VOLUMES SUCH AS the one before you often have a long history. This one is no exception. When Martha J. McNamara arrived at the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) to begin a long-term fellowship in December of 2004, neither of us would have guessed that we would end up organizing a major conference or that the conference would be the inauguration of the Center for Historic American Visual Culture (CHAViC) at AAS. At the time, Martha was an associate professor of history at the University of Maine. Her research at AAS on the representation of New England’s landscape in history and art from 1790 to 1850 was a topic of interest to me as well and I enjoyed peering over her shoulder in Antiquarian Hall as she examined hundreds of prints. She returned to Worcester for the New England American Studies Association conference held at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in September 2005, Sightlines: The Culture and Science of Vision. As a result of that conference and our shared interests, we began a conversation in Worcester about collaborating on a conference about New England imagery. Shortly after Sightlines, Martha mentioned this idea to the Colonial Society of Massachusetts’s editor of publications, John W. Tyler, who quickly encouraged her to undertake such a project under the auspices of the Colonial Society.

At precisely the same time, the Council of the American Antiquarian Society was poised to establish the Center for Historic American Visual Culture, an idea that came into being in April of 2005 during the annual conference of the Organization of American Historians. By the time of the October meeting of the Council’s committee on programs and collections, the broad outlines of what CHAViC might accomplish over time were approved. Again by chance, John Tyler was a member of the programs and collections committee and very generously proposed that the Colonial Society of Massachusetts would sponsor the inaugural conference based on the very preliminary ideas that Martha had shared with him. We scheduled it for November 2007. In preparation for the call for papers and the selection of speakers, Martha and I assembled a steering committee that included Joanna L. Frang, then a graduate student at Brandeis, David Jaffee, then of the Graduate Center at the City University of New York and now at the Bard Graduate Center, Jane Kamensky of Brandeis University, Jennifer L. Roberts of Harvard University, Eric Slauter of the University of Chicago, Caroline F. Sloat of the American Antiquarian Society, and John Tyler. We selected speakers and invited Leora Auslander of the University of Chicago to offer the keynote address on “American Exceptionalism? Material Culture in Colonial and Revolutionary America.” Those present at the conference heard fifteen papers over the day and a half of the symposium, including several that are not presented in this volume.

Again, by chance, 2007 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s, extraordinary exhibition, New England Begins, which thoroughly examined the material and visual culture of seventeenth-century New England through the lens of history. Now out of print, the three-volume catalog of artifacts gathered from all over the United States and scholarly essays remains a model for exhibition teams. We decided that the conference would celebrate that pathbreaking exhibition by inviting several of the people involved in its creation to speak after a festive conference dinner at the John Woodman Higgins Armory. David D. Hall, Jonathan L. Fairbanks, Robert B. St. George, Wendy Kaplan, Abbott Lowell Cummings, and Robert F. Trent spoke in a session moderated by Jane Kamensky about their roles in that endeavor and how New England Begins changed scholarship on early New England material culture. I am convinced that this gathering encouraged some of the most senior scholars and curators in the field to attend the full conference. We were stunned when 185 people registered for it. To be sure that members of the next generation of scholars shared in the experience, a generous donor made a gift to the Colonial Society to provide stipends for five graduate students.

The papers at the conference in some ways built upon the scholarship of the Museum of Fine Arts’s 1982 exhibition. Some examined familiar items, but with an expanded context. Others focused on unfamiliar materials and presented new visual and material resources to scholars. In contrast to New England Begins, we brought the time period forward into the era of the New Republic so that presentations covered the time period from settlement through 1830. The papers fell into interesting thematic groups: “Geography: Envisioning an Expanding World,” “Economy, Authority and Material Life,” “Vision, Memory, and Remembrance,” “Animate Objects,” and “Object, Text, and Context.” Margaretta M. Lovell of the University of California at Berkeley and Wendy A. Bellion of the University of Delaware provided summations. Jennifer Roberts, Kevin M. Sweeney of Amherst College, David Jaffee, Edward S. Cooke, Jr. of Yale University, and Marcy J. Dinius of the University of Delaware (now at DePaul University) moderated the sessions.

On behalf of the American Antiquarian Society, I would like to express our gratitude to the Colonial Society of Massachusetts for its generous sponsorship of the conference. Even though the Center for Historic American Visual Culture did not yet have a budget line and registration fees did not begin to cover the expenses incurred by the speakers, this conference was a brilliant inauguration for the Center. One of the Center’s goals is to encourage research and the conference was a perfect illustration of how this might work. We are also grateful to the Colonial Society for publishing this collection of essays that makes this new scholarship available to an expanded audience. The scholars whose work is represented in this volume are deserving of this fine publication and they join me in expressing thanks to the Colonial Society. The American Antiquarian Society is also grateful to the Department of Humanities and Arts at Worcester Polytechnic Institute for hosting the sessions on the Saturday of the conference.

Martha McNamara has brought her knowledge of New England history and material culture to bear on the essays as she shaped them into this volume. I have so enjoyed working with her that we are collaborating on programming for an exhibition at the Wellesley College’s Davis Museum on French and American lithography. We thank our authors for their patience and the many institutions that granted permission to reproduce materials from their collections. We appreciate John Tyler’s constant support, Jane Ward’s excellent editorial skill, and Paul Hoffmann of Hoffmann Design for his role in this elegant publication.