Past and Prologue: The Politics of Memory in the American Revolution
This manuscript argues that cultural memories of the historical past were crucial in shaping both the political dynamics of coming of the Revolution and the development of early American nationalism. It uncovers a wealth of historical writing and representations throughout the period’s cultural production that had been outside the bounds of previous scholarship on eighteenth-century historiography by being the first to apply the methodological concept of “history culture” to early America. Past and Prologue shows how the conflict with Britain forced Americans to construct, revise, and deconstruct a number of shared historical pasts as part of a decades-long process of identity formation necessary to establishing political and, later, cultural independence from Britain.
In doing so, it challenges a number of well-worn notions. First, rather than claiming the Revolution liberated Americans from the past, it argues that the Revolution actually made the past matter more than ever before. Second, rather than claiming early American nationalism differed from European nationalism because it rejected the past, my work argues that revolutionary Americans did make a shared past a crucial part of their national identity. And, finally, rather than the consensus that national identity did not begin to emerge until the early national period, Past and Prologue argues that the origins of American national identity can be found in the shared historical pasts created as a result of the political crisis with Britain over the course of the decade before independence.
“‘All remembrance of themselves’: Creating the Colonial Past in the Revolutionary Historical Imagination, 1764-1812”
- Drawn from two dissertation chapters, this article explores how colonists created for the first time a shared colonial past in the political rhetoric of the 1760s and 1770s and how they revised that colonial past after the war in light of the political and cultural challenges of the early national period, particularly the fostering of national identity and cultural independence from the former mother country.
“Networking and the Institutionalization of History Culture in the Early Republic, 1783-1812”
- This article looks at the interconnected relationships between historians, antiquarians, poets, essayists, painters, politicians, publishers, and booksellers in the early republic. It argues that this informal networking played a significant role in the rapid growth of historical cultural production and informed the creation of the nation’s first historical institutions.
“Cultural Authority and the Creation of Civil Society in Colonial New York City, 1747-1770”
- This article examines attempts by a group of young, enlightened dissenters in New York City to foster the development of the city’s cultural life through the creation of journals, magazines, libraries, and voluntary, professional, and economic societies. However, unlike the cultural development of Philadelphia and Boston, which they sought to emulate, their efforts in New York City ran into strong opposition from the city’s Anglican establishment, particularly its clergy who correctly saw these developments as a direct challenge to their longstanding cultural authority in the city.