Chestertown, MD, February 1, 2007 — The American Revolution continues to resonate as the source of many relevant lessons—including an intriguing one involving civilian-military interaction and the law of unintended consequences. Join Kenneth Miller, Assistant Professor of History, when he presents "A Dangerous Set of People: British Captives and the Making of American Identity in Revolutionary Lancaster, Pennsylvania" at Washington College's Litrenta Lecture Hall on Thursday, February 8, at 4:30 p.m.
"A Dangerous Set of People" is being co-sponsored by the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and the Phi Alpha Theta History Honors Society.
Dr. Miller's presentation is derived from his dissertation, which he is currently revising for publication. He explores the initial encounters between American civilians and British prisoners of war during the American Revolution, and shows how the presence of British prisoners fostered the formation of a common American identity in an ethnically diverse community.
Prisoners of war, observes Dr. Miller, offer a useful lens through which to examine the local development of national identity. Historians have demonstrated how interaction with a hostile "Other" promotes the growth of national consciousness by encouraging diverse groups to transcend differences and define themselves collectively against a common enemy.
During the first year of the Revolutionary War, many American officials remained conscious of their lingering cultural bond with the British. This sense of shared kinship influenced Americans' early prisoner policy. Congress recommended that host communities pursue a policy of loose supervision, allowing captives to mix freely with local inhabitants with the aim of fostering amicable relations between residents and prisoners. By promoting peaceable relations, Congress hoped to elicit the prisoners' sympathy for Americans and their cause.
Their mounting difficulties with the prisoners prompted American officials to rethink their policy. British captives proved contentious and rebellious, thwarting American designs. In Lancaster, residents and prisoners soon found themselves at odds. Escalating complaints from local officials ultimately induced Congress to institute a more rigorous system of controls. Thus, contrary to the hopes of American officials, rather than improving relations between combatants, close interactions between captors and captives widened the breach between antagonists. As residents grew increasingly alienated from the British, they became more deeply invested in a distinct American identity.
Admission to "A Dangerous Set of People" is free and open to the public; a reception will follow. For more information, call 410-810-7161.