J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Junto Reviews the Books of Pauline Maier

Early this month The Junto devoted a week of their blog to reviewing the legacy of historian Pauline Maier, who died this summer. Their essays discuss both Pauline’s four major books (she also wrote valuable articles, reviews, and teaching texts) and where she fit into the late-1900s “ideology” school of historians of the Revolution. All the posts are worth reading, but here are some highlights.

Michael Blaakman on From Resistance to Revolution:
Maier demonstrated just how much a scholar can do by writing a history of both ideas and events, in ways that seem to me to have inspired many of the questions and methods that drove the subsequent generation of New New Political Historians. That ever-elusive sweet spot—where ideas and action, process and perception, meet—was the source of Maier’s powerful argument about why the revolutionaries opted for republican self-government after independence, and about how they learned its ins and outs through the work of colonial resistance.
Sara Georgini on The Old Revolutionaries:
Maier’s prosopography of five men and their “worlds,” accentuated by a thoughtful “interlude” on the rigors of political life in the colonies, marked a change in how historians used individual biographies to retell the Revolution to post-bicentennial Americans. First given as a series of lectures at New York University in 1976, the essays gather a fairly random matrix of people for a group shot of colonial life: Samuel Adams, Isaac Sears, Dr. Thomas Young, Richard Henry Lee, and Charles Carroll [plus] [New Hampshire Continental Congress delegate] Josiah and [wife] Mary Bartlett. . . . Wisely, Maier seized this opportunity to remind the reader that revolutionary thought did not happen outside of the colonists’ mundane or personal experience, but during and because of it.
Roy Rogers on American Scripture:
Maier makes several downright revolutionary moves in her interpretation of the Declaration and the movement toward American independence, more broadly. The most important, and most challenging to the common assumptions of historians and laypersons alike, is that there is nothing truly original about the Declaration. Maier sees the document “as a statement of political philosophy, [it] was…purposefully unexceptional in 1776.”
Ken Owen on Ratification:
The attention to detail, and especially the evident desire to treat each and every participant in the debates [over the Constitution] with respect for their views, is an approach that could easily tend to the arcane. Yet Maier writes with a verve and an evident passion for telling the story that can engage academic specialists with its attention to detail, yet also provide a gripping read for. It is easy to see that Maier had great fun researching, writing, and talking to others about this book…
Of these books I found From Resistance to Revolution most helpful for what interests me about pre-Revolutionary New England. The Old Revolutionaries might be the best for more casual reading since it focuses on individuals and each chapter can be taken on its own.

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