Sweeney’s Booknotes: American Colonial History

Thomas S. Kidd, American Colonial History: Clashing Cultures and Faiths (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016).

Kidd-Colonial-HistoryThis new college-level textbook by our friend, Tommy Kidd, will surely be used as a staple text for many years to come—especially, though not exclusively, in church-related schools. In roughly 300 pages, it introduces us to the leading ethnic groups, regional cultures, institutions, social practices, and events in North America (and parts of South and Mesoamerica), from the pre-conquest period (i.e. the period before Europeans conquered Native America) through the Seven Years’ War. After each of its thirteen chapters, Kidd appends 3-4 representative primary sources from the chapter’s main subjects, knitting clearly-written surveys of the worlds of those subjects to documents that transport students to those worlds.

As Kidd explains in the introduction, “two major themes organize American Colonial History: religion and conflict.” We know that often violent conflict attended the clash of disparate cultures in colonial America. But what we don’t know as well is that for most of Kidd’s subjects—Native, European, and African—“religion was not only the path of salvation in the next life, it was a primary way of making sense of what was happening to them in the present life.” So Kidd’s “hope is that readers of American Colonial History will come away with a distinct sense of how pervasive religion was in colonial America, and of the varied functions that religion served in the era, functions that were variously inspiring and appalling” (pp. xi-xii).

Edwards makes several appearances in American Colonial History, most very brief. But Kidd devotes his tenth chapter to “The Great Awakening” (pp. 206-29), in which Edwards, not surprisingly, receives more attention, especially for his roles in the revival of the churches of the Connecticut River Valley (1734-35), his Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God (1737, in which Edwards both described and interpreted that revival), and his roles in Indian missions. Most readers of this blog will not learn anything new about Edwards in this book, but they will come away with a more secure sense of Edwards’ place in colonial American history.

Many thanks to Tommy Kidd for yet another fine text.

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