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1 The Collision Of Cultures
2 Britain And Its Colonies
3 Colonial Ways Of Life
4 The Imperial Perspective
5 From Empire To Independence
6 The American Revolution
7 Shaping A Federal Union
8 The Federalist Era
9 The Early Republic
10 Nationalism And Sectionalism
11 The Jacksonian Impulse
12 The Dynamics Of Growth
13 An American Renaissance: Religion, Romanticism, And Reform
14 Manifest Destiny
15 The Old South
16 The Crisis Of Union
17 The War Of The Union
18 Reconstruction: North And South
19 New Frontiers: South And West
20 Big Business And Organized Labor
21 The Emergence Of Urban America
22 Gilded-age Politics And Agrarian Revolt
23 An American Empire
24 The Progressive Era
25 America And The Great War
26 The Modern Temper
27 Republican Resurgence And Decline
28 New Deal America
29 From Isolation To Global War
30 The Second World War
31 The Fair Deal And Containment
32 Through The Picture Window: Society And Culture, 1945–1960
33 Conflict And Deadlock: The Eisenhower Years
34 New Frontiers: Politics And Social Change In The 1960s
35 Rebellion And Reaction In The 1960s And 1970s
36 A Conservative Insurgency
37 Triumph And Tragedy: America At The Turn Of The Century

Colonial Ways of Life - Document Overview

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Colonization was both a destructive and constructive act. While immigrants and Native Americans often sought to purge themselves of undesireable elements, whether of the Old World or New, they also experimented with and embraced new ideas and different ways of doing things. Cultural transference—ideas, methods, and products transmitted from one side of the Atlantic to the other or from one group of people to another—was thus neither complete nor unilateral. This was especially true for the colonists. In the process of establishing their interpretations of European civilization in the new settlements, the colonists laid some of the foundations for an American civilization: they constructed what they believed to be intellectually desirable and environmentally necessary social, conceptual, and institutional structures within the frontier that was America.

A variety of factors influenced the formation of colonial society and culture, including the beliefs and social ranks of the immigrants, the people who came as leaders and those who became ones, the need or desire for laborers (both free and unfree), the impact of the land and its peoples upon them, and their impact on the same. The colonists did not always recognize changes as they occurred; but when they did, reactions ranged from satisfied acceptance to dismay, denial, or determined rejection. Yet whether fully conscious of it or not, the colonists felt a freedom to experiment with ideas, both those imported and domestic. This experimentation was seen in the public domain of government, the public and private spheres of gender relations, and in the spiritual realm of religion.

Colonization meant hard work and hard times for everyone, but the tasks and rewards differed according to one's rank, religion, region, and, as it turned out, race. Most colonists of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, in accord with their contemporaries across the ocean, believed that social hierarchy, strict legal codes, and uniform religious beliefs and practices were essential to public order. This appeared to be especially true in early New England when civil and religious authorities collaborated to impose order in the wilderness. Religious equality among the saints was not supposed to translate into social equality. People were still expected to act according to their place, and that place was proscribed by birth, worth, gender, and age.

The colonists faced both internal and external threats to the maintenance of an English or European-style civilization in the colonies. Nonconformists represented the former while Indians represented the latter kind of menace. Native Americans attacked and tried to eliminate the threat that the immigrant groups posed to their persons, property, and cultures. Some of the settlers taken prisoner over the course of the numerous raids died in captivity, others decided that they preferred the Indian way of life and stayed (such rejection was a feared and despised rebuttal to a vaunted European superiority), while still others were eventually released or managed to escape. A few of those who returned, as they embraced even more fervently their society's beliefs and lifestyles, narrated accounts that were then used not only as cautionary tales to prove the natives to be enemies, but as allegories to describe the struggle between good and evil, civilization and barbarism, on the cultural frontier.

The struggle to survive and prosper did affect traditional gender relations to a certain degree, and to a lesser extent gender perceptions, but it did not halt the perennial conflicts between the sexes. Indeed, there are indications that as the colonists became more secure in the American provinces the more likely they were to insist upon maintaining separate roles or spheres for men and women. Some women, such as Anne Bradstreet, chafed at (though they did not rebel against) these strictures, while some men, such as Benjamin Franklin, rather smugly celebrated them (even as he occasionally challenged them). But for most people, the issue of greatest importance to gender relations was marriage to a good wife or provident husband. Bradstreet and Franklin not only noted that but commented upon and taught values by way of aphorisms. A few of their axioms included advice on gender issues, but they passed on many others that reveal the culture of everyday life and the development of beliefs that some Americans espouse to this day.

In the eighteenth century, colonial culture—the developing Anglo- or Euro-American civilization—was affected by two major cultural movements: the Enlightenment and the Great Awakening. Although there were some European Enlightenment philosophers who advocated radical social change, most provincials tended to adopt more moderate interpretations; but they not only professed these new ideas, they acted upon them. The emphasis on reason during the Enlightenment caused some people to question their religious beliefs and practices, but it also gave ministers, and others, new ways to answer those questions as well as counter the challenges raised by life in an increasingly complex and consumerist society. Ultimately, however, the Great Awakening focused not on the human ability to reason—an ability that varied from person to person—as the way to understand and command the natural order, but on revelation—a most democratic gift embraced by many Americans—as the route by which to comprehend God's design.

Many colonists credited God's design for the creation and expansion of Euro-American culture, but some also recognized that it was due to human design—and human accident. With some divinely inspired and others not, the colonists created a new, amalgam culture within the British empire.


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