Guest Post: Cotton Mather and the Enlightenment in New England: Redefining the Holy Spirit

Philipp Reisner received his PhD from and teaches as a lecturer in the American Studies  Department at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, Germany. He approaches research multidisciplinarily and is particularly interested in New English and American literature, cultures, and theologies. His first book, Cotton Mather als Aufklärer. Glaube und Gesellschaft im Neuengland der Frühen Neuzeit, deals with the theological role that the New English theologian Cotton Mather (1663–1728) played in the context of early modern society and was published in the Reformed Historical Theology series with Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht in 2012.

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My book Cotton Mather als Aufklärer. Glaube und Gesellschaft im Neuengland der Frühen Neuzeit examines Cotton Mather’s writings, identifying him as participating in Enlightenment thought through his various societal roles as pastor, physician, politician, and scientist. Mather studies have become an important part of early modern studies, not least because they touch on so many disciplines—such as natural and life sciences, philosophy, history, philology, and theology—and the ways these disciplines were transformed throughout the early eighteenth century. His oeuvre is currently undergoing revision, attention being drawn to his theology through the first publication of his Bible commentary Biblia Americana; this revision tends to reinterpret him as an early evangelical. It has not been fully recognized to what extent this reinterpretation depends on his pneumatology. In my book, I examine his pneumatology in his Bible commentary and his many publications in order to show how Mather’s redefinition of the Holy Spirit posits itself in relation to the unfolding of Enlightenment thought. Continue reading

Historical Charts and David Ramsay’s Narrative of Progress

A while back Slate’s “The Vault” blog ran a piece on John Sparks’s “Histomap” from 1931. I was recently reminded of that post as I came across a number of eighteenth-century historical charts during my dissertation research on eighteenth-century American history culture.[1] In the eighteenth century, there were conflicting understandings of historical time. Some understood time to be cyclical, as evidenced by the rise and (inevitable) fall of empires throughout history. Increasingly, however, historical time was coming to be understood as linear (in a mechanical, Newtonian sense). With the linear conception came the idea of historical time as being fundamentally progressive. This conception was further distinguished by those who understood it in terms of a narrative of social and political progress and those who understood it in millennialist terms, i.e., time progressing toward the end-of-days. These ideas shaped the ways in which one thought about history, and, in a time when historical distance was far more truncated than today, they had a profound effect on how one viewed their contemporary world. Historical understanding and, hence, historical writing were undergoing significant shifts in the eighteenth century. One of the by-products of these developments was the historical chart.

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The Week in Early American History

TWEAHHappy Mother’s Day! Consider our gift to the mothers amongst our readership to be the following links, links, and more links…  Continue reading

Yes, Virginia, there was an American Enlightenment

State of the Field PanelThanks to John Fea’s live-tweeting and subsequent reflections on OAH panels this past weekend, I would like to address some of the points and comments made during the panel entitled, “State of the Field: The Trans-Atlantic Enlightenment in America.” Since Twitter is problematic in getting across complex ideas due to its 140-character limitation, I have chosen a few of the tweets in which the comments seemed to me to be common arguments or perceptions that I have previously encountered.

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Articles of Note: Spring and Summer 2013

Many months ago, I posted the first of what I hoped to be a quarterly series highlighting recent articles I enjoyed, and inviting readers to do the same. Sadly, life got in the way, and so I have a bit to make up. As a recap for this roundup’s purpose: there are so many journals publishing quality articles in the field of early American history that it is difficult, if not impossible, to keep up. So this list serves as a reminder that you need to catch up on new issues, a identify articles I found especially important, as well as a chance to highlight the work of young scholars and friends. Just because an article doesn’t make the list doesn’t mean I didn’t like it—in fact, I am way behind on my own reading—but it is an invitation to list your own favorite recent articles in the comments below.

The following articles were published between March and September, and obviously reflect my own interests and background. Also, remember the fantastic articles in the special WMQ issue on families and the Atlantic world that I highlighted a few months ago. Continue reading

A Library for the Digital Republic: The DPLA Is Launched

DPLA-logo-blueFour years ago, Robert Darnton, historian and librarian at Harvard, wrote in the New York Review that “we [had] missed a great opportunity.” Instead of digitizing America’s print heritage in a public project, perhaps managed by “a grand alliance of research libraries,” the United States had allowed a private corporation to control the scanning and storing of books. Depending on the outcome of federal lawsuits, Google Books would enjoy a virtual monopoly on books still in copyright.

“We could have created a National Digital Library—the twenty-first-century equivalent of the Library of Alexandria,” Darnton wrote. “It is too late now. Not only have we failed to realize that possibility, but, even worse, we are allowing a question of public policy—the control of access to information—to be determined by private lawsuit.”

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