Sensibility and the American Revolution / Edition 1

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In the wake of American independence, it was clear that the new United States required novel political forms. Less obvious but no less revolutionary was the idea that the American people needed a new understanding of the self. Sensibility was a cultural movement that celebrated the human capacity for sympathy and sensitivity to the world. For individuals, it offered a means of self-transformation. For a nation lacking a monarch, state religion, or standing army, sensibility provided a means of cohesion. National independence and social interdependence facilitated one another. What Sarah Knott calls "the sentimental project" helped a new kind of citizen create a new kind of government.

Knott paints sensibility as a political project whose fortunes rose and fell with the broader tides of the Revolutionary Atlantic world. Moving beyond traditional accounts of social unrest, republican and liberal ideology, and the rise of the autonomous individual, she offers an original interpretation of the American Revolution as a transformation of self and society.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
A stimulating book, beautifully edited and produced.—American Historical Review

Knott appealingly bridges the two disciplines [18th century history and literature] with her discerning, well-organized analysis. . . . This richly reflective book is a comprehensive and sophisticated study of emotionalism and community.—Journal of American History

Library Journal

In her first solo effort, British historian Knott (history, Indiana Univ.) examines the development and ultimate failure of what she terms the "sentimental project" in America in the years surrounding the American Revolution, exploring the "inner life" of American colonists-turned-citizens, linking political changes with the creation of a new American identity. Rather than try to capture the zeitgeist, the author wisely focuses on the politically important and culturally dynamic city of Philadelphia, where relatively easy access to print resources spurred a heightened awareness of the nation and the world. Knott develops three key themes: the development of America's middle class and its growing interest in reading, sensibility's ties with political currents and military activity, and French and British influence on American cultural refinement. The lengthy discussion of this transatlantic influence, manifested in both belles lettres and science, is by far the most lucid and rewarding portion of an otherwise difficult and sometimes inscrutable work. Her book may interest advanced scholars researching the genesis of Americanism. As such, it is reservedly recommended for large academic libraries.
—Douglas King

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Sarah Knott is associate professor of history at Indiana University and coeditor of Women, Gender, and Enlightenment.

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
Part I: Transatlantic Conduits
Chapter 1: Print, Booksellers, and the Sentimental
Chapter 2: Medicine, Physicians, and the Nervous
Part II: American Circles
Chapter 3: Sentimental Coteries: A Quartet of Types
Chapter 4: The War for Independence
Chapter 5: Shaping the New Republic
Part III: Transatlantic Backlash
Chapter 6: Wars of Words: Radicalism, Youth, and Reaction

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