Lindsay Regele stands by a marker commemorating the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The marker reads: "Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Among the oldest of its kind in the nation, the special collections library holds many of the nation's important founding documents. Founded by prominent citizens in 1824 and located here since 1884, it traces America's history from the 17th century to the present."

Historian draws connections between America’s earliest days and the modern day

Library accession mark. Text: No. 939. The Library Company of Philadelphia. Communiter bona profundere dorum est. Printed by Zacharia Poulson, jun, No. 106, Chestnut-Street, May, 1801.
Accession mark inside the front cover of a book held by the Library Company of Philadelphia, where Dr. Lindsay Schakenbach Regele completed a fellowship in the spring of 2016.

As a historian of early American political economy, Lindsay Schakenbach Regele was into Alexander Hamilton before Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway smash Hamilton: An American Musical made America’s first Secretary of the Treasury cool. And just like Miranda, Regele, an assistant professor in Miami University’s Department of History, sees parallels between the challenges America faced in its earliest days and those it faces in the modern day.

“We’ve always debated how much role the government does and should have in commerce,” Regele says. “How much should we promote our own manufacturing? How much should we rely upon manufacturing from other places? What is our role in the world in an economic sense? Are we producers? Are we purchasers? Are we both?”

In establishing an American government, Hamilton, along with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the other early leaders, had to answer all of these questions to enact the first Federal policies. That’s the subject of a book Schakenbach Regele is currently working on. Specifically, the book – tentatively titled, Manufacturing Advantage: War, the State, and the Origins of American Industry, 1776-1848 – examines the development of America’s arms and textile industries through the lens of the geopolitical concerns of the period.

“Once the United States made the bold step to declare itself independent of Britain, it suddenly ran smack into the Old World problems of how to create a state, and how to supply that state, and how to enable that state to wage war against others,” Schakenbach Regele says.

As part of the research for her book, Schakenbach Regele completed a fellowship at the Library Company of Philadelphia (LCP) during the spring semester of the 2015-2016 academic year. Established by Benjamin Franklin in 1731 and located in America’s first capital, LCP holds an extensive collection of rare books, manuscripts, and other material important to scholars like Schakenbach Regele. It is also geographically close to other holdings of important documents from the period, including those at the University of Pennsylvania’s McNeil Center for Early American Studies, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and the Hagley Museum in Wilmington, DE, all of which Schakenbach Regele visited during her tenure at LCP.

Far from being settled, many of the issues the founders grappled with have popped up again and again throughout American history. By way of example, Schakenbach Regele points to two of today’s hot-button issues: national security and immigration.

“We don’t think about ‘national security’ in 1780, but that was a very real thing,” she says. “Even once the war was won against Britain, the government was obsessed by conflicts with Native Americans and domestic insurrections, never mind potential threats from European nations.”

Schakenbach Regele says the concern was so great that even Thomas Jefferson, who was a vigorous proponent of an agrarian economy and opposed state-directed manufacture of the type advocated by Alexander Hamilton, allowed an exception for government policies encouraging the production of firearms.

When it came to immigration, early Federal policy was influenced by a desire to catch up to the Europeans. Schakenbach Regele describes America immediately post-Revolution as a “technological backwater” in desperate need of skilled artisans and people who were familiar with certain manufacturing techniques. She says some of the founders saw a solution in policies that encouraged immigration.

Whatever other consequences there were, early commerce policies successfully raised the profile of American manufacturing, thereby achieving a major goal held by Hamilton, among others. Schakenbach Regele offers the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition in London as evidence.

“It was this big showcase of manufacturers from different countries,” she says, “and all of a sudden, the United States is starting to be admired for the pistols it has on display and is winning prizes for its fancy, machine-produced cloth.”

These days, Americans are more concerned with threats from religious extremists than from European nations and the debates about immigration policy tend to be more focused on limiting immigration, rather than encouraging it. Still, Schakenbach Regele says there are lessons to be learned from history.

“I’m not saying that the past necessarily repeats itself. But there is context and nuance in the past that can help us make decisions moving forward.”

By “distilling information from all these different sources and trying to make a coherent, cohesive narrative out of little fragments and competing opinions,” Schakenbach Regele says, historians help illuminate the path forward. That’s something almost everyone agrees our society needs.


Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director and Information Coordinator, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

Photo of Lindsay Schakenbach Regele courtesy of Lindsay Schakenbach Regele. Photo of LCP accession mark by POP (Provenance Online Project) via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

Overhead view of a dessert landscape, with a cliff in the far distance. In the foreground are ruins of Pueblo Indian dwellings. A half circle is open toward the cliffs in the distance. Several round pits or indentations are visible in the ruins, as are what look like walls that would have been between rooms or buildings. A taller wall appears to have spanned the backs of the dwellings.

Historian says ancient trade route was a pre-cursor to modern global economy

An engraved, colored map, dissected and mounted on linen. Map is of Mexico and California, showing Mexican boundary of 1810 to the Mermento River in Louisiana. Insert in lower left shows the Valley of Mexico, from Humboldt map. Insert in center shows Acapulco. Insert in lower right shows Veracruz. "Engraved by E. Jones" is inscribed in the bottom of the title circle.
This map, originally published on October 5, 1810, and currently held at the John Carter Brown Library, illustrates the geographical area that contained the Indian Camino Real.

“Global economy” might be a modern buzzword, but the phenomenon has been around a lot longer. In fact, while Google’s Ngram Viewer indicates use of the phrase “global economy” peaked around the turn of the 21st Century, historian Tatiana Seijas says trade that would today be considered international has been thriving on the North American continent since at least the 10th Century.

Seijas, an assistant professor at Miami University and a 2014-2015 research fellow at Brown University’s John Carter Brown Library, is studying what she calls the Indian Camino Real, an 1800-mile route that linked the Rio Grande Valley to the Mesoamerican Highlands from about the 900s through about 1850.

According to Seijas, the Indian Camino Real was used for trade by indigenous peoples in the pre-Columbian era, including Apaches, Zunis, Janos, Tarahumaras, and Otomis. Evidence of this trade, she says, comes from archaeological data that show goods like cacao, turquoise and macaw feathers, all of which are native to specific areas, turning up in other areas hundreds of miles away.

For instance, Seijas points to a circa 1000 drinking vessel from an archaeological site at the Pueblo Bonito great house in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. This cup contains residue with the biomarker for cacao, a plant that grows only within about 20 degrees of the equator. Its presence in Chaco Canyon means that the ancestral Pueblo people living there at the time must have had contact with people living 1000 miles or more to the south.

Those people, Seijas says, are possibly the Toltecs. Evidence of this connection comes in the form of turquoise found at archaeological sites on the Toltecs’ ancestral lands in Tula, in the Mexican state of Hidalgo. Turquoise is a mineral that – in the New World – occurs only in the Southwest United States, and is strongly associated with the Pueblo Indians.

“All these traders and merchants walked or rode a horse from the central valley of Mexico all the way to New Mexico, back and forth, back and forth, for centuries and centuries,” Seijas says. “So to think about their journeys is to think about how it is that people build trade networks and create markets and maintain connections to other people who speak different languages.“

By the time New Mexico became a Spanish colony in 1595, the Indian Camino Real had been thriving as a trade route for over half a millennium. Seijas says this ancient infrastructure gave the area’s new Spanish settlers access to local indigenous goods like bison hides, as well as global commodities. “They could get olive oil from Europe and Chinese textiles and crucifixes made of ivory.”

Seijas says that even though we may have come to think of access to imported goods as a convenience of the digital age, “trade and connection are constants of human history. It’s human nature to want to make connections with others, and to want stuff from other areas.”

And that’s not the only way in which thinking about the Indian Camino Real challenges our modern assumptions.

“It always struck me that the way U.S. history is taught, the story of the original 13 colonies seems to be the only founding narrative of this country,” Seijas says. “ I want to contribute to a new way of thinking about U.S. history, from a longer perspective.”

Seijas is one of seven long-term faculty fellows currently in residence at the John Carter Brown Library, and she says she’s honored to have been selected from among hundreds of applicants.

“The John Carter Brown Library has the most important collection of maps and old books about the Americas in the world,” Seijas says. “They have every book that has to do with the Americas that was printed anywhere in the world from about 1500 to 1900, so it’s important for any historian of the Americas to spend time here.”

Seijas plans to produce a book from her research on the Indian Camino Real, and has appointments lined up to pitch it to editors attending the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in January. The book, she says, will be of interest to specialists, but – thanks in part to an abundance of maps and illustrations – it will appeal to general audiences too.

“I want it to be a way of helping others to understand some of the connections that people living in the Southwest today have to Mexico and to Latin America.”

Understanding these centuries-old connections, not only helps us understand the politics and culture of a geographical region, but also, says Seijas, “helps us understand why we have an interest in thinking globally today.”

Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director & Information Coordinator, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

Photo of map by Aaron Arrowsmith, courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library, Brown University.  Photo of Pueblo Bonito ruins in Chaco Canyon by SkybirdForever via Wikimedia Commons, used under Creative Commons license.

A black-and-white photographic image depicts the Shroud of Turin. White areas of the image show the outline of a long-haired, bearded man, whose hands are crossed at hip-level.

Scholar’s historical perspective encourages new appreciation for Shroud of Turin

A young man with red hair and glasses, wearing a dark grey golf shirt stands in a courtyard. In the background of the photo is the Palazzo Reale, an elaborate building of white stone with a red tile roof. The palazzo is protected by an adorned green metal fence and there are two statues of men on horseback on the left side of the photo.
Dr. Andrew Casper poses in front of the Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace) in Turin, Italy. The palazzo belonged to the House of Savoy and its Chapel of the Holy Shroud was built in 1688-1694 to house the Shroud of Turin.

Like many others around the world, Dr. Andrew Casper was captivated by the spectacle surrounding the carbon dating of the Shroud of Turin in 1988. “I was only nine or ten years old at the time,” Casper says, “but I remember being fascinated when I saw a big write-up about it in Time magazine and the subsequent results of the tests.”

Today, as an assistant professor of art history at Miami University, Casper remains fascinated by the Shroud. But the question at the heart of that 1988 magazine write-up – “Is the Shroud of Turin real?” – is largely irrelevant as far as he’s concerned.

“That’s a question of faith, of religion,” Casper says. “I have zero interest in confronting those issues. What I’m interested in, as an art historian, is the historical significance of the Shroud in the Renaissance and Baroque periods.”

To explore this significance, Casper has studied devotional manuals, sermons, and other printed texts from the 1500s and 1600s that focus on the Shroud. According to Casper, no one at that time thought of the Shroud as a painting per se. “They didn’t regard it the same way they did Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, for example,” he says.

But the printed literature does refer to the Shroud metaphorically as a painting made by God, whose brush was Christ’s body and whose pigment was Christ’s blood, and Casper says these ways of discussing the Shroud reveal a very different conception of artifice and authenticity, which today we often perceive as binary opposites.

Contrary to what one might expect in modern times, metaphorical comparisons to art in the 16th and 17th Centuries bolstered, rather than undermined, the Shroud’s authenticity. “There was a reverence at the time for artifice,” Casper says, “and the Shroud was, in a certain way, an artistic relic that for contemporary believers gave evidence of God’s creative powers as artist.”

Supported by a Summer Stipend from the National Endowment for the Humanities and a Franklin Research Grant from the American Philosophical Society, Casper traveled to Turin this past July to do archival research at the Archivio di Stato (State Archives), Biblioteca Reale (Royal Library) and the Biliblioteca Nazionale Universitaria (National University Library). There, among the documents he discovered was personal correspondence between the Archduchess of Tuscany, Maria Maddalena d’Austria, and the Duchess of Mantua, Margherita of Savoy, which provided further evidence of the power of the Shroud as an artistic relic.

In handwritten letters dated in 1624 and 1626, the Archduchess of Tuscany asks the Duchess of Savoy, whose family then owned the Shroud, for painted copies to worship in absentia. She stipulates that the copies must be by an “accomplished artistic hand” and that when they are finished, they must be pressed up against the original before being sent to her. This, according to Casper, demonstrates a dual source of power. “The object of worship draws power not only by coming in contact with Christ’s blood on the original Shroud,” he says, “but also by faithfully reproducing what it looks like.”

Ultimately, Casper plans to put his work in a book that he says will introduce a different way of looking at the Shroud of Turin. “The Shroud is so overwhelmingly wrapped into these questions of authenticity that it has deflected the desire to look at it in a historical framework,” he says.

For most scholars there’s just one question to answer: “Is the Shroud of Turin real?” But by approaching the Shroud from a historical perspective, Andrew Casper has found a whole lot of other questions in need of answer. In the end, he may even show us that “Is it real?” is the least interesting question we could ask.

Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director & Information Coordinator, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University

Featured image (left) by Unknown – own work, photographed at Saint-Sulpice, Paris. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Other image (above) courtesy of Andrew Casper.