Roundtable: The Legacy of Pauline Maier

As promised back in August upon her untimely passing, this week The Junto will be dedicated to exploring the works and legacy of Pauline Maier. I will forego providing any biographical details since they can be found in The Junto‘s memoriam for Maier here.

Pauline Maier (1938-2013)Pauline Maier spent her entire career working on the American Revolution, literally starting her career with the imperial crisis and ending it with the ratification of the Constitution. At each step along the way, she made significant and genuine contributions to our understanding of the Revolution. Whether it was drawing out the transatlantic aspects of the resistance to imperial reform, providing the most readable explication of the radical Whig ideological interpretation, or telling new stories about the ways in which colonists declared independence or citizens debated the Constitution, Maier found an often elusive sweet spot between intellectual history and social history. She took ideas seriously and showed how those ideas played out “on the ground,” beyond just the elites. From that mix, she developed a brand of political history in which popular participation was not just incorporated into the narrative; it was central. Indeed, that popular participation defines the Revolution in the canon that is Maier’s work. And so while Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood may have had higher academic profiles, it was Maier who best fulfilled the potential of the “Harvard interpretation,” thereby making her work more relevant to new generations of historians than that of either Bailyn or Wood. And, to me, that continuing relevance is the core of the legacy of Pauline Maier.

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Tomorrow, Michael Blaakman will look back at From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776 (1972). On Wednesday, Sara Georgini tackles what is perhaps the least heralded of Maier’s works, Old Revolutionaries: Political Lives in the Age of Samuel Adams (1980). On Thursday, Roy Rogers will reconsider American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence (1997). And, finally, we will end the roundtable on Friday with Ken Owen’s take on Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 (2010).

As we celebrate the career of one of the most important early American historians of the last half century, we hope you will join in this conversation on the legacy of these works and of Maier’s work as a whole to the field of early American history.

3 responses

  1. I think of what Pauline Maier did as “naked history,” exploring the meaning to us of what was done in the past as well as the meaning of historical events to those who lived them and shaped them. It’s difficult to satisfactorily know what was done without knowing why it was done.

  2. Pingback: What We're Reading: December 5, 2013


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