- Paperback: 560 pages
- Publisher: Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (May 13, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674072367
- ISBN-13: 978-0674072367
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 20 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #443,912 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Before the Revolution: America's Ancient Pasts Reprint Edition
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Once every quarter-century or so, a book of great sweep and synthetic sophistication bursts onto the scene to recast our understanding of early American history. This masterful study, with its startling comparisons of European patterns of conquest, colonization, chaos, and cultural convergence, is a must-read. (Gary Nash, author of The Liberty Bell)
With breathtaking sweep and profound learning, Daniel K. Richter synthesizes the histories of Europe, North America, and the Atlantic world from the late Middle Ages to the late eighteenth century -- and he does it, in ways that no previous writer has managed, without carving his story into discontinuous regional narratives or succumbing to the teleology of the American Revolution. This book is nothing less than a masterpiece. (Fred Anderson, author of The War That Made America)
By placing early American history fully in its Atlantic contexts and seeing all participants as historical agents, Before the Revolution allows us to understand the genuine parallels as well as the contrasts in the experience of Americans through their layered pasts. (Karen O. Kupperman, author of The Jamestown Project)
An astute, thoroughly enjoyable mixture of political, economic and social history that culminates in a turbulent 18th-century North America whose people did not consider themselves on the verge of revolution but knew that things were not right. (Kirkus Reviews (starred review) 2011-03-15)
[Richter] demonstrates that U.S. history did not begin with the American Revolution, convincingly arguing that the ideas that manifested themselves in the mid-18th century with the rebellious colonists had their origins in such varied locales as the Mississippian Southeast and Europe of the Middle Ages...Any history written by this preeminent historian is an essential read for everyone interested in the deeper history of the United States. (John Burch Library Journal 2011-04-01)
So far it is one of my two or three favorite non-fiction titles of the year...Definitely recommended. (Tyler Cowen marginalrevolution.com 2011-04-07)
An elegantly written attempt to see colonial America from the indigenous perspective...In Richter's grand system, the continent's history comprises successive waves of adventurers, one atop another. Although the American Revolution "submerged these earlier strata," he argues that they nonetheless "remained beneath the surface to mold the nation's current contours." Walking atop the topmost strata, in other words, are thee and me, the terrain around us shaped by those who came first. The approach is bold, original and insightful...[A] masterly account...Before the Revolution is a book that by its very boldness invites intelligent argument. Every few decades, historians develop a new way of looking at the past. I am not talking about "revisionism" but unifying conceptual schemes, the sort of mental framework that Frederick Jackson Turner created in his argument for the importance of the frontier to our history or that Bernard Bailyn established in his studies of the American Revolution's ideological origins. Historians debated Turner for a long time and continue to debate Bailyn. I wouldn't be surprised if they were arguing with Richter a decade from today. (Charles C. Mann Wall Street Journal 2011-05-07)
Ultimately, [Richter's] history is a history of violence, of violence perpetrated by Europeans against Native Americans, by Native Americans against Europeans, and by both peoples against their own kith and kin. It is a dark and brutal story, although one in which the Native Americans are shown as for long holding their own, manipulating Europeans as trading partners and playing off one set of Europeans against another until the overwhelming British victory of 1763 no longer made this possible. There is precious little uplift here, and little sense of the more constructive characteristics of the brave new world that was rising amid the wreckage of the old. But, in patiently uncovering the layers beneath the rubble, Richter forcefully brings home to us that the American past belongs to many peoples, and that none should be forgotten. (J. H. Elliott New York Review of Books 2011-06-09)
The core of the work is a vivid, well-paced, stimulatingly opinionated and provocatively selective history of colonial Anglo-America...[A] spirited and engaging history of British North America...Richter's trenchant language excites enthusiasm. He evokes picturesque episodes engagingly--the agonies of Roanoke, the role of European goods in Powhatan power structures, the peripeties of indentured servants, the intolerance of Protestant fanatics, the poverty of seventeenth-century colonial home life, and the struggles of proprietors, rebels and crowns. (Felipe Fernández-Armesto Times Literary Supplement 2011-09-23)
The most important history books make us rethink things we think we know. In Before the Revolution: America's Ancient Pasts, Daniel Richter shows us a land built by successive waves of adventurers, immigrants and merchants, one atop the other. He insists on the primacy of human action in history--something not always popular in academia today. (Wall Street Journal 2011-12-17)
[An] unusual and useful synthesis of North American history between 1000 and 1763. (D. R. Mandell Choice 2011-12-01)
About the Author
Daniel K. Richter is Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of American History and the Richard S. Dunn Director of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
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The basic strategy Richter uses in constructing and telling this part of American history is to divide the years 900-1765 CE into rough categories or "layers" of history, semantically labeled "Progenitors," "Conquistadores," "Traders," "Planters," "Imperialists," and "Atlanteans." For example, in the Progenitors time period, from about 900-1500 CE, Richter details the histories of both medieval Europe as well as medieval North America by comparing and contrasting the medieval periods on both continents.
Cultures on both continents were greatly affected by the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age, and both cultures evolved into stronger agricultural societies dominated by religious and military elites who concentrated power in a harsh top-down model. Constant Indian-against-Indian and European-against-European military aggression was also the main method both cultures used to establish dominance and power. However, the cultures differed in that in Europe, the commercialization and ownership of land, as well as the growth of a strong merchant class within large cities, led to a feudal culture, as rulers needed vast monetary and military resources to enable economic and political growth, thus giving to indentured servitude as a way to secure and stabilize dependable workers necessary for land development and tax/tribute revenues.
With this first layer of history established, in the next layer, Conquistadores, Richter shows how the social, economic, military, and religious concepts of power in both Indian as well as European cultures played into the synergistic relationships that developed between the Indians and the early Europeans coming to North America. Rich economic ties were established between these cultures, but so too did harsh military conflicts develop. These relationships, both supporting and conflicting, were fostered when the early European explorers turned into colonizers in the "Traders" period. Thus, the Progenitors period greatly influenced the Conquistadores period. Richter continues throughout the rest of the book this layered, nuanced pattern of showing Indian as well as English and European perspectives, influenced by a rich layered history between the two cultures.
How does Before the Revolution differ from, say, A Kingdom Strange, by James Horn? Superficially, the books are different in that A Kingdom Strange covers a narrow slice of time and scope, focusing primarily on the colonization efforts of North America by the English during the time period of about 1500-1700 CE. Before the Revolution, as previously mentioned, covers a much broader swath of time and includes Indian as well as European perspectives. The intent of each book is different in that the Horn writes a close, almost character-driven account of the English who made those initial colonization attempts, whereas Richter takes a step back to consider, with a history-driven account, the American Indian, English, and Continental Europe perspectives and motivations.
Thus, it becomes clear that unpacking the causes of a particular historical event becomes very difficult due to a deep and complex prior history. Newspaper headlines often desire to have clear "villains" and "heroes" regarding historical events, but as is demonstrated in Before the Revolution, as in real life, historical events are rarely so easily categorized and labeled, due to webs of economical, religious, military, and cultural relationships between cultures that were created over long periods of time.
Reflecting upon the way in which I was taught US history, and which it is still often taught today, most teachers/professors brush over the colonial experience in the United States up until approximately the time of the French and Indian war, an act which gives on the impression there is nothing which can be learned from the previous time period(s). Richter does a marvelous job reminding us that the United States has been built upon layer after layer of previous cultures and peoples, some of which are not so deeply buried as to justify their being ignored. Instead they should be studied because they are with us today.
As a teacher of history this book has not simply raised questions, but it has answered them. The fact is not only does US history not start with the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but there are numerous America'sand, in order to understand them, it is important we do not start simply with 1776 or the immediate years leading up to that date. As Richter himself says, "This peculiar lure of land for urban planters wove seamlessly with puritan piety and political localism in the world the New Englanders created." He then mentions the fact that these three themes are found again in the Virginia area even though in many other ways it is completely different than that of the Massachusetts colony. As teachers we can use this framework to compare and contrast these two English colonial areas with other areas in the New World (the Spanish colonies in Texas and New Mexico spring to mind).
If you are looking for a book which sticks to the standard narrative and conventional conclusions, then this one isn't for you. If you are looking for something different, something new and something which will challenge your standard view of American history, then this one is just what you've been waiting for.