The Genuine Article: A Historian Looks at Early America

By Copeland, David | Journalism History, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

The Genuine Article: A Historian Looks at Early America


Copeland, David, Journalism History


Morgan, Edmund S. The Genuine Article: A Historian Looks at Early America. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004. 315 pp. $15.95.

Edmund Morgan's The Genuine Article is an anthology of book reviews written by one of America's most prolific and knowledgeable scholars of early America for the New York Review of Books. Having said that, one should not assume that his reviews resemble anything that you will read in the book reviews of journalism History. While each review is a means of educating readers about the book or books that he is reviewing, Morgan, who has written and edited twenty other volumes since 1952, is more interested in enlightening readers about issues, people, and events from seventeenthand eighteenth-century America.

For Morgan, who taught at Yale University from 1955 until his retirement in 1986, the release of a new volume on early America presented the opportunity to give readers a history lesson while critiquing the scholarship that provided him with a point of departure. The resulting collection is probably the best historiography and introduction to life in early America that one could imagine with each lesson presented in twenty or fewer pages of concise, insightful commentary.

The Genuine Article's chapters, which cover nearly forty years of Morgan's reviews, describe most aspects of life in the colonies from the landing at Jamestown through the Revolution. The reviews are divided into three main sections. The first focuses upon New England generally and the Puritans specifically. He was a pupil of Perry Miller, whose book New'EnglandMind influenced a generation of historians about the significance of the early New Englanders and gave another generation a powerful thesis to attempt to refute. Here, Morgan, who published a handful of works on Puritans, delves into a number of subjects. He discusses the religion of the Puritans, of course, and he also deals with views of women and witchcraft. Within each review, he never misses a chance to teach. Women could not own property in Puritan New England, he explains, but that docs not mean that they had no rights. That is why, he says, more than 1,000 Connecticut women were granted divorces from 1670 through 1799.

In another chapter, which demonstrates why these reviews work so wonderfully as an anthology, Morgan discusses "Those Sexy Puritans." Explaining that being Puritanical meant being sensual, not prudish, he reveals many of the divorces that he mentions in another review were granted because husbands could not satisfy their wives in the bedroom. …

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