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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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Pauline Maier from Resistance to Ratification

On Monday morning M.I.T. professor Pauline Maier died at age seventy-five. She was one of the leading historians of the American Revolution in the last half-century. I met Pauline through seminars and committees around Boston, and she was always an enthusiastic and provocative thinker.

Pauline’s early book From Resistance to Rebellion: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776 strongly shaped my understanding of Revolutionary thinking. It connects the protests in North America in the 1760s to the actions of British Whigs in the same period, and showed how the colonial leaders’ argument for securing British rights evolved into an argument for breaking from Britain.

History News Network said Pauline was “one of the formative ‘neo-Whig’ historians of the American Revolution, along with Gordon Wood and Edmund Morgan.” However, she always emphasized the broad American population rather than just the intellectual leaders. For example, in an excellent review for the Journal of Interdisciplinary History of Hiller B. Zobel’s also-excellent The Boston Massacre in 1970, she criticized how that book presents Samuel Adams as manipulating the people of Boston, removing their own autonomy.

Pauline’s American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence highlighted the scores of documents making the case for independence all over the colonies before the Continental Congress got around to their Declaration of Independence. In Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 she skipped over the elite, secret Convention in favor of a deep study of the process by which state conventions and legislatures debated and ultimately adopted the new Constitution.

Teaching at M.I.T., where most students arrive focused on science rather than history, probably piqued Pauline’s interest in reaching beyond academia to the public and using technology to do so. She coauthored a textbook that discussed American history through the prism of inventions. She helped to develop the 2004 videogame Revolution and designed one of the early online courses in American history. C-SPAN has videos of Pauline discussing her last book and her whole body of work.


John L Smith Jr said...

I just heard about this and am very sad to hear it. I would've liked to have met her. Her book (to me) "American Scripture" is epic. Fascinating. This is sad.

Unknown said...

As you know Professor Maier had agreed to debate Fred Anderson on the question of the relationship (or lack thereof) between the "French and Indian" or Seven Years War and the Revolution during our June symposium on "1763 and the Americas." She e-mailed me a few days beforehand to send her sincere regrets that illness would prevent her from participating, and only later did I learn of the extreme seriousness of her health situation. It’s just hard to process how someone so intellectually and personally and vibrant could be snatched away so quickly. A sad day, and a great loss for anyone committed to scholarship on formative period in our national history.
Don Carleton
1763 Peace of Paris Commemoration

Robert S. Paul said...

I've added her books to my wishlist, they sound interesting. She'll live on in them, I'm sure, and I'll share them with my reenactor friends.

Mary Jean Adams said...

How sad! I just finished "Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution." It was so extensive it took me a few months to finish it - and I even bought the audio version. But it was quite good. I would have loved to hear her thoughts on the subject Don mentioned.