American Studies Seminar

Fall 2022

We Protect Us:
Early American Histories of Mutual Aid and Community Care

with Britt Rusert

In the months following the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and amid a deepening housing and employment crisis, numerous mutual aid organizations sprouted up across the country as a way to share resources during lockdown. Many BIPOC organizers were quick to point out that mutual aid–which seeks to directly meet people’s needs without harmful intervention masked as aid from the state–was not invented in 2020, but has long been a central part of social movement work and how disenfranchised communities take care of one another. This course will use the Antiquarian Society’s rich collections to trace a history of mutual aid that goes even further back in American history. We will begin our work with the 1793 Yellow Fever Epidemic in Philadelphia, a dramatic episode in which members of the Free African Society mobilized to take care of the city’s ailing population while white elites fled, only to be vilified and accused of committing theft and fraud after the crisis had passed. We will go on to study free black mutual aid and relief organizations as they emerged in Boston in the late eighteenth century; we will rethink the Underground Railroad and anti-slavery Vigilance Committees as antebellum direct action networks; we will examine enslaved and indigenous practices of health and healing; we will learn about early feminist experiments in reproductive control, sexual liberation, and childcare. We will conclude with Black-led Civil War and Reconstructionera relief efforts, with an emphasis on how the Civil War produced a massive housing and refugee crisis, as well as a public health emergency the nation was not equipped to manage or alleviate. This course will use contemporary mutual aid organizing as a way to illuminate new and neglected histories of radicalism and social protest in early America; it will also be shamelessly presentist in seeking out historical blueprints, tactics, and organizational models that might be used today.

Britt Rusert is Associate Professor in the W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of Fugitive Science: Empiricism and Freedom in Early African American Culture (New York University Press, 2017) and co-editor of W. E. B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America (Princeton Architectural Press, 2018), a collection of the visual graphics Du Bois and his students at Atlanta University prepared for the 1900 Paris Exposition. Fugitive Science received sole finalist mention for the Lora Romero First Book Prize from the American Studies Association as well as an honorable mention for the MLA’s Prize for a First Book.

Working with primary materials in the libraryWHEN AND WHERE
The seminar will meet Thursday afternoons from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM at the American Antiquarian Society, 185 Salisbury Street, Worcester, Massachusetts.

The 20218 American Studies Seminar class led by Holly JacksonWHO IS ELIGIBLE
The seminar welcomes applications from students in all disciplines whose academic record, personal statement, and letter of recommendation indicate a commitment to academic excellence, the ability to work independently, and a sincere interest in the seminar’s subject matter.

Apply Online

Previous American Studies Seminars

2021 A Second and More Glorious Revolution: Protest and Radical Thought in the Nineteenth-Century United States Holly Jackson
2019 Pirates in Early America Lisa H. Wilson
2018 Early American Transgender Studies Jen Manion
2017 Industrializing Massachusetts: Lowell, Springfield, and Worcester, 1800-1875 Robert Forrant
2016 The Worm in the Apple: Slavery, Emancipation, and Race in Early New Englan Joanne Pope Melish
2015 The North's Civil War: Union and Emancipation Kevin M. Levin
2014 Portraits, Dolls, and Effigies: Humans as Objects in America Caroline Frank
2013 The Nineteenth-Century Networked Nation: The Politics of American Technology, 1776-1876 Daniel Klinghard
2012 Reason, Revival, and Revolution: Religion in America's Founding, 1726-1792 Stephen A. Marini
2011 Dressing Democracy: Clothing and Culture in America Hannah Carlson
2010 History of Sexuality in Early America Sarah Anne Carter
2009 America's Environmental Histories Megan Kate Nelson
2008 "Written by himself... Written by herself" American Life Stories: The Northern United States 1780-1860 Jack Larkin
2007 Captive Histories: Puritan Captivity Narratives and Native Stories from the Era of the Colonial Wars, 1675-1760 Kevin Sweeney
2006 Personal Narratives from the Age of the American Revolution, Or Ordinary Lives in Extraordinary Times Joseph Cullon
2005 Childhoods Actual and Imagined: New England, 1790-1860 Jack Larkin
2004 Communication in the Early Nation: Literacy and Print in America, 1750-1840 Catherine A. Corman
2003 Imagining the Civil War: Race, Gender and the Popular Culture, 1860-1877 Carolyn J. Lawes
2002 Private Writings: Their Uses and Value for History and Literature Helen R. Deese
2001 Crime, Punishment, and Popular Culture in Early America, 1674-1860 Daniel A. Cohen
2000 Romanticism Confronts History: Literary and Material Culture in the United States, 1820-1876 Harvey Green
1999 The Shaping of Historical Memory: Collecting the Artifacts of America's Past, 1790-1840 Barnes Riznik
1998 Seeing America First: Exploration and Imagination in North America, 1500-1900 Gregory H. Nobles
1997 Accounts of the Self: Autobiography and Personal Narrative in Antebellum America Ann Fabian
1996 Revolutionary Narratives: Memory and Desire in Antebellum America Wayne Franklin
1995 Wilderness Views: Nature as Other, Self, and Enterprise in American Culture c.1776-1900 Janice Simon
1994 Children's Books and Childhood Reading in Early America Samuel F. Pickering, Jr.
1993 The Invention of New England in the Nineteenth Century Dona Brown
1992 Little Women and Self-Made Men: Gender in the Nineteenth Century Lee Heller
1991 Slavery and Antislavery in American Civilization, 1820-1861 William W. Freehling
1990 Law and Society in America, 1760-1860 Jonathan M. Chu
1989 Religion in the American Revolution Stephen A. Marini
1988 Health and Health Care in America's Past Philip Cash
1987 The Constitution and the Press, 1787-1788: Popular Culture, Political Opinion, and the Ratification Debates Charles E. Clark
1986 The American Landscape John Conron
1985 Antebellum and Civil War Biography Betty Mitchell
1984 The Lethal Imagination: Perceptions of Western Violence in American Thought, 1850-1900 Robert R. Dykstra
1983 Ethnic America Before the Flood: The Irish and Others Charles Fanning
1982 High Culture, Low Culture: Recreation and Entertainment in Nineteenth-Century America Donald M. Scott
1981 Individual, Family, and Community in Eighteenth-Century New England Ross W. Beales
1980 Community Life in Preindustrial Worcester Kenneth Moynihan, Charles Estus
1979 Popular Culture in Preindustrial America, 1650-1850 David Hall
1978 Literature and Society in Jacksonian America: Writers Confront the Marketplace Stephen Nissenbaum

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