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.
I’ve loved history for a long time. It’s been a steadfast companion through a lot of life’s wins and challenges. Through a combination of traveling, engaging teachers, and pure interest, I found as a young person a true zeal for American history, specifically the early years of colonization and the Revolution. Growing up in Colorado, however, didn’t provide many hands-on opportunities for the study of colonial American history, so off I went to Boston for college. My first BA in history, and the time I spent examining Salem Village, John Adams, and more left an indelible mark on my academic life.
But I always felt like there was something missing. I wanted to know what it was about John Adams life that made him do the things he did, sure, but beyond his history, I wanted to know WHY he did the things he did. A mentor urged me to approach the question from a sociological perspective – could I further uncover John Adams the person, the British colonial, the lawyer, the statesman, the American president if I looked to broader sociological theory and culture for answers?
The answer is yes, and it is done through something called comparative-historical sociology, which I am learning uses historical study to uncover broader sociological movements at work in this world. By incorporating social theory into our historical research, we can hopefully go deeper into unearthing the ‘why’ behind what we do as humans.
There is a lot to learn, though, and I’m excited to spend the summer working as Dr. Isaac Reed’s research assistant on his new project about sovereignty troubles at the edge of the British empire in the 17th and 18th centuries in America via a comparative study of Bacon’s Rebellion (1676), the interregnum in Massachusetts (1684-1692) and the Whiskey Rebellion (1794). Because of my great interest in Massachusetts history, I will be primarily focusing my research on the early colonists in the Massachusetts Bay.
The beginning of my work starts with the history. Who came to Massachusetts, how, and what was their purpose? To answer these questions, I am starting my research not in Massachusetts in the late 17th century, but in England in the late 16th century.
In order to form a strong foundation for myself as to what these people believed and why they came to America, I read Bernard Bailyn’s The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America. After the Reformation, England was embattled in a violent conflict between Catholics and Protestants, and as the crown changed spiritual allegiances as it changed monarchs, many people were persecuted. This I know. However, after reading Bailyn’s book and seeing how important a colonist’s place of origin was in their broader immigration story, I wanted to look more into how the Puritan’s places of origin affected their sense of religious persecution, of toleration, and of the need for isolationism. Especially after the first Puritans began to settle in Massachusetts Bay, England’s Cromwellian era provided more toleration towards reformed Protestants. Did the Puritan’s idea of setting up a “City on a Hill”in isolated New England, the edge of the British empire, matter as much when it seemed like old England was finally coming on board?
To look deeper into these questions, the next book on the docket to read is The Long Argument: English Puritanism and the Shaping of New England Culture, 1570-1700 by Stephen Foster. Hopefully, learning more about English Puritanism will help us build the base for how these early American acted the way they did in their relationship with the British empire back “home.”