Society and Power: Five New England Towns, 1800-1860

Society and Power: Five New England Towns, 1800-1860

Society and Power: Five New England Towns, 1800-1860

Society and Power: Five New England Towns, 1800-1860

Excerpt

I began this book several years ago in the hope that through detailed study I could come to some greater understanding of relationships between social change and behavior in Jacksonian America. More personally, I thought it would be fun to explore the possibilities of the then new conceptual and quantitative history. I had no firm idea as to where the project would go, what to look at, or how to handle the masses of data which I began gradually to accumulate. The study progressed, then, in more or less haphazard fashion.

I selected the communities to be studied primarily in terms of the availability of records and convenience to my home in Amherst, Massachusetts. However, in order to avoid problems of idiosyncrasy of findings, I wanted a variety of towns. I had no sure basis for knowing what that variety should represent, so I simply chose places that appeared to differ socially and economically from one another in both 1800 and 1860. If I could redo the study, I would not pick all the same towns for I now believe that central place and regional economic theory should be used as the basis for selection. Nevertheless, I think the towns studied here were diverse enough to offer comparative perspectives through which to test generalizations.

The project grew rapidly. It had no boundaries other than those imposed by my time, energy, and patience. My curiosity urged me continuously to extend the study. Each time I began to understand something, I realized that it was linked to something else and to something else beyond that. I often knew that there was other good evidence I could look at which would either confirm or wreck my hypotheses, but I also knew that the 3 or 4 pages I wanted to write about the subject were going to become 20 or perhaps 50 or perhaps more and that it would take a great deal of time to structure and analyze those new data. I frequently chose not to look at that new . . .

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