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Holding Court: Paul Musselwhite

photo of paul musselwhiteHolding Court is an interview series that features the authors of the new books on display in the King Arthur Flour café in Baker-Berry Library.

In this week's edition, we speak with Paul Musselwhite, a historian of early America with a particular focus on the political economy of early plantation societies in North America and the Caribbean.  Paul is the co-editor of  Empire of the Senses: Sensory Practices of Colonialism in Early America (Brill, 2017), which explores the role that the senses played in the production of empire.

What is your book about?

In order for Europeans to colonize the Americas and tap its resources they had to first be able to sense it - to figure out what it smelt like, tasted like, etc. That process made it comprehensible as a set of commodities, people, and places that could be acquired and integrated into their world.

Where did you get your ideas for this book?

I'd been working on the history of English cities in America and I'd been thinking about the way colonists tried to recreate urban sensory experiences (music, food, physical interactions) there. In the process of doing that work I made contact with Prof. Daniella Hacke from Berlin and we came up with the idea of bringing together a lot of scholars who were working on similar topics as part of a new volume.

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

I'm not a neat researcher. I'm a very synthetic thinker so I need lots of books and files open at once, often strewn across my desk, so I can keep jumping back and forth. That's my excuse anyway!

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

I don't think we'll ever move away from the value of some printed material, but the key is going to be finding way to make different kinds of media work together. I'd love to see workspaces that can combine digital media with printed sources and manuscripts.

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

You can never rewrite your introduction too many times - keep going back to it.

And finally, what do you read for fun?

I love to read good travel writing.

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