Category Archives: Culture

Visiting Scholars: Julia Carroll

With the reopening of the Georgia Historical Society’s newly expanded and renovated Research Center, GHS is again getting visits from scholars, students, and researchers from all over the world researching and studying a wide variety of topics. Off the Deaton Path would like to introduce our readers to some of these visiting scholars and share with you what they’re working on and what they’re finding at GHS.

This week we’ll spotlight Julia Carroll, a PhD candidate in American and New England Studies at Boston University.

Tell Us About Yourself: Until moving to Massachusetts for graduate school in 2015, I have lived in Georgia all my life. I was born and raised in Atlanta, then the summer before I entered the tenth grade my family relocated to Tybee Island. After finishing high school at Johnson (go Atom Smashers!), I limped through a few semesters at Armstrong but eventually gravitated back to my hometown to pursue a music career. In 2009, I decided to try my hand at college again and applied to Georgia State University, which was close to where I was living at the time. My original intent was to take only a couple of courses, just for fun, but within a year my part-time coursework turned into full-time, one major turned into two, and the next thing I knew it was 2014 and I was graduating summa cum laude with B.A.s in History and Religious Studies. Some folks need a gap year; I needed a gap decade.

In May 2017 I earned a History M.A. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and that fall I entered Boston University’s American & New England Studies Program. At present I am a doctoral candidate specializing in histories of the Atlantic world, specifically in intersections of religion and race. My dissertation committee is led by professors Joseph Rezek and John Thornton.

Tell Us About Your Current Project: My dissertation looks at eighteenth-century proslavery Protestant itinerants and their influence on public policy and the development of racial and religious identities. I am specifically researching how the enslavement of African-descended people by Anglo-Protestants living in the Lowcountry in the 1740s-1790s, during what might be referred to as the “long Great Awakening” era, influenced wider socioeconomic and cultural developments. This is a close examination of a much larger picture, that being the emergence of the United States as a slaveholding society dominated by adherents of Protestant Christianity.

When we think of America’s founding period, we tend to think of throwing tea into Boston harbor, armies of redcoats, and George Washington. But this late early modern period is also when we start to see American Protestantism take on a life of its own, with various denominations taking root and forging larger communities of believers, a transformation that also coincided with the peak of the transatlantic slave trade. Why did some Protestants arrive at the proslavery positions they did, while others rejected slaveholding altogether? And what are we to make of marginalized individuals who promoted ideals and beliefs espoused by proslavery religious networks? This era is full of paradoxes and contradictions, and for this it is a fascinating, if sometimes terrible, period to research. But it is an important one, I think, because a lot of the widespread societal inequities we’re reckoning with today have roots that can be traced back to this time.

What Are you Finding at GHS? At the GHS I was looking for documents related to the slaveholding practices of the era’s most renowned religious itinerant, George Whitefield, and his British patron, Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon. After Whitefield’s death in 1770, the Countess inherited all his Georgian properties, including Bethesda Orphan House (today’s Bethesda Academy), its adjacent plantations, and its enslaved people. For years James Habersham oversaw much of Bethesda’s growth, and after Whitefield’s death he was relied upon by the Countess for providing accurate estate inventory. The GHS has many relevant documents, including first-hand accounts of Bethesda during its founding decade, the 1740s, through the tumultuous period after Whitefield’s death and beyond the revolution years. My aim is to locate any documents associated with the purchase and sale of enslaved individuals who lived at any of Whitefield’s properties—their names, ages, skillsets—anything that might help me tell a story of what life at Bethesda (or Whitefield’s earlier South Carolinian plantation, “Providence”) might have been like. While at the GHS I was able to find enough supporting documentation to connect some dots I’d begun drawing elsewhere, and this provided some very exciting developments for my project.

The James Habersham papers (MS 337) and Habersham Family papers (MS 1787) include letters to Whitefield and the Countess of Huntingdon, plus other prominent individuals, and also offer material that will provide a backdrop to my colonial-era narrative. For example, besides helping run Bethesda, Habersham’s primary interest during the 1750s was silk cultivation. His papers feature not only a wealth of practical information about this process, but also exchanges he had with members of a nearby German-Protestant settlement, whose priority was also silk cultivation but without the use of enslaved labor. The Marmaduke Hamilton & Dolores Boisfeuillet Floyd papers (MS 1308) have a wealth of handwritten transcriptions of important events, including William Stephens’s notes on the 1739 Stono slave uprising, early impressions of Whitefield, and discussions of bringing slavery to then-anti-slavery Georgia. This element of the Floyd collection also acts as a handy guide to materials published in the Colonial Records of Georgia, whose printed volumes are conveniently located on a shelf in the GHS’s reading room. Perhaps the most exciting and useful discovery from my visit was John Johnson’s journal and letters (MS 430). Johnson was the last minister sent to Bethesda by the Countess, and his writings describe his experience in Georgia and the state of things there during the early 1790s.

My favorite part about visiting archives, and to me the best part of studying history in general, is learning to make mental space for new ways of looking. Often this means seeking out histories of people, places, or ideas that were left out of the history books many of us grew up with, so doing this sort of work requires mining the archives for more than meets the eye. Sometimes this means paying special attention to the spaces, the things not said; sometimes it is taking note of a name that seemed insignificant until you happened upon it again in an unexpected place. When you’re seeking the voices of those who have been marginalized (which in an archive may be quite literal!), this sort of heightened awareness is what is required. One of the biggest lessons my dissertation is teaching me is that it is entirely possible to tell a story about something that at first glance seems impossible to tell, you just have to know where to look. I am grateful to the GHS for providing such an excellent space, support staff, and resources to do this work.

Visiting Scholars: Dr. Alisa Luxenberg

With the reopening of the Georgia Historical Society’s newly expanded and renovated Research Center, GHS is again getting visits from scholars, students, and researchers from all over the world researching and studying a wide variety of topics. Off the Deaton Path would like to introduce our readers to some of these visiting scholars and share with you what they’re working on and what they’re finding at GHS.

This week we’ll spotlight Dr. Alisa Luxenberg, Professor of 18th- and 19th-Century European Art at the University of Georgia’s Lamar Dodd School of Art. She is the author of two books: The Galerie Espagnole and the Museo Nacional, 1835-1853: Saving Spanish Art, or The Politics of Patrimony (Ashgate, 2008); and Secrets and Glory: baron Taylor and his ‘Voyage pittoresque en Espagne’ (Centro de Estudios Europea Hispánica, 2013). She is the co-editor, with Reva Wolf, of Freemasonry and the Visual Arts from the Eighteenth Century Forward (Bloomsbury, 2020).

Tell Us About Yourself: I was born and raised in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. My public high school was superb and allowed us to apply to an off-campus AP course in art history taught at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Each week for the entire year, we visited its world-class collections to examine works of art from the culture and period we were studying—I was captivated. When I matriculated at Duke University, I wrongly thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, and eventually gave in to my love of art history and double majored in French literature. I went on to do a Master’s in Art History at Boston University, took a year off to work for an art dealer in New York, and then continued in the PhD at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. The variety of voices in those art history departments, the superb museums in New England, and the real-world experiences with auction houses were essential to my formation as an object- and archive-based scholar open to the multiplicity of scholarly interpretation.

I have been teaching at the University of Georgia since 1999 and will be stepping down at the end of this academic year. I was fortunate to have taught elsewhere: Princeton, the American University in Paris, Washington University in St. Louis, Ohio State, Case Western Reserve, the University of Kentucky. I learned so much about teaching from having created so many different courses and interacting with diverse student bodies. A good thing, too, since I had no training in pedagogy! At UGA I mainly teach a rotation of eight courses in 18th- and 19th-century art, with some special topics sprinkled in. My research has focused on French and Spanish artistic interactions and early French and American photography.

Art history has always fascinated me for the rich fabric that one can weave around the work of art, which performs at the intersection of language, materiality, aesthetics, and often too, of politics, religion, gender, and class. I love the adventure of embarking on a research project, not knowing what I will find, forming questions no one has thought to ask, and the sheer thrill of opening manuscripts and books that no one has touched for generations or even centuries.

I’m convinced that I chose European art because of my own family history. Europe seemed very close to me; both of my grandfathers were immigrants who, along with one grandmother, spoke with strong foreign accents. The calamities that they and their families suffered during the Holocaust and behind the Iron Curtain weighed heavily on them and gave us sobering glimpses of their European past. 

Tell Us About Your Current Project: This project represents a real break with the bulk of my career as it examines material culture in the U.S. However, it also enlarges upon my last major publication, a co-edited volume on the relationships between freemasonry and the visual arts (with Reva Wolf, Freemasonry and the Visual Arts from the Eighteenth Century Forward,Bloomsbury, 2020). I dove into freemasonry through the baron Taylor, a major figure in French 19th-century culture, high-ranking Mason, and the protagonist of my first two monographs.

After finding intriguing masonic objects in the Special Collections Libraries at UGA, I realized that I could parlay my knowledge in freemasonry into new research that fulfilled the land-grant mission of UGA and related more directly to Georgians. To that end, I am curating an exhibition of masonic materials (mostly) from Georgia that will open in January 2023 and writing a scholarly catalogue to accompany it.

Through these items we can perceive the pervasiveness and impact of freemasonry on life and culture in Georgia, from the State seal to the emblem of UGA, from college fraternities to other masonic and para-masonic groups like the Order of the Eastern Star, Knights of Pythias, and Gridiron Club. Although largely segregated, freemasonry provided Blacks in Georgia a safe place through which to help their fellow men and communities endure Jim Crow laws and advocate for their civil rights. Freemasonry left its traces everywhere in Georgia, once we are prepared to recognize the signs. Most of us have probably had a Mason or two in our families at some point. I know I was surprised to learn of some in my family! They were Jewish, Catholic, or immigrants, and serve as instances of the religious and class tolerance professed by masonic bodies. In these and other ways, freemasonry offers us an example of how, during quarrelsome times, people overcame their differences and met as equals, “on the level,” to try to improve themselves and reduce suffering in the world.

What Are you Finding at GHS? In general, it is difficult to do research into freemasonry for numerous reasons, but primarily because it is a secret society and, in the U.S., limited to men, and many lodges closed, or their records were lost over time. Some states have Grand Lodges that offer a masonic research collection; Georgia does not. At the beginning of my project, I thought the GHS would be my main research source, but it closed for renovation before I had my grant in hand, so I have been waiting more than three years to come! It forced me to find other resources, which allowed me to fine tune my research at the GHS.

The most significant collections for my project are those related to the eminent Savannah lodge, Solomon’s Lodge No. 1 (GHS 940), one of the first three recognized masonic lodges in the British North American colonies. These records have been microfilmed and contain 18th- and 19th-century minute books –a rarity, as so few have survived, due to fire, war, or neglect—that provide an idea of the membership, practices, and concerns of the lodge, as well as the masonic lives of specific members. For example, we hope to include a portrait painting of the Savannah Mason, John Habersham (Georgia Museum of Art), in the exhibition. Little research has been done on the painting or on Habersham’s masonic life. Now I will be able to provide documentary evidence of his freemasonry and possible readings of the portrait in relation to it.

Podcast S4E6: The Stamp Act, Houdini, & Spike Lee

Stan talks about This Week in History (the Stamp Act, James Jackson, Spike Lee, the first Black graduate of West Point, the Masters, Tomochichi, & Houdini), says goodbye to a pathbreaking historian and actor, spotlights new additions to the Off the Deaton Path bookshelf, and welcomes the opening of Major League Baseball.