Monday, October 21, 2019

John Gilbert McCurdy's "Quarters"

John Gilbert McCurdy is Professor of History at Eastern Michigan University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Quarters: The Accommodation of the British Army and the Coming of the American Revolution, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Quarters: The Accommodation of the British Army and the Coming of the American Revolution discusses the arrival of the Quartering Act in America in the summer of 1765 and the specific provisions of the law.

Does the page 99 test work for Quarters?

Indeed it does! Quarters is a book about finding places for British soldiers to sleep, eat, and store their effects (quartering) in the two decades before the American Revolutionary War. Quartering was a controversial practice because, historically, soldiers were placed in people’s homes.

To regulate quartering in the American colonies, the British Parliament passed the Quartering Act in 1765. The law is often cited as a cause of Revolution and many historians have mistakenly argued that the law forced British soldiers into Americans’ homes. However, I argue that this is a blatant misreading of what the law actually said and how it was enforced.

To wit, page 99 of Quarters makes this point clearly. On this page, I explore the language of the law which makes it clear that soldiers were not to be quartered in people’s homes, but rather barracks, taverns, or uninhabited buildings. Moreover, the law included punishments for officers who violated the law.

One may legitimately ask why I needed to write a book to make the point I just made in less than 150 words. Quarters is about more than one law. I also explore the long history of quartering from ancient times to the present.

Quarters is also about place. Scholars have investigated ideas of place in recent years, asking about why certain places have the meanings we give them. My book situates this question in the era of the American Revolution with a particular focus on military geography. In effect, I believe that American colonists were debating how to answer the question “where do soldiers belong?” They agreed that troops did not belong in their homes, but then where should they be quartered? In the 1750s, Americans built barracks in every major city, but this changed the city. Soon colonists began to argue that troops belonged on the frontier, and consequently, they imagined their cities as places of peace. Ultimately, they concluded that America was a distinct place from the rest of the British Empire and decided on independence.
Learn more about Quarters at the Cornell University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Citizen Bachelors: Manhood and the Creation of the United States by John G. McCurdy.

--Marshal Zeringue