Roots of revolution revisited: how asking a question rocked an author's view of America's past

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Author: Marc Aronson
Date: June 2005
From: School Library Journal(Vol. 51, Issue 6)
Publisher: Library Journals, LLC
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,610 words

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Then felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes He star'd at the Pacific--and all his men Look'd at each other with a wild surmise

I spent nine years in graduate school studying American history, then another four researching and writing three books on colonial America. By last year I had read enough to be pretty sure I understood how America came to be. I decided to write a book for young people explaining why the Revolution took place. But, just as John Keats found new worlds when he read Chapman's Homer, I had the exceptional experience of seeing a new ocean of understanding open before me.

Keats's sensation of looking out from a peak and glimpsing a vast and previously unknown expanse is exactly what I felt as I researched what became The Real Revolution: The Global Story of American Independence (Clarion, 2005). What made it even more delicious is that as I pieced together my new sense of why the American Revolution took place, I was describing a world of global contacts very much like the one we live in today. When I was an undergraduate in the late '60s, we had a similar sense of discovery as we sought to add the experiences of women and minorities into the narrative of America's past. Now, I came to realize, it is time to knit American history into world history, where it has always belonged.

It all started with a quotation, and a simple question. In 1815, John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson, "What do we mean by the Revolution? The war? That was no part of the Revolution; it was only an effect and consequence of it. The Revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected from 1760 to 1775." That was both definitive and daunting. I had the dates for my study and the nature of the beast I had to find: a revolution in the minds of the people. Now how exactly do you find that? And why those dates?

As I hunted for moments of what, in the '60s, we used to call revolutionary consciousness, I landed on just about the most obvious one of all: The Boston Tea Party. And, conveniently enough, as the broken tea chests bobbed in Boston Harbor, the same John Adams called...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A133751703