Northern Illinois University Press

Authorizing the Past

The Rhetoric of History in Seventeenth-Century New England

Stephen Carl Arch

"All who read this study will come away with new insights to consider and a deeper understanding of early New England culture."New England Quarterly

Seventeenth-century New Englanders learned a sense of community in a variety of ways. Though they absorbed much through the thousands of sermons they heard throughout their lifetimes, written histories also helped to shape common ideas. Authorizing the Past reveals a developing strand of historical discourse that was as important as the pulpit literature for creating a sense of "national" identity for the people of seventeenth-century New England.

This first book-length analysis of seventeenth-century Puritan histories demonstrates the growing professionalism and sophistication of New England historiography as a genre in its own right. Arch focuses on rhetorical strategies, narrative techniques, and evidentiary conventions to show how the profession of history developed in the first seventy years of settlement in New England.

Tracing patterns of historical and literary change, Arch analyzes successive texts to document a gradual but fundamental shift in the way New England historians understood themselves and their community. He presents new readings of John Winthrop's History in New England, Edward Johnson's Wonder-Working Providence, Increase Mather's Brief History of the Warr with the Indians of New England, and Cotton Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana, and includes discussion of less prominent writers such as Nathaniel Morton, Joshua Scottow, and William Hubbard.

Arch concludes that narrative histories are fictional constructs designed to effect changes in their audience and the societies in which they live. Authorizing the Past will engage anyone interested in the convergence between history and fiction, as well as students of colonial American literature, history, and culture.

(1994) 246 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-87580-188-9
cloth $35.50

Table of Contents

1 "Scattered Bones": John Winthrop's History of New England
2 Edifying History: Edward Johnson's Wonder-Working Providence
3 History in Pieces: Increase Mather and the New England Past
4 Back to the Future: Cotton Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana
Works Cited

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-188-9
cloth $35.50