Social History Sources
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|This article originally appeared in Printed Sources: A Guide to Published Genealogical Records, edited by Kory L. Meyerink.|
American social history is best studied on a regional basis because settlement of the United States occurred by regions. A standard study of the colonial experience is Daniel J. Boorstin’s The Americans, vol. 1, The Colonial Experience (New York: Random House, 1958). Although written almost forty years ago, historian Boorstin’s study provides invaluable historical insight into everyday life in colonial America. It is considered a standard source for colonial research.
Alice M. Earle’s classic works on everyday life in colonial America provide an understanding of an age vastly different from our current one. These works include Child Life in Colonial Days (1899; reprint; Williamstown, Mass.: Corner Hse., 1975), Colonial Dames and Goodwives (reprint; Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 1988), and Home Life in Colonial Days (1898; reprint; Williamstown, Mass.: Corner Hse., 1975). Additional titles by Earle describe economic life in colonial America, the curious punishments used by our colonial ancestors, and the costume and religious observances of Puritan New England. Most libraries have copies of Earle’s books; they are sometimes found in the circulating section.
Dale Van Every’s historical volume Forth to the Wilderness: The First American Frontier, 1754-1774 (New York: Morrow, 1961) examines the forces behind migration in America. It is the story of a small group of settlers who withstood the opposition of England and France, of every Indian nation, and of their fellow citizens to push westward across the Appalachian Mountains. This well-written history describes the political, economic, and social forces in pre-revolutionary America.
Everett N. Dick, historian and author of many historical works, is best known for his ability to capture the essence of frontier living in interesting and historically accurate accounts. Two of his most notable books are The Sod-House Frontier, 18541890: A Social History of the Northern Plains from the Creation of Kansas and Nebraska to the Admission of the Dakotas (New York: D. Appleton-Century Co., 1937) and Vanguards of the Frontier: A Social History of the Northern Plains and Rocky Mountains from the Fur Traders to the Sod Busters (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1941, 1965).
Dick’s The Dixie Frontier: A Social History of the Southern Frontier from the First Transmontane Beginnings to the Civil War (reprint; Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993) is an excellent example of regional social history. It is based on actual accounts of pioneers who settled in the Transmontane, a region encompassing southern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and portions of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri. The author views this Dixie frontier in a much broader perspective than that of today. He views any pioneer with roots in Virginia, the Carolinas, or Georgia as a Southerner, relating daily life on the frontier with accuracy and compassion. The book’s extensive bibliography provides references to period documents, diaries, reminiscences, and travel accounts.
The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 1790-1840 (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), by Jack Larkin, describes daily life during a time of great change in America. During this time a new government took shape, the movement westward accelerated with the development of a national road system, and the nation’s economy expanded. Larkin describes in detail how Americans dealt with these changes and how these changes affected their daily lives. He describes their housing, clothing, food, and methods of hygiene. Although some Americans experienced new wealth and status, Larkin notes that the gap between rich and poor grew wider during this time. His descriptions of everyday life are taken from diaries, journals, and early chronicles. Larkin is chief historian at Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. His book is part of the Everyday Life in America Series, edited by Richard Balkin and published by Harper Collins Publishers. Other titles in the series include The Expansion of Everyday Life: 1860-1876; Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876-1915; and The Uncertainty of Everyday Life, 1915-1945.