Identity Papers and Paper Nations: Making Nationality at Sea in the Revolutionary Era
This paper examines the role that muster rolls (crew lists) and the correspondence found aboard ship played in the process by which privateersmen and admiralty jurists determined the nationality of U.S. merchantment at the end of the eighteenth century. A pair of mirror-image questions animate the paper. First, what does the attempt to use physical objects (paperwork) to identify persons reveal about the instability of national boundaries in the revolutionary era? Using paperwork to discern nationality uncomfortably exposed the fragility of the underlying categories. Second, how did individuals’ socio-professional identities change the way in which they interacted with paperwork? I argue that privateersmen and admiralty jurists, though they looked at the exact same documents, differed radically in their approach to reading and using them. The gap between their approaches could become both a cause for war and a spur to state development. Studying the interaction between people and maritime documents in motion thus opens new windows into the political and cultural history of the revolutionary era.
See more of: Rewriting Revolutions, 1750-1850: New Settings, Characters and Plots
See more of: AHA Sessions