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Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in Americaby David Hackett Fischer
Synopses & Reviews
This fascinating book is the first volume in a projected cultural history of the United States, from the earliest English settlements to our own time. It is a history of American folkways as they have changed through time, and it argues a thesis about the importance for the United States of having been British in its cultural origins.
While most people in the United States today have no British ancestors, they have assimilated regional cultures which were created by British colonists, even while preserving ethnic identities at the same time. In this sense, nearly all Americans are "Albion's Seed," no matter what their ethnicity may be. The concluding section of this remarkable book explores the ways that regional cultures have continued to dominate national politics from 1789 to 1988, and still help to shape attitudes toward education, government, gender, and violence, on which differences between American regions are greater than between European nations.
"The finest work of synthesis in early American history in more than fifty years." Michael Kammen
"An important and seminal work. No serious historian is likely to question the existence of the four cultures Fischer identifies. No one else has so clearly differentiated them from each other....This volume will give direction not only to the author's future work but to the research of many other historians." Edmund S. Morgan, The New York Review of Books
"An important and brilliant study." John Murrin, Princeton University
"Could not be much bigger or more ambitious. It is the first in a series of volumes that he hopes will eventually constiture a cultural history of the United States....This book starts his series with a bang — a big band....Remarkable....A revisionist blockbuster." Gordon Wood, The New Republic
"The most splendid book of this generation's most gifted scholar." Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Wilson Quarterly
"One of the most thought-provoking works of American history to appear in recent years....What is remarkable is how successful Fischer is in casting colonial America in a new light." Eric Foner, History Book Club Review
This book is the first volume in a cultural history of the United States, from the earliest English settlements to our own time. It is a history of American folkways as they have changed through time, and it argues a thesis about the importance for the United States of having been British in its cultural origins.
From 1629 to 1775, North America was settled by four great waves of English-speaking immigrants. The first was an exodus of Puritans from the east of England to Massachusetts (1629-1640). The second was the movement of a Royalist elite and indentured servants from the south of England to Virginia (ca. 1649-75). The third was the "Friends' migration,"--the Quakers--from the North Midlands and Wales to the Delaware Valley (ca. 1675-1725). The fourth was a great flight from the borderlands of North Britain and northern Ireland to the American backcountry (ca. 1717-75).
These four groups differed in many ways--in religion, rank, generation and place of origin. They brought to America different folkways which became the basis of regional cultures in the United States. They spoke distinctive English dialects and built their houses in diverse ways. They had different ideas of family, marriage and gender; different practices of child-naming and child-raising; different attitudes toward sex, age and death; different rituals of worship and magic; different forms of work and play; different customs of food and dress; different traditions of education and literacy; different modes of settlement and association. They also had profoundly different ideas of comity, order, power and freedom which derived from British folk-traditions. Albion's Seed describes those differences in detail, and discusses the continuing importance of their transference to America.
Today most people in the United States (more than 80 percent) have no British ancestors at all. These many other groups, even while preserving their own ethnic cultures, have also assimilated regional folkways which were transplanted from Britain to America. In that sense, nearly all Americans today are "Albion's Seed," no matter what their ethnic origins may be; but they are so in their different regional ways. The concluding section of Albion's Seed explores the ways that regional cultures have continued to dominate national politics from 1789 to 1988, and still control attitudes toward education, government, gender, and violence, on which differences between American regions are greater than between European nations.
Albion's Seed also argues that the four British folkways created an expansive cultural pluralism that has proved to the more libertarian than any single culture alone could be. Together they became the determinants of a voluntary society in the United States.
About the Author
David Hackett Fischer is Warren Professor of History at Brandeis University. He is the author of numerous books, including Paul Revere's Ride and Growing Old in America.
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