History and the Seeds of Memory: Reflections on Ric Burns’ The Pilgrims

pilgrims_pbsamexperienceIn his now classic study of early nationalism, historian Benedict Anderson wrote “I propose the following definition of the nation: it is an imagined political community—and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign. It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion…. Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined….”[1] While Puritan society was not a “nation” in the sense that Anderson meant it, his reflections nonetheless are evident in Ric Burns’ documentary, The Pilgrims. Burns seeks not to merely retell the Thanksgiving story, but to understand why Plimouth Rock and the popular Thanksgiving story (much of which is inaccurate) is such a pervasive part of the American origins story.

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The American Revolution within the British Imagination

british-american-flag-pattern-backgroundFour months ago, I reviewed Andrew D. M. Beaumont’s Colonial America and the Earl of Halifax. A biography of an often overlooked figure, Beaumont makes a strong case for including Halifax in standard interpretations of the coming of the American Revolution. As Beaumont showed, to enrich our understanding of colonial British America, including the 1760s and early 1770s, we must appreciate the importance of high-ranking British officials. We also need to isolate and account for the behavior of the people underpinning and changing the constitutional relationship between Britain and its colonies in North America. Continue reading

Autumn Reads

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“Valley of the Catawissa in Autumn,” Thomas Moran (ca. 1862)

Fall brings new early American titles to explore. Enjoy our Spring Reads 2015 list, too, and share your finds below!

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Spring Reads

Spring_panel_from_the_Four_Seasons_leaded-glass_window_by_Louis_Comfort_TiffanyHere’s our seasonal roundup of new and forthcoming titles. Share your finds below!  Continue reading

This Week in Early American History

TWEAHWelcome to another edition of This Week in Early American History! We wish a safe and healthy holiday to those who are observing Easter this weekend, and a Chag Kasher V’Sameach to those who are celebrating Passover. Now, on to the links….

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Q&A with Stephen R. Berry, Author of A Path in the Mighty Waters

9780300204230The following is an interview with Stephen R. Berry, an Associate Professor of History at Simmons College. My review of Berry’s recently-released book, A Path in the Mighty Waters: Shipboard Life and Atlantic Crossings to the New World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015) appeared on the blog yesterday. Today, he agreed to answer some follow-up questions about his book and his future research plans. Continue reading

Guest Post: William Black, Gordon Wood’s Notecards and the Two Presentisms

Today we are pleased to have a guest post from William R. Black (@w_r_black), a PhD student of history at Rice University. His research examines how Cumberland Presbyterians dealt with slavery, sectionalism, theological controversy, and professionalization in the nineteenth century.

blogsize-obama-gordon-woodGordon Wood riled up the #twitterstorians with a review of his advisor Bernard Bailyn’s latest book, Sometimes an Art: Nine Essays on History. Much of the review is not so much about Bailyn as it is about later generations of historians, who (according to Wood) have abandoned narrative history for “fragmentary,” obscure monographs on subaltern peoples. Wood attacks these historians for being “anachronistic—condemning the past for not being more like the present.” He continues: Continue reading