Extra!, Ep. 1: The “Originality Crisis” in American Revolution Scholarship?

The JuntoCast Extra Logo (offset)Welcome to the first episode of The JuntoCast Extra! Ken Owen, Michael Hattem, Roy Rogers, and Liz Covart discuss a question that arose from a keynote talk by Woody Holton at the recent Massachusetts Historical Society conference on the American Revolution, i.e., “Is there an ‘originality crisis’ in American Revolution scholarship?”


From the 1950s through the 1970s, historians challenged old interpretations about the origins, causes, and nature of the Revolution, particularly those which dismissed the importance of ideas. During those decades, eminent historians like Bernard Bailyn, Gordon Wood, and Edmund Morgan, among others, reshaped the way historians (and, eventually, most Americans) thought about the origins and causes of the Revolution. In the 1970s and 1980s, a new generation of historians changed the way we thought about the consequences of the Revolution, particularly for women, slaves, and Native Americans. Over the past two decades, the field has shifted its focus to the decades immediately following the Revolution. This shift, and a seeming lack of interest in tackling big questions about the Revolution head-on, has led some to perceive the Revolution as being understudied. Others disagree but think there is an “originality crisis” in recent scholarship on the Revolution, with similar type studies on similar type topics piling up over the last two or three decades. Of course, others disagree with both of those notions and think the study of the Revolution is either fine or, even, exciting. How can historians from the same field have such different perceptions of the state of the field?


Liz Covart is an independent historian and host of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast. She received her PhD from the University of California at Davis, where her dissertation focused on revolutionary Albany. Liz blogs at Uncommonplace Book and writes for a number of online history websites and publications. She also offers social media consulting services for writers.


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