Inventing Eden

Inventing Eden

Zachary Hutchins’s Inventing Eden is a remarkable book. As its subtitle explains, Hutchins examines “primitivism, millennialism, and the making of New England.” Many of us probably know that various colonial and early American boosters promoted the environs of the New World as paradisiacal, Edenic destinations in which beleaguered Europeans could quickly reap a bounty from [Read More...]

“Then I Shall Be a Wicked Child, and the Great God Will Be Very Angry with Me”

New England primer

One beautiful spring afternoon four years ago, I came across a horrifying scene in my living room. One of my two-year-old sons was standing on the back of the couch with his legs spread and his arms outstretched. My other two-year-old son stood facing him with an imaginary hammer in his hand and a determined [Read More...]

The Puritans as Masters of Reform

My history graduate students and I recently read David Hall’s A Reforming People: Puritanism and the Transformation of Public Life in New England (2011), a remarkably admiring portrait of early New England Puritans and their participatory society. While progressive critics, following Nathaniel Hawthorne, have often caricatured the theocratic rule of the Puritan fathers, Harvard’s Hall – one [Read More...]

The Historical Genius of Edmund Morgan

Last week we lost one of the titans of American history writing, Yale’s Edmund Morgan. His publishing career spanned an incredible sixty-five years from his first book (1944) to his last (2009). His topics ranged widely across colonial and Revolutionary American history, but if you have read anything by Morgan, it is likely The Puritan [Read More...]

Two New England Women

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Is history an art or a science? History is empirical and creative. We can marvel at both the diligence of archival research (which itself often involves creativity) and at the creativity of a historian who can unlock the past to us in all of its stunning strangeness and similarity. “History … [is] an imaginative creation,” [Read More...]

A Model of Christian Charity

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Nearly every semester, I have the occasion to ask at least one class of students to read John Winthrop’s 1630 sermon, “Christian Charity, a Modell Hereof.” Most of my students have rather negative impressions of Puritanism, which in their minds probably equals religious intolerance and the execution of teenaged witches. I don’t assign them Winthrop [Read More...]

Understanding the Puritans

The scholarly study of the Puritans has been marked in recent years by attempts to understand them in a fully transatlantic context. This follows a broader trend in early American history to focus on “Atlantic world” perspectives, rather than proto-national American ones. While others could view this de-emphasizing of the future United States as ideologically [Read More...]

The Puritans: Neither Democratic nor American?

As I discussed in my post “Puritans: The Original Republicans?“, few historians today remain interested in Puritanism as the seedbed of American democracy. But as demonstrated by Michael Winship’s excellent book Godly Republicanism, the Puritans may well have been America’s first republicans (small ‘r’), with their loathing of political and ecclesiastical tyranny. It has been interesting [Read More...]

ALL HALLOWED AND HAUNTED

How should we interpret Hurricane Sandy, blowing near Salem, Massachusetts, in the days before Halloween? Might it be read providentially, as it could have been read by the colonists who made the place famous by their treatment of witches? Or is it really an enhancement of Halloween, tempestuous winds to make the party spookier and [Read More...]

Is America New England Writ Large?

I spent the last couple of days at Duke University where I gave a lecture at a really interesting conference on the Bible in the Public Square.  The conference was sponsored by the Duke Department of Religion, the Duke Center for Jewish Studies, and Southern Methodist University. What I found particularly interesting about the conference [Read More...]


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