American Colonial History: Clashing Cultures and Faiths

My new Yale University Press book American Colonial History: Clashing Cultures and Faiths is ‘in stock’ this week at Amazon, and officially releases on April 12. My aim in this book is to tell a readable story of early America, including the meetings and conflicts of Africans, Europeans, and Native Americans. It is based on extensive [Read More…]

Christmas in 1776

From the Patheos archive: ‘Tis the season to argue about religion. Or more specifically, to feud about whether to say Merry Christmas or Seasons Greetings…to call it a Christmas Village or a Holiday Village…or to allow a crèche or menorah to stand on public property. What would Americans at the time of our nation’s founding [Read More…]


I recently posted about using visual materials to tell religious history. Some of the most useful images are the really hostile cartoons and satires. Not that you expect these to be in any sense fair and balanced, but they do give an idea of the issues at stake in the polemic of the time. They [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…]

A Model of Christian Charity

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…]

Puritans: The Original Republicans?

What political legacy did the Puritans leave to America? There was a time when historians commonly portrayed the Puritans as America’s founding democrats.  No one better articulated this view than Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote in Democracy in America that Puritanism was not merely a religious doctrine, but it corresponded in many points with the most absolute [Read More…]

Best 5 Books on the Puritans

I recently reviewed Michael Winship’s Godly Republicanism: Puritans, Pilgrims, and a City on a Hill, and thought I would use the occasion to offer a list of 5 all-time great books on the Puritans in America. The Puritans have attracted a great deal of scholarly attention, so there are lots of excellent books not included [Read More…]