Pursuits of Happiness: The Social Development of Early Modern British Colonies and the Formation of American Culture

Pursuits of Happiness: The Social Development of Early Modern British Colonies and the Formation of American Culture

Pursuits of Happiness: The Social Development of Early Modern British Colonies and the Formation of American Culture

Pursuits of Happiness: The Social Development of Early Modern British Colonies and the Formation of American Culture

Synopsis

In this book, Jack Greene reinterprets the meaning of American social development. Synthesizing literature of the previous two decades on the process of social development and the formation of American culture, he challenges the central assumptions that have traditionally been used to analyze colonial British American history.

Greene argues that the New England declension model traditionally employed by historians is inappropriate for describing social change in all the other early modern British colonies. The settler societies established in Ireland, the Atlantic island colonies of Bermuda and the Bahamas, the West Indies, the Middle Colonies, and the Lower South followed instead a pattern first exhibited in America in the Chesapeake. That pattern involved a process in which these new societies slowly developed into more elaborate cultural entities, each of which had its own distinctive features.

Greene also stresses the social and cultural convergence between New England and the other regions of colonial British America after 1710 and argues that by the eve of the American Revolution Britain's North American colonies were both more alike and more like the parent society than ever before. He contends as well that the salient features of an emerging American culture during these years are to be found not primarily in New England puritanism but in widely manifest configurations of sociocultural behavior exhibited throughout British North America, including New England, and he emphasized the centrality of slavery to that culture.

Excerpt

Building on the literature of the new social history produced over the past two decades, this book has four complementary goals. First, and most important, it seeks to use that literature as a basis for evaluating the central assumptions that have informed the analysis of colonial British American history over the past two generations, assumptions that, to one degree or another, have emphasized the preeminence or normative character of the experience of the orthodox puritan colonies of New England in the process of early modern British colonial social development and the formation of American culture. Second, through a close evaluation of the experiences of the settler societies in each of the major regions of settlement in the early modern British Empire-- Ireland, the Chesapeake, New England, the Atlantic island colonies of Bermuda and the Bahamas, the West Indian colonies, the Middle Colonies, and the Lower South--and a comparison between those experiences and the social history of metropolitan England or, after 1707, Britain, the volume attempts in Chapters 1 through 7 to formulate a model of colonial social development that may be more broadly applicable than the declension model around which much British colonial history has been organized. Third, it seeks in Chapter 8 to delineate the process by which a general American culture began to emerge out of these several regional cultures during the century after 1660 and to outline the most important elements in that emerging culture. Finally, around these themes, the book attempts to provide a synthesis of existing literature on the social development of the settler societies of the early modern British Empire.

On several occasions while I was composing this volume, I impishly told colleagues whose research interests focused upon New England that its subject was the irrelevance of New England in the formation of American culture. But I was wholly taken by surprise recently when one colleague told me that he had heard that my intentions were to try "to push the New Englanders completely aside as anachronistic and irrelevant" and to depict "the Chesapeake as the only significant social and cultural model for American development." Those are emphatically not my goals. the book is meant neither to deny all relevance to . . .

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