STANTON SHARP TEACHING SYMPOSIUM
Saturday, February 9, 2008
8:30 a.m. – 3:15 p.m.
Sponsored by the Clements Dept. of History
Southern Methodist University
11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. SESSION II
"How to Understand the American Revolution"
Professor Edward Countryman
156 Dallas Hall
Rhetorically, Americans talk of “the shot heard round the world” at Lexington, MA on October 19, 1775. In fact, the Revolution did shake the world. The final shots of what turned into a global war were fired in India. Slavery turned from an ugly fact of life, seemingly ordained by God and sanctioned by law and history, into a problem that would not disappear. People of many sorts found public voices. In the new United States republicanism replaced monarchy, though not without great difficulty. A social order run ultimately from far away in Europe gave way to one determined by “the American people.” Native people’s ability to resist white encroachment weakened drastically. They, African-Americans both slave and free, white women, and working men faced the problem of how they belonged to “the People.” A remarkable generation of leaders, whom we honor as “the Founding Fathers,” set out to rectify America’s problems as they saw those problems. To really understand the Revolution’s two central documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, forces us to come to terms with all of these issues, as the people behind them lived through and shaped an era of intense, profound transformation, becoming what none of them ever had expected to be. Taken together, these people and what they did set the fundamental questions that still frame the terms of American life and identity.
Edward Countryman has been thinking about the American Revolution since he began graduate school, and his thought keeps developing. In A People in Revolution: The American Revolution and Political Society in New York, 1760-1790 (Bancroft Prize, 1982) he showed how the Revolution destroyed one set of power relations and developed another. The American Revolution (revised ed. 2003), extends that theme continent-wide. His current interest is the importance of Native Americans in the old colonial order and the changes in their situation as the United States took shape. In January he was one of five panelists in a major session at the American Historical Association on the origins of the Revolution.