The Petition in North America: Interpretive, Spatial, Statistical, and Political Approaches

March 2014

The preparation, canvassing, signing, and transmission of petitions to political authorities comprised some of the most common patterns of political engagement in colonial and post-colonial North American history. Petitioning both expressed and contested inequalities. Its practices and energies challenged and at times reinforced structures of power, wealth, and hierarchy. For this reason and others, petitions have formed an important base of documentation and data for studies in the humanities and social sciences, particularly in the examination of slavery and abolition, women’s liberties, histories of Native American and First Nations peoples, temperance, and religious liberty, among other subjects. Yet the larger practice of petitioning—understood across issues, across peoples, and even across languages—has received much less study, especially outside of the context of European history. The seminar brings together a highly interdisciplinary group of scholars for a discussion of petitions, methods for their study, new possibilities for digitization and public access, and collaboration. Subjects and themes include petitions on religious liberty, petitions by Native American communities, petitions on slavery and abolition, petitions on financial and taxation issues, petitions on land rights and regulation, and petitions in French and Spanish, among other non-English languages. With a fresh focus on the relationship between petitioning, social and religious movements, and the co-evolution of capitalism and democracy in North America, participants will discuss intensively the productive intersection across interpretive, spatial, institutional, and quantitative approaches to the study of petitions in North American political economy.