Masters of the Manuscript, Makers of Knowledge: Colonial New England Students and their Shorthand Notes

In: Erudition and the Republic of Letters
Theodore R. Delwiche Graduate Student, Department of History, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA

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By failing to keep up with the praxeological turn of early modern Europeanists in the 1980s, scholarship on colonial America has consistently discounted the historical student. Uninterested in examining the intellectual habits of colonial students, early American historians have had little to say about seventeenth- and eighteenth-century schools beyond rehearsing worn, and often demonstrably false platitudes. This article seeks to take colonial students seriously by examining one of their most common, yet little studied intellectual practices: shorthand. When we apply the focus on intellectual praxis to modest subjects, when we look across boundaries of space and time, placing colonial America back into the fold of early modern history, a different image of the historical student snaps into focus. Rather than negligible rote memorizers, colonial students become active and engaged learners who sought to propagate the latest scribal technologies of their times.

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