Part 3: Research Assistantship with Dr. Reed

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The following post is a part of a series that I am doing for University of Colorado’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP). In March 2014, I received an Assistantship grant through UROP to work with Dr. Isaac Reed on a project in the field of comparative historical sociology. This blog series documents my UROP Assistantship research experience.

The last few weeks of my research were spent wrestling with the idea of merchants in seventeenth century New England. I read Bernard Bailyn’s The New England Merchants in the Seventeenth Century, as well as excerpts from the Massachusetts Historical Society’s collections of letters from the Mathers to leaders in the Bay Colony during this time. Most of my research up to this point had been spent studying the religious beliefs of New England settlers, and their relationships with the Native Americans, as well as their beliefs about government and their thoughts on England. As someone who is very interested in culture, the self, and religion, it was hard for me to delve into such a thorough look at the influence of economics and the merchant class during this time.

Because of my aforementioned interests, I was very curious as to Bailyn’s explanation of the dichotomous belief structure amongst merchants which prized independence from the mother country while simultaneously trying to recreate life in England as much as possible. I’m also interested in the inverse relationship between the growth of commercialism and the health of Puritan society. Merchants weren’t necessarily against Puritanism, but economic viability was often enhanced when religious rigidity waned. I think that this is something that we still see today, and it gets the Marx gears turning in my brain. How does the capitalist mode of production affect an individual or a group’s ability to maintain their faith? Weber would argue that the health of Protestantism in England and the American colonies actually created an inclination for capitalist tendencies. Puritan New England seems to be a great study in how the efforts to lead a holistic life where spirituality was woven into every aspect of the societal fabric did not pan out as they had wished. And is this because the need to form an independent (or semi-independent) economy from England required less of a market that catered to the health of the society and more of a market that could compete with England’s growing idea of ‘empire’ after the Restoration?

These are my questions. I think that I am getting a better idea of how to synthesize the various books I am reading into a more broad, macro look at social structures during this time, but I am going to turn now to more of a specific look at Comparative and Historical Sociology methodology to get a better picture. I will be reading Barrington Moore, Jr.’s Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, as this book is considered a foundational document in the rebirth of Comparative and Historical Sociology in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

This post was first published on the University of Colorado's UROP Blog. Image via MFA.