Gatepost Interview: Joseph Adelman History Professor

Cara McCarthy / THE GATEPOST

By Cara McCarthy

Associate Editor

What is your educational and professional background?

I did my undergraduate degree in history at Harvard. Then, for two years after undergrad, I worked as a communications director for a state assemblyman in New York. I was doing everything from constituting correspondence, to press releases, to media communications, and also – because it was a small office – worked on some policy areas related to telecommunications. I decided I wanted to go back and go to graduate school and be an early American historian, so I did my Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins down in Baltimore. And I have been at Framingham State since 2012.

What made you want to be an early American historian?

I have been interested in the American Revolution since I was eight years old. I had a second-grade teacher who gave me a book about the revolution – I don’t remember what book. But it set me on my path and I have been fascinated by it ever since. Obviously, as an adult, it’s grown into more than just an obsession with reading and rereading the novel ‘Johnny Tremain.’ But as I got into college, I started thinking about reading real historians and reading original documents, thinking about the revolution and how it happened, how and why those 13 colonies decided – and actually made – real independence is a question that has been with me for a really long time.

Can you describe your book and why it’s important?

My book is called ‘Revolutionary Networks’ and it’s my way of answering that big question about the revolution. What I did in the book is look in the printing trade, which was – for all intents and purposes – the media in the 18th century and how their business practices and interests shaped the politics of the revolution. I looked at the people who were working in the printing offices, who were master printers, tradesmen who worked with their hands. But they also interacted with lots of elites and they edited newspapers, almanacs, pamphlets, and all sorts of other things and made lots of choices about what to print in those publications, and having a pretty big impact on what people read and how people see events that are taking place. 

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?

That is a tough one. I think the book is a pretty big accomplishment. It took me about 15 years to do the research and writing. It’s been a thrill to actually have it and hold it in my hands. I’m really proud of my kids and that they are healthy and growing up strong. I wouldn’t necessarily call it my biggest accomplishment, but I feel like the work I do is important – whether that’s something like writing and engaging with an audience who reads the book, the work I do every day in the classroom, or working with students, getting students to help see how crucial it is to think about the past and get people to think about the past in new ways.

What advice do you have for new historians?

My advice is to think about what you want to do with your life and what kind of impact you want to make in the world. Hopefully, we’ve [FSU] helped give you the tools to think about how history – not so much as a set of content, but as a set of skills – as a way of approaching the world, can help inform what you do.

What advice do you have for FSU students?

I think the thing I would say to FSU students is that we – meaning the faculty and the staff – see and know how hard you’re working. We understand the effort you’re putting in and we want you to come to us for help when you need it. One of the things I think that is hard to see is when you’re working really hard and struggling with something. I know moments in my life when I’ve been in that place, that it’s hard to stop and ask for help. But it’s what we’re here for. So, I think that would be my one piece of advice. Ask for help, whether it’s from a professor, a staff member, or an RA. It might not even be the person who’s necessarily the right person to answer the question. But reaching out to somebody will lead to help in whatever the issue is. Don’t worry about asking for help – that’s what we want you to do. 

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