A Master Historian at WorkHistorians in the News
tags: American Revolution, book reviews, Bernard Bailyn, Colonial History
For more than half a century the historian Bernard Bailyn has stood at the pinnacle of his profession. Widely acclaimed for his scholarship and pathbreaking reinterpretations of the American Revolution and early American history, he has been honored with two Pulitzer Prizes, a National Book Award, a Bancroft Prize, a National Humanities Medal, and numerous other tokens of high esteem.
Among historians and intellectually oriented general readers, Bailyn is best known for three prize-winning books: The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (1967), immediately recognized as a classic; The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson (1974), a brilliant and poignant biography of the last royal governor of Massachusetts—a high-minded, New England Tory who resisted the revolutionary ferment and died in lonely exile; and Voyagers to the West: A Passage in the Peopling of America on the Eve of the Revolution (1986), a stunningly meticulous and panoramic work of social history.
These are only three of Bailyn’s influential writings since his debut in print. Henry David Thoreau once remarked: “In the long run men hit only what they aim at.” Since the 1950s, Bailyn has repeatedly aimed high and is now widely regarded as the foremost living interpreter of American history before 1787.
When one reflects upon Bailyn’s formidable oeuvre, three features immediately stand out. The first is the sheer breadth of his engagement with his field. He has published not only works of intellectual and political history but also of economic and social history, utilizing census data and statistical analysis. His varied subjects have included highly articulate political elites on the eve of the American Revolution, mercantile networks in Boston and elsewhere in the 17th and 18th centuries, and thousands of “common folk” who left the British Isles and settled in the New World in the years just prior to the Revolution.
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