The sea - a testbed for paper citizenship in the United States
Interview with Nathanaël Perl-Rosenthal — Professeur associé — Université de Californie du Sud (USC Dornsife)
Jean-Frédéric Schaub — Directeur d'études — EHESS (MOAM)
How did one use to distinguish between someone from Britain and someone from the US? Accent played a preponderant role up until the invention of paper certificates. Historian Nathan Perl-Rosenthal goes over the history of the creation of US national identity documents during the wars of independence in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. How could one give material form to national belonging prior to the invention of photography? In the US as elsewhere, personal identity documents are a recent creation and initially concerned marginalized people – in the case studied here sailors, some of them black. In a slave nation, how did runaway slaves use certificates, including false certificates, to flee the plantations? Citizenship is yet another domain where the state is built from its margins.
Identity documents in the form of paper certificates have only existed for two hundred years in the United States. They were initially created to identify sailors in the period of the wars of independence.
Interview published on 07-04-2018
Last modified on 07-04-2018
Original language: English Lire la version French
  • Bibliography of Nathanaël Perl-Rosenthal

“Atlantic Cultures and the Age of Revolution”, William and Mary Quarterly , vol. 74, n° 4, 2017, p. 667-697.

Citizen Sailors: Becoming American in the Age of Revolution, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2015.