolution that constitute a major component of readings and discussions from class. However, advertisements that ran in eighteenth-century newspapers were many and varied. Many of them had purposes other than promoting the buying and selling of goods. So I allow each guest curator to select one “exception to the consumer goods and services” rule (in addition to an advertisement concerning enslaved people) that allows them to explore other aspects of life in colonial and revolutionary America. Today Zach has chosen an employment advertisement. Recently, guest curator Olivia Burke examined a “runaway wife” advertisement. In both cases, the guest curators learned more about early American history and culture.

Undergraduate guest curators often choose advertisements that I would not have selected on my own. Sometimes this can be frustrating, especially when they pass over advertisements that I find more interesting and want to examine in more detail. Yet that is also the purpose of engaging my students as junior colleagues. They exercise the authority to determine the direction of the project during their time as guest curators. They determine their own assignments in that they choose the content that they want to include and research in greater detail. They also determine an assignment for me. Most of the time I provide further analysis of some aspect of the advertisements they examine; this entry is a rare exception in that it discusses pedagogy and methodology rather than additional aspects of early American print culture and consumer culture. When I provide additional commentary about advertisements chosen by guest curators, this allows us to continue our conversations about the advertisements they found engaging. It helps us to work together as a team, as a mentor with junior colleagues, because the students have selected the content that we all address together.


[1] E. Jennifer Monaghan, Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005), 287.

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