Commendably, Williams devotes attention to one of the most neglected aspects of the Colonial Revival writers: she considers the books themselves as physical artifacts and discusses Earle's ideas on design and layout. Recommended.
Alice Morse Earle and the Domestic History of Early Americaby Susan Reynolds Williams
Author, collector, and historian Alice Morse Earle (1851--1911) was among the most important and prolific writers of her day. Between 1890 and 1904, she produced seventeen books as well as numerous articles, pamphlets, and speeches about the life, manners, customs, and material culture of colonial New England. Earle's work coincided with a surge of interest in
Author, collector, and historian Alice Morse Earle (1851--1911) was among the most important and prolific writers of her day. Between 1890 and 1904, she produced seventeen books as well as numerous articles, pamphlets, and speeches about the life, manners, customs, and material culture of colonial New England. Earle's work coincided with a surge of interest in early American history, genealogy, and antique collecting, and more than a century after the publication of her first book, her contributions still resonate with readers interested in the nation's colonial past.
An intensely private woman, Earle lived in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and four children and conducted much of her research either by mail or at the newly established Long Island Historical Society. She began writing on the eve of her fortieth birthday, and the impressive body of scholarship she generated over the next fifteen years stimulated new interest in early American social customs, domestic routines, foodways, clothing, and childrearing patterns.
Written in a style calculated to appeal to a wide readership, Earle's richly illustrated books recorded the intimate details of what she described as colonial "home life." These works reflected her belief that women had played a key historical role, helping to nurture communities by constructing households that both served and shaped their families. It was a vision that spoke eloquently to her contemporaries, who were busily creating exhibitions of early American life in museums, staging historical pageants and other forms of patriotic celebration, and furnishing their own domestic interiors.
University of Massachusetts Press
Sue Reynolds Williams takes up this analysis and persuasively argues that Earle's life and work provide an insightful lens on the function of popular history as well as anxieties about industrialization, materialism, immigration, and atomization of community at the end of the nineteenth century.... The author's assertion that Earle used history to make sense of the present and to create a blueprint for the future is convincing.... She shows beautifully that Earle had the power to make change simply through the act of remembering.
This book is a sophisticated, nuanced interpretation of Earle's life and, even more effective, of the specific moment in culture in which native-born Americans looked longingly for a past that had never existed.
Compelling.... Williams sketches the sources of Earle's methods and ideas but extends broadly the significance of Earle's work.
What People are Saying About This
Although the name of Alice Morse Earle is widely known among 'colonial revival' scholars, her work has been little studied. Susan Williams demonstrates that Earle was a pivotal figure in the popularization of the colonial revival and its values -- a fine contribution to the field.
Meet the Author
Susan Reynolds Williams is professor of history at Fitchburg State University and author of Savory Suppers and Fashionable Feasts: Dining in Victorian America.
University of Massachusetts Press
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