Austin’s 1889 novel, Standish of Standish, is definitely her most popular work, but it’s also an incredibly influential novel because of its impact on American culture. It’s not a coincidence that the Pilgrims began to be associated with the “first” Thanksgiving only after her book was published (but more on that in another post). Nor is it a coincidence that stories about America’s past were popular at that time; after all, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in 1886 and the Pledge of Allegiance was written and promoted in 1887. In 1910, more than 30 states had laws requiring Americanization
Now that I’m explaining this project to friends and colleagues, I find they’re often a little puzzled. Many think that I’m researching the actual Pilgrims and Puritans, but I’m mostly interested in what happened to their story after they were long gone. But I still get some questions, mostly about why this project is relevant in 2017. Originally, I was fascinated by all the ways that literature got the facts wrong. Then I was intrigued by the ways history borrowed from literature. Then I started to see all of those texts as very closely related, as a process of representation
“How to revive Massachusetts’ first language,” an article about the Wampanoag Nation’s efforts to “resurrect” their native language, appeared in the Boston Globe a few days ago. It’s a fascinating look at their dedicated efforts over the last few decades. One line in particular stood out to me: “What happened to Wampanoag was an act of violence, a cruel chapter of Massachusetts history that is rarely discussed.” And when it is discussed, it is a heated debate, to say the least. Historians try to sort out the responsibilities and actions of the varying groups, from the Puritans to the Pilgrims.
People often ask me how I came across Jane Goodwin Austin and why a Southern-ish Atlantan reads novels about the Pilgrims and Puritans. This post gives the background on this seven-year process. In the summer of 2010, I was lucky enough to participate in a week-long workshop for college faculty in Plymouth, Massachusetts, sponsored jointly by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Community College Humanities Association. We spent a week listening to scholars discuss various topics, such as the relationship between the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims and the intricacies of Calvinist theology, and we toured sites such as