Tom's Reviews > Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America

Albion's Seed by David Hackett Fischer
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it was amazing
bookshelves: history

This book is a rich source of historical insight into the four British folkways that are represented by the 4 eastern seaboard regions colonized by Britain in the 17th century. It is not a standard history of political figures and battles, but, rather uses the methods of the Annales historians, focusing on the lives of everyday people. Fischer describes this type of history as a revolution in historiography using that word in the same sense as Thomas Kuhn. Prior to this change that took place in the 1960s, history was basically a story told by people who had immersed themselves in a period and basically said: “I’ve studied this and this is what I think happened.” They were believed “…for this was a time when scholars were gentlemen, and a gentleman was as good as his word.” With the new paradigm history wasn’t only about the past, but about change and continuity. There were high hopes that this approach would be one of synthesis of the human sciences, but instead it fragmented into many special fields such as women’s history, labor history etc. Fischer intends that this book and those to follow in the series wll ‘strengthen the hand of synthesis in an analytic discipline’ by being about ‘both elites and ordinary people, about individual choices and collective experiences, about exceptional events and normative patterns, about vernacular culture and high culture, about the problem of society and the problem of the state.’ He calls for an ‘immediatist’ solution to history in which the past is neither prologue nor separate from the present, but is immediate to the present.
Folkways consist of the ways that a people: organize themselves; give birth and raise children; educate (or not); worship; go to war (or not); settle disputes; vernacular speech; architecture. The Introduction is subtitled: The Determinants of a Voluntary Society and I think this causes us to reflect on one of the most unique attributes of the ‘new world’ where people came of their own volition and were required to deal with how to organize themselves in new and, many times, hostile environment.
The four folkways dealt with are: the Puritans (1629-41), Virginia: distressed Cavaliers and Indentured Servants (1642-75), The Midlands: the Quaker migration (1675-1725), and the Borderlands: the flight from North Britain (1717-1775).
Fundamental concepts of liberty differed widely between these regions even though they all used the word liberty and herein lies the source of confusion and even conflict.
Our family history derives from the Puritans on my father’s side and the German pietists in the Midlands on my mother’s side. The book is a wonderful resource for insights into family history and also a pleasure to read. I have it as an ebook, but if I can pick up a used copy somewhere I will do so as it is an important reference
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Reading Progress

March 10, 2013 – Shelved
Started Reading
August 31, 2013 – Finished Reading
September 8, 2013 – Shelved as: history

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