Presentations, Publications, Research

A Very Belated Academic Presentation – My 2014 SHEAR Pecha Kucha Presentation on Benjamin Lay

Way back in the summer of 2014, I gave academic presentations on Benjamin Lay at two different academic conferences — the Conference of Quaker Historians and Archivists and the Society for the History of the Early American Republic. The timing and location of these conferences was fortuitous as they were both in Philadelphia (or its outskirts), where my in-laws live, so my family was able to visit them and I was able to share my research on Benjamin Lay with experts in these various fields of eighteenth-century and abolitionist history.

The paper I delivered at the CQHA was more traditional, but my presentation at SHEAR was a Pecha Kucha presentation, which was a fun challenge to create. After giving that presentation, which was well-received at the conference, I thought I should really sit down and record a screencast of it while my timing was still spot on.

Unfortunately, I delayed and delayed (and delayed and delayed) while life, work, research, dissertating, life, and etc. happened instead.

Only today, while working on a different screencast project, I decided to dig up my presentation notes and finally put this screencast together. So, if you missed the debut presentation two-and-a-half years ago, here’s your chance to fill that void!

Presentations, Publications, Research, Writing

Benjamin Lay article published! (but read on here for a “tl;dr”)

Shortly after I’d passed my comprehensive exams and begun working on my dissertation in earnest in the Fall of 2012, one of my committee members suggested that I look into the early Quaker abolitionist, Benjamin Lay, as a potential subject for one of my chapters.

At that point, I had the outlines of the dissertation and its focus: Quakers, their ideas about disability, and how those ideas influenced their reform activities. However, beyond a seminar paper I’d written about the Quakers’ Retreat at York—a groundbreaking insane asylum that used “moral treatment” and other more humane methods to treat those perceived as “insane”—I didn’t have a lot of clear areas for focus.

To help remedy this problem and gain some wider context about Quaker humanitarians in the eighteenth century, my advisor, Sarah Rose, suggested that I talk with one of her former graduate student colleagues who had studied Quakers of this era and who might have some good leads.

Lo and behold, that conversation with Michael Goode, yielded what became two conference presentations, two dissertation chapters, and now a published article in the Disability Studies Quarterly.

If you didn’t want to click that “published article” link above, let me entice you with a teaser image (courtesy the lovely and helpful archivists from the Smithsonian Institution) from the article below:


Benjamin Lay, Artist: William Williams, Sr., c. 1750-1758, oil on panel, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; this acquisition was made possible by a generous contribution from the James Smithson Society.


(Now that you’ve seen that, let me spam you with many more links to that very same article…pretty annoying, huh?)

Part of what made researching Benjamin Lay so fun and so much of a challenge was that Michael Goode first presented him to me as an individual whose disability left some scholars skeptical. Because Lay served on a sailing vessel, those skeptics argued, he couldn’t have been disabled because such a job in the eighteenth century wouldn’t have been possible for an individual with such a striking bodily aberration (and its perceived limitations) as you see in the image above.

So, as I learned about Lay’s life in the eighteenth century and about how later abolitionists perceived and presented him in the nineteenth century, I was on a quest to piece together (from varied and fragmentary evidence) how disability, in fact, was present in (spoiler alert!!!if not central to) Lay’s life, his advocacy, and his legacy.

My argument acquired a bit more intrigue when, in the summer of 2014, I had the privilege of presenting a focused version of my argument at the Conference of Quaker Historians and Archivists where one of the skeptics was in the audience! After my talk, that scholar asked a number of good questions and seemed persuaded by my overall assertion that Benjamin Lay did, in fact, make his disabled body a crucial part of his abolitionist advocacy. I got further feedback and support for my developing argument from Caleb McDaniel, a terrific historian of slavery and abolition at Rice University, when I presented my Benjamin Lay talk as a Pecha Kucha presentation at the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic conference later that same summer.

With those votes of confidence, I continued my revisions and work on these chapters about Benjamin Lay, submitting the one that was just published to the Disability Studies Quarterly journal shortly after passing my dissertation defense in February of this year.

So, feel free to click on to read the whole thing, or, as I promised, here’s the “tl; dr”:

Benjamin Lay was disabled and his disability proved central to his abolitionist advocacy during his lifetime in the eighteenth century. Lay actively used his non-conforming body to challenge the Quaker community to give up slaveholding and the slave trade and acknowledged how his aberrant body helped lead to him to his abolitionist views in his 1737 publication, All Slave-Keepers, Apostates. After his death, Lay’s disability became inextricably connected to his abolitionist work both in visual and written representations of Lay, his body, and his unconventional advocacy.

Now that this article has made it out into the world, I’d like to thank all those who’ve provided feedback, guidance, support, and encouragement over these past four-plus years as I’ve worked on this Benjamin Lay research and the rest of my dissertation. We’ll see where this work goes next, but in the meantime, it’s quite gratifying to send part of it out into the world.

If anyone does opt to read the non-“tl;dr” version of the article, I’d love to hear what you think!

Academic Skills, Research, teaching

New Assignment Alert: Wikipedia Historiography Paper

Image representing Wikipedia as depicted in Cr...

This trimester I’m teaching a senior elective entitled, “Slavery in the Atlantic World.” We’re using a class blog extensively to conduct a discussion prior to meeting in person to them follow up on the readings. In designing the course, I drew extensively (and with great gratitude) from Ben Wright at Rice University, who generously offered lots of advice and ideas about how to structure and conduct this type of course (which he ran in the Spring of 2013) effectively.

One of these cribbed ideas was a “Wikipedia Historiography Paper” assignment that asked students to do the following:

Using the “View History” function of Wikipedia, students will write an 800–1000 word historiography of a Wikipedia page relevant to their subtopic. We will spend time in class discussing how to think about and trace the historiography of a topic, what to look for within this “View History” page, and collaboratively decide how this assignment should be evaluated.

In asking Ben about this assignment, he explained that he didn’t have a formal instruction sheet as his class spent a lot of time discussing it face-to-face before they embarked on the research and writing process. As I noted to my students in my follow-up post about this assignment, however, our meeting constraints don’t allow for this type of extended discussion, so instead I wrote up an assignment sheet that I hope will be of use.

So, below the line I’ve reproduced my post to my students. I’m passing it along here to get any feedback, suggestions, reactions, etc. that people may have so I can refine it for future classes (or improve it for this current one).

As a reminder, historiography is essentially the study of how writing history changes over time. As historians develop and embrace new approaches, encounter new sources, and perceive the world in new ways given their present circumstances, the way they analyze the causes of past events change significantly. Wikipedia (what a shocking source to draw on here, I know!) has a nice encapsulation of how these changes have been seen in the historical profession in the past 40 or so years:

So, in order to assess these types of interpretive changes for a Wikipedia page, here’s a list of questions to consider as you read through the “View History” tab of your selected topic.

  • Who created the page and when? Who are the major contributors?
    • What can you find out about these people and their educational or professional backgrounds
    • What other pages or types of edits have they made on Wikipedia? Do they seem to have an academic or topical specialty? Do they tend to make particular types of edits on all the Wikipedia pages to which they contribute?
    • What sources do these editors cite? What can you tell about the quality of their research and the sources on which they draw?
  • What are the major sources of disagreement about the page? Where do the Wikipedia contributors seem to go back-and-forth the most?
  • What images have users added to the page and how do these contribute to its usefulness and/or the argument that it conveys?
In terms of then structuring your paper after you’ve done a close and thorough reading of the “View History” tab, you might consider the following framework (though it is not set in stone):
  • Intro ¶
    • Brief overview of topic and its origin on Wikipedia
    • Structural thesis statement (e.g. clear argumentative claim and a roadmap/blueprint for your body paragraphs) establishing the most significantareas of interpretive controversy or debate AND/OR the most significantcontributions to the page.
  • Body ¶s
    • Elaborate on each of the points from your thesis and provide evidence from the page about the interpretive debates AND/OR contributions.
  • Conclusion ¶
    • Evaluation of the page’s value/trustworthiness as an introductory source on this topic.
    • A consideration of how the page’s transformation fits into some of the major trends about historical interpretations and arguments about transatlantic slavery that we’ve read about thus far in class.
NOTE: Please use footnotes in your paper. If you’d like to use full Chicago Style citations for all URLs you may, but you can also just footnote the URL by itself.
I hope this set of questions and potential structure prove useful in guiding your research and helping you organize the evidence you encounter. Please post any questions you have in the comments so that your peers, who may have the same concerns, can also see my response or provide feedback and guidance of their own.

And for good measure, I’ll include my favorite historiography-related cartoon below (because there are sooooooo many to choose from):

Academic Proposals, Presentations, Research

SHEAR 2013 Paper, “Spaces of Reform: Transatlantic Quakerism, the ‘Insane,’ and Publicizing Humanitarian Advocacy”

Society for Historians of the Early American Republic banner, courtesy

Take a cue from Mark Cheathem (who I unfortunately didn’t get the chance to meet while in St. Louis, but who posted his paper in advance of the conference), I thought I’d post the paper that I presented during the Sunday Morning session entitled, “Illness and the Institution: The Relationship between Health and Reform Asylums.”

(Have a look at the entire program, which had a number of terrific sessions that I really enjoyed and from which I learned a lot).

Now, I wasn’t as expeditious as Mark was at getting my paper out to the world in advance of its grand unveiling bright and early Sunday morning, which I’ll attribute to a case of “last-minute-fine-tuning/revision-itis” – a really nasty scourge. In any event, I really enjoyed getting the chance to share my research in this type of venue and get good feedback and questions from the audience. Moreover, the mix of senior scholars and graduate students at the conference was really nice and I was great to talk with and get feedback from experts in my topic about potential sources, further questions to consider, and directions to take.

Kathryn Tomasek of Wheaton College live-tweeted our session and I was interesting to go back and see her take on my paper and major points. She also had a number of good follow-up questions and suggestions for me after our session, which I greatly appreciated. (P.S. Sorry I wasn’t able to embed the image of her tweets directly into this post; unfortunately, I was foiled by the technical sophistication of Storify, which has a pretty cool interface, but doesn’t play nice with WordPress shortcodes. Sigh.)

Thanks again to Jamalin Harp for putting our session together, to James Watkinson for presiding, and John Murray for commenting and providing such useful synthesis and critiques.


Fun discoveries in the archives!

I’m in the midst of doing research about Philadelphia philanthropic organizations in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Presently, I’m working through a number of collections at Haverford College, which seem to be yielding some good material.

However, I did just come across this nugget of unintentional hilarity in reading the Superintendent’s Diary from the “Asylum for the Relief of Persons Deprived of the Use of Their Reason,” or what later became known as Friends Hospital.

Here’s an excerpt from November 2, 1820:

Benjamin Reynolds has frequently insisted on my sending to the City for Schuylkill Water for him to drink.

Well, I supposed Mr. Reynolds was well-placed given his beverage preferences.

Okay, I hope that research interlude proves mildly amusing…back to the manuscripts!

Research, Technology

Thinking about Digital Workflow

I came across an interesting blog post last night by Michael Hattem, a History PhD student at Yale, addressing his digital workflow that he uses in his research and writing. Hattem explains that Papers2 and Scrivener are his go-to tools, and he provides a nice, clear explanation of his use of both tools. He also includes some really clear screenshots of the programs that give a sense of how he sets them up and what one can include in each of the programs’ different parts.

I’ve also read another compelling review of Papers2 by Josh Braun that outlines many of its redeeming qualities, but without focusing particularly on its application to historical research.

As I’m deep into research and writing this summer, I’m thinking about my own process of working with sources, taking notes, and using those materials to then put together my argument. I’ve spent the past two days working at the Haverford College Special Collections and taking notes on both manuscript and print sources for my dissertation. With this period of extended research time (vs. teaching during the school year), I’ve started refining many of my note-taking techniques and hone the organization of my notes so that I can draw on them effectively when it comes time to write.

At this point, I’m deeply invested in Zotero, which I really like, and have used for a number of years. Given this longevity, I’ve built up a very extensive library in Zotero and have grown accustomed to how well it pulls metadata from websites and how nicely it integrates into Microsoft Word.

However, I was pretty compelled by Hattem’s explanation of how Papers2 dealt so well with PDFs and allowed one to annotate them and then search those notes. That’s one aspect of Zotero that I’d love to see, but at present doesn’t have. In fact, the aspect of my Zotero library and my larger workflow that feels most discombobulated is my annotations for PDF files. So, given this functionality, I downloaded Papers2 and started playing around with it this afternoon.

In terms of the PDF annotation, the program definitely fits the bill. It manages the files very nicely and allows me to annotate them easily and then search through both the text of the PDFs and my notes. Zotero lets me search my notes very easily, but doesn’t dig into the text of the PDF itself. I also like how Papers2 allows me to easily insert citations into any program and doesn’t require a plug-in to Microsoft Word. (However, via a helpful contact on Twitter, I’m aware that Zotero does offer integration across apps that extends beyond just Word).

There are some things about Papers2 that I’m still confused by or haven’t yet figured out. Some of these deal with grabbing citations easily with correct metadata (as Zotero does), formatting citations correctly (as Zotero does), and easily create and organize research folders (as Zotero does). Notice a theme?

I think I’ll continue to play around with it, and I really like the idea of having a centralized program for reading and annotating PDFs that will allow me to effectively scour my secondary source reading, in particular. However, I’m not sure exactly where it will fit in my current workflow given the amount of time I’ve invested in Zotero and many of the systems I’ve developed for my own effective use of the program.

Does anyone out there use these two programs in conjunction with one another? What does your workflow look like with these programs? Are there ways to pull PDFs and their metadata from Zotero in bulk to Papers2? I’d love to get some insight on any or all of the above questions.

Here’s an example of how I’m experimenting with the citation tools connected to Papers2 and using it easily insert a formatted bibliography entry.1

  1. Ekrich, Arthur A, Jr. “Thomas Eddy and the Beginnings of Prison Reform in New York.” New York History 24, no. 3 (July 1, 1943): 1–17.
Academic Proposals, Historical Thinking, Research

Churning out new assignments!: “Introduction to Historical Research and Presentations”

There are two major exciting things about this post. Firstly, I’ve actually written something new! In order to accomplish this lofty goal, I thought I’d return to my approach of sharing new assignments that I’ve developed. Secondly, I figured out how to embed a Google Doc in WordPress! Hopefully this embedded document will show up for everyone whether viewing it on or through an RSS Reader.

This most recent assignment, which I’m discussing with my students tomorrow, has the ever-so-pithy title of “Introductory Historical Research and Presentation Assignment: Rome and the Middle Ages.” This assignment shares some commonalities with others I’ve posted before, most notably my “Crap Detection” assignment, as it aims to get students thinking critically about their sources and evaluating the authorship to understand how that aspect inherently shapes the nature of the content.

However, this assignment’s emphases are slightly different as I’m hoping that it will help students to explore research databases, begin to understand and use Chicago Style citations and bibliographies, and gain an understanding of historiography and how historians can approach the exact same topic from a variety of perspectives. Moreover, I hope that by giving students freedom to choose their topics within the broader time period of Rome and the Middle Ages that they’ll have a greater investment in their topics, which will make researching and presenting on them more compelling.

So, let’s see if the second exciting element of this post works. Below, you should see the embedded Google Doc of the assignment.


Any suggestions or thoughts on how I could revise or add to this assignment to better emphasize the skills I’m working to have my students develop? I haven’t yet made photocopies, so I can certainly incorporate any expedited feedback! (However, I probably will have made the copied by the time you read this, so if you have suggestions along this line I’ll gladly take them nevertheless and incorporate them for the future).