Today’s post is a joint effort between two contributors to The Junto: Michael Blaakman and Sara Damiano.
Three years ago, during a graduate-seminar discussion of Prospero’s America, Walter Woodward’s study of Puritans and alchemy, John Demos made a bold and challenging point. After a century or so of professional scholarship, many of American history’s most obvious stories have been told in the ways it seems easiest to tell them. One of the greatest tasks for the rising generation of historians, Demos suggested, is to search beneath the surface of things for stories yet untold—for processes, events, ideas, and dynamics that subsequent history has largely obscured, and that often pose significant evidentiary problems for those who wish to write about them. In other words, the next generation of scholars will have to try harder than their predecessors to ask new questions and to find new methods for wringing answers out of the sources. Continue reading