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No Useless Mouth at #RNY19

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In anticipation of Researching New York 2019: A Conference on New York State , we asked author Rachel B. Herrmann three questions about her upcoming book No Useless Mouth: Waging War and Fighting Hunger in the American Revolution

1. What inspired you to write this book?

I’m the sort of person who gets hangry—the combined emotion of feeling hungry and angry—and I wondered whether I would encounter people feeling that emotion in the past. People in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries expected to endure hunger more frequently, but many of them also had more experience preventing it. I wasn’t prepared for how many different versions of hunger there were, or for the number of instances where people seemed more interested in creating hunger than in fighting it.

2. What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

There were two duelling versions of history that circulated in the early 1790s. In one, U.S. Indian Agent Timothy Pickering incorrectly described early English colonists who arrived in North America and immediately began to farm. He used this story to try to sell the benefits of agriculture to Senecas who already farmed. In the other version, the Seneca named Cornplanter described the Continental Army’s 1779 invasion of Iroquoia, which destroyed years of Native women’s agricultural labor, and earned George Washington the name “Conotocarious,” or “Town-Destroyer.” Cornplanter referred to this history to ask Washington if the United States intended to leave the Senecas any land to farm.

3. What do you think attendees at #RNY19 will get out of, or enjoy the most, about your book?

There are a lot of New York places I deal with in the book, including Fort Niagara and the Mohawk Valley more generally. I’d like to persuade people that food and hunger are subjects that all historians must consider if they wish to to write comprehensive histories—not only because people in the past had to reckon with food and its absence on a daily basis, but also because the imperial officials who discussed these subjects often tried to alter and misrepresent the historical record. Food, then, is more than a fun or entertaining subject: studying it shows us when people bid for power by falsifying past events.


For more information about #RNY19, follow @UAlbanyHistory on Twitter, and meet @michaelmcgandy at our #CornellPress booth!

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