Digital Paxton: A Digital Archive and Critical Edition of the Paxton Pamphlet War

Pedagogy

Beyond their historical import (the crisis of governance that in many ways presages the Revolution), the Paxton pamphlet war showcases a debate that is powerfully resonate with today’s zero-sum racial politics.

In A Spirited Existence, historian Gregory Evans Dowd argues that the late-eighteenth century saw “The Indian’s Great Awakening,” during which pan-nativist revivals brought Delaware, Shawnee, and other tribes toward monotheism. As tribes fused their beliefs with settlers’ theology and commerce, rural farmers created their own fused counter-culture. In The Backcountry and the City, Ed White writes, “As Indians begin to…adopt fusion as their response, some farmers, already inclined by racism to perceive Indians as an undifferentiated collective, come to see Indians as fused in a life-or-death-struggle to eliminate white settlers” (103).

Certainly, this was a fiction, but a redolent one for a minority that felt besieged by outside forces, ignored by their government, and left behind in an increasingly cosmopolitan age. In the 1764, that aggrieved minority largely won the day: none of the Paxton Boys faced trial; anti-Paxton leaders were punished at the polls (including Benjamin Franklin‚Äč, who lost his Assembly seat); and the pamphlet war validated the Paxtonian policy of state-sponsored frontier war, as exercised in the Wyoming Valley. In the context of the Brexit vote and the rise of right-wing nationalist movements across the West, high school students on the cusp of enfranchisement would do well to study this incident and to critically engage pamphleteers’ zero-sum views of race, class, and cosmopolitanism.

To support such critical inquiry, Digital Paxton will host reading selections and lesson guides designed for both secondary and post-secondary education. Educators at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania have created a multi-part high school lesson plan. Montgomery Wolf (University of Georgia) has also provided an innovative assignment that asks students to create podcasts using the Digital Paxton archive. And Benjamin Bankhurst (Shepherd University) and Kyle Roberts (Loyola University Chicago), who are co-teaching an undergraduate history course about the American Revolution, have shared a Digital Paxton transcription assignment.

We will post additional educational materials as they are made available. If you would like to share a relevant assignment or lesson plan, please email fenton at fordham dot edu.

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  1. Franklin and the Quakers
  2. The Backcountry and the City