1. The sketch above is taken from Herbert Harlakenden Gilchrist’s Notebook, kept from 1876-1877, when he lived in Philadelphia and became close with Whitman. Gilchrist spent time with Whitman as the poet pursued forms of rehabilitation outdoors at Timber Creek in Camden, New Jersey. Whitman had experienced a major paralytic stroke in 1873, which left him partially paralyzed on his left side. Gilchrist recorded their conversations in his notebook, now held at the Kislak Center for Special Collections at the University of Pennsylvania. On one of the pages he has drawn Whitman in a seated position, apparently in mid-sentence with his right arm raised. The lettering for this graphic has related significance. Whitman was right-handed. In 1875 another stroke had affected his ability to write. Correspondence reveals that Whitman expressed his frustration to Gilchrist about the way an intensifying “rheumatism” was changing his handwriting. The lettering above is adapted from the title page created for Specimen Days, and Collect (1882), the book Stephen Kuusisto has called Whitman’s “disability memoir.” We speculate that the lettering created for Specimen Days was designed to represent the influence of Whitman’s rheumatic episodes on his penmanship. Thus, we have aimed for continuity in the shape and style of the letters in this rendition of the present issue’s title.


Welcome to Commonplace, a destination for exploring and exchanging ideas about early American history and culture. A bit less formal than a scholarly journal, a bit more scholarly than a popular magazine, Commonplace speaks—and listens—to scholars, museum curators, teachers, hobbyists, and just about anyone interested in American history before 1900. It is for all sorts of people to read about all sorts of things relating to early American life—from architecture to literature, from politics to parlor manners. It’s a place to find insightful analysis of early American history as it is discussed in scholarly literature, as it manifests on the evening news, as it is curated in museums, big and small; as it is performed in documentary and dramatic films and as it shows up in everyday life.

In addition to critical evaluations of books and websites (Reviews) and poetic research and fiction (Creative Writing), our articles explore material and visual culture (Objects); pedagogy, the writing of literary scholarship, and the historian’s craft (Teach); and diverse aspects of America’s past and its many peoples (Learn). For more great content, check out our other projects, (Just Teach One) and (Just Teach One African American Print).


How to cite Commonplace articles:

Author, “Title of Article,” Commonplace: the journal of early American life, date accessed, URL.

Sophie White, “Trading Looks Race, Religion and Dress in French America,” Commonplace: the journal of early American life, accessed September 30, 2019, https://commonplace.online/article/trading-looks-race-religion-dress-french-america/


Joshua R. Greenberg, editor


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