New Interpretations of American Colonial History

New Interpretations of American Colonial History

New Interpretations of American Colonial History

New Interpretations of American Colonial History

Excerpt

By Louis B. Wright

In the years since the close of World War II, interest in the history of the world beyond our own borders has grown as our international responsibilities have increased. By the same token, a new interest in the more distant backgrounds of American history is apparent, and fresh studies of the colonial period have appeared. The influences that have stimulated the interest in colonial history are varied and have operated on more than one level.

On the level of the casual tourist, the restoration and reconstruction of the architectural relics of colonial times have focussed attention upon periods of history that most travellers never before knew or cared about. The best advertised of these reconstructions, of course, is Colonial Williamsburg, Inc., a flourishing enterprise that attempts to simulate life as it was lived in the old Virginia capital, even to dressing the attendants at the restored houses in the costumes of the period. Although it is impossible to avoid an anachronistic jar when a woman in crinolines drives to her work at the Raleigh Tavern in a modern car or a restaurant waiter garbed in plum-colored knee breeches pedals up on a bicycle, the public clearly likes the show and receives some stimulation of the imagination.

The historical picture conjured up by the perfection of the restoration of course is unrealistic, for at no time in its previous history was Williamsburg ever so neat, clean, painted, and polished. But a successful tourist attraction cannot reproduce the town as it was, with its dusty or muddy streets, its clutter of horse- drawn vehicles, its swarm of mangy dogs, and the rank odor of rotting fishheads and other garbage piled behind the taverns. In general the colonial period was neither clean nor fastidious. If Colonial Williamsburg, Inc. has given the public a fanciful no-

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