“Those Fair Seats:” Early American Immigrant Materialities

deadline for submissions: 
September 15, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS)
contact email: 

Call for Paper Proposals

ASECS Conference in St. Louis, March 19-21, 2020. 

Society of Early Americanists (SEA)--ASECS Affiliate Panel

Panel Organizer: Patrick M. Erben, perben@westga.edu (SEA President 2019-2021)


Panel Title: “Those Fair Seats:” Early American Immigrant Materialities

With his 1751 paper “Observations on the Increase of Mankind,” Benjamin Franklin famously created a hallmark contribution to the development of anti-immigrant sentiment and discourse in British North America.  By wedding racialized fears of German immigration (whom he viciously ostracized as “Palatine Boors”) to a vilification of multilingualism, Franklin initiated a potent cocktail of xenophobia that could be re-deployed throughout successive waves of American nativism. Following in Franklin’s footsteps, William Smith, episcopal priest and first provost of the College of Philadelphia (later University of Pennsylvania), admonished German immigrants that the possession of their “fair seats” (A Brief History of the Charitable Scheme, 1755)—materially designating their property and citizenship status—was conditionally tied to their degree of assimilation to English language and culture. Other Non-Anglo-phone immigrants (Spanish, French, Dutch, Swedish, etc.) in eighteenth-century America began to face similar resentments and coercive schemes aimed at assimilation and/or exclusion.

Yet, these non-English speaking immigrants have left indelible marks upon the linguistic, cultural, and especially the material landscape of eighteenth-century America. This panel invites presentations that consider materiality beyond the metaphorical representation of abstract concepts such as citizenship and property. How did these immigrant populations carve out physical “seats”—furniture, houses, books, decorative arts, architecture, ecological spaces—that resisted assimilation, marginalization, and alienation (in the sense of being made to appear “alien”)? The panel encourages scholarship that employs various methodologies of recovery and a variety of physical archives or repositories to re-center the material presence of immigrant constituencies whose presence and foreignness cultural arbiters like Franklin and Smith sought to erase. How do physical traces—both material and in their textual echoes—continue to resist the precarious conditionality promoted by Anglo-American stakeholders?

Please send your 200-250 word proposal and a 1-page CV (as Word or PDF attachments) to Patrick Erben (perben@westga.edu) by September 15, 2019.