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Obres de John M. Murrin

Obres associades

The New American History (1990) — Col·laborador — 152 exemplars
Essays on the American Revolution (1973) — Col·laborador — 83 exemplars
Three British Revolutions: 1641, 1688, 1776 (1980) — Col·laborador — 27 exemplars


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"Demographic Catastrophe" by J. H. Parry in Stanley N. Katz and John M. Murrin, eds., Colonial America: Essays in Politics and Social Development, 4th ed. (New York, 1991).

"J. H. Parry sensitively describes the beginnings of the greatest known catastrophe in human history, the depopulation of the Americas in the century or two after Columbus crossed the Atlantic. Summarizing the detailed research of Woodrow Wilson Borah, Sherburne F. Cook, and Lesley Bird Simpson, Parry portrays a densely populated Mexico devastated by disease, conquistadors, and even livestock.

Even for Mexico (the best-documented region of pre-Columbian America), reconstruction of the Indian population is a complex process. It involves the derivation and use of a series of multipliers that must be applied to inadequate data. Plenty of room for argument remains, and disagreement has been extensive. Since these results were first presented, some scholars have built upon them to project a New World population of over 100 million in 1492 - more than that of Europe but spread over a larger area. Others have challenged the figures for Mexico, if only because these statistics make Mexico the most densely populated inhabited region on the globe in 1500, supporting 125 people per square mile. Granting what we know about the incredible sophistication of Aztec agriculture and the astonishing growth of human sacrifice in the late fifteenth century, this finding is not impossible, but it does seem unlikely to many critics. More conservative analysis of the same sources has produced a ceiling between 5 and 10 million people in Mexico before the Spanish arrived, with corresponding implications for the rest of the hemisphere. Yet everyone agrees that the statistics become more reliable after 1550 and that depopulation occurred in the manner that Parry describes. One recent study indicates that the Indian population of Mexico did not hit bottom until the 1620s, when it stood at about 730,000.

Readers may well wonder whether they should pay serious attention to a set of statistics that can put Mexico's pre-Spanish population somewhere between 5 and 25 million. That reaction is not justified. From the Indian perspective, the quarrel resolves into a debate over whether the region lost only 85 percent of its inhabitants by 1620 or as much as 97 percent. Either way, it was a sheer disaster, one that justifies the rule-of-thumb now widely applied to the demographic history of the rest of the American - an overall decline of 90 percent within roughly a century after sustained contact with Europeans." (p. 3)

"The White Indians of Colonial America" by James Axtell in Stanley N. Katz and John M. Murrin, eds., Colonial America: Essays in Politics and Social Development, 4th ed. (New York, 1991).

"At first glance the subject of white captives among Indians does not seem to be a subject of momentous significance for understanding colonial America. Yet through the perceptive analysis of James Axtell, this subject provides insight into topics difficult to study in more conventional ways.

Most of us tend to think of Indian societies as closed or exclusivist, sadly committed to a rejection of European ways that might have saved them from demoralization or destruction. Axtell's evidence suggests that the real pluralists or assimilationists of early America were the Indians, not the settlers. Indians absorbed European women and children with remarkable ease. Had they somehow recognized intuitively the modern biological discovery that children acquire immunity from their mothers, not their fathers? Tribal absorption of white women represented the quickest and most effective defense any Indian tribe could adopt against biological disaster.

The behavior of captives also tells us something about what European women thought of their own society. Male spokesmen for the settlers regarded Indian women as degraded or "savage" because they toiled in the fields. Presumably, the colonists' wives, sisters, and daughters rejoiced in their own "civilized" exemption from labor of this kind. Yet European women who spent much time with the Indians usually decided to stay, and they had not been victims of rape or seduction. Why? What attraction in Indian society did they find that seemed superior to or more dignified than what they had known in the high "civilization" they had left behind? How could they reject European technology, religion and social customs with no apparent anxiety? If they had a message for male settlers, what was it? " (pp. 16-17)

"The Ideology of English Colonization: From Ireland to America" by Nicholas P. Canny in Stanley N. Katz and John M. Murrin, eds., Colonial America: Essays in Politics and Social Development, 4th ed. (New York, 1991).

"Idealistic settlers who came to America to build a model society were always a small minority, possibly less than fiver percent of those who crossed the Atlantic in the seventeenth century. Most colonists sought to improve their material position in the world through access to land and wealth in the Americas. But the Americas were already occupied by native peoples. How could the intruders deal with them? What models of behavior did they bring with them? Even the idealists of New England and Pennsylvania had to face these questions, and except for pacifist Quakers, they discovered the same answers.

Nicholas Canny approaches this problem through Ireland, which the English overran and subjected in the Elizabethan and Stuart eras. He finds what students of European-Indian relations have discovered recently, that the invaders, not their victims, deliberately brutalized warfare. They massacred women and children and had no reservations about starving a hostile people into submission. They shared a mentality or ideology of conquest. When their victims finally replied in kind, the invaders denounced this "savage" behavior and used it as justification of their own. In practice, because Irish and Indian warriors had nasty habits of shooting back and were often difficult to hunt down, women and children became the preferred targets for massacres by Europeans. Well-documented examples exist in Ireland and in the first-generation histories of Virginia, Plymouth, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Netherland. Where formal battles failed to secure European conquest, terror might and frequently did succeed.

Canny shows that the links between Ireland and North America were quite direct. Many prominent settlers in early Virginia, Maryland, and New England had acquired their first experience in overseas settlement and conquest in Ireland. There they forged and refined the attitudes and stereotypes they would soon impose on the Indians." (pp. 47-8)

"From Servant to Freeholder: Status, Mobility and Property Accumulation in Seventeenth-Century Maryland" by Russell R. Menard in Stanley N. Katz and John M. Murrin, eds., Colonial America: Essays in Politics and Social Development, 4th ed. (New York, 1991).

"We tend to think of Southern colonial history as the story of plantation society, the history of plantation owners and Negro slaves. We have always known, of course, that not all whites were slave owners, nor were all blacks slaves. The group least prominent in the historical record has been poorer whites, since they have not left behind the rich literary evidence that has familiarized them with their "betters." Russell Menard and his co-workers in the Chesapeake school of colonial historians have begun to mine the quantitative evidence available in Maryland and Virginia, and have thereby begun to build up a picture of the totality of colonial society. Their results have been particularly revealing for the seventeenth century, which has been much more difficult to analyze by traditional historical methods. The results are important and surprising.

In this essay, Menard analyzes that majority of immigrants to seventeenth century Maryland who came as servants in order to pay their passage to the New World. It has always been tempting to look backward from the vantage point of eighteenth-century plantation life to the origins of that "mature" form of Southern colonial life, but Menard suggests that we will understand plantation society better if we begin from the beginning.

He finds two phases in the social history of the servant class in seventeenth century Maryland. In the first, from about 1640 to 1660, immigrants approximated the general American myth of socio-economic mobility. Servants were treated well, worked out their indentures, moved from renting to landowning, and frequently rose to positions of wealth and power. In the second, however, during the last decades of the century, the story of servant life history was not so happy. These men tended to remain servants. They were rather less likely than earlier immigrants to become landowners, even if the successfully worked out their indentures. Nor did they come to play significant roles in political society.

Why were the sons less upwardly mobile than the fathers? Menard believes that the key was a dramatic rise in Maryland population after 1660, which increased the numbers of those competing for land and power. This demographic revolution was accompanied by rising land prices and falling tobacco prices, both of which made it difficult for small farmer to achieve yeoman status. Thus a combination of physical and economic forces dramatically altered the prospects for success of servants and petty farmers during the course of the seventeenth century, and altered the nature of indentured servitude as a labor system to the disadvantage of immigrants and the native poor and to the advantage of landowners.

Menard thus reasons from a painstaking analysis of local record to a systematic interpretation of Maryland social and economic life. Can these records tell us, however, how clear this pattern was to contemporaries? Were servants and petty farmers conscious of the fact that their chances were declining? How would we expect poor whites in the seventeenth century to react to such a perception? Was such a development inevitable, given the economic environment of Maryland, or can we attribute it to political decisions consciously taken? How aware were Marylanders of a labor "system'? Whatever your answers to these questions, it should be clear that Menard and his colleagues are providing us with powerful new tools and critically important information for understanding how colonists actually lived." (pp. 71-2)

"The Maryland Slave Population, 1658 to 1730: A Demographic Profile of Blacks in Four Counties" by Russell R. Menard in Stanley N. Katz and John M. Murrin, eds., Colonial America: Essays in Politics and Social Development, 4th ed. (New York, 1991).

"The demographic historian Russell Menard attempts to demonstrate how the apparently inert information contained in probate inventories can be made to reveal important truths about the quality of slave life in colonial Maryland. His argument is that a careful reconstruction of the slave population yields inferences about slave behavior. If he is correct, his method is obviously an important step in the recovery of those portions of colonial society which did not leave a written record of their thoughts and actions.

Two features characterize the early slave population. The first is that the population was composed of immigrants - slaves forcibly transported from different African communities. The immigrant-slave had neither adequate means of communicating with his fellows nor any acculturation into the new labor system. The second is that the early population was composed mostly of males. There were few females to act as wives and companions, hampering both the formation of family life and the replication of the population. The resulting slave society was therefore characterized by loneliness, culture shock, and a lack of traditional social structure. It must have been a terrifying environment for the immigrant blacks.

Menard observes, however, that black demographic change after the turn of the eighteenth century paralleled that of the white population, as improved health gave way to greater longevity. Slave society was transformed as population growth resulted from natural increase rather than immigration. The sex ratio became more balanced, with the result that slave marriage was facilitated, natural population increase was promoted, and an indigenous black population took root. By the second quarter of the eighteenth century, therefore, something that one might call the origins of American black culture had come into existence. The slaves spoke English, practiced varieties of Christianity, and participated in a sophisticated and highly differentiated slave labor system. Whatever the inescapability of the condition of servitude, Menard argues, the slaves had at least created a culture in which they could cope with their predicament much more adequately than could their immigrant ancestors.

Menard's story is fascinating, since it departs from the more customary account of the legal and institutional origins of the slave system and focuses on the lives of the slave population. It suggests a pattern that in some respects is very similar to the lot of the White population in the Chesapeake Bay area, showing the adaptation of immigrant peoples to the distinctive environment of the Southern staple-growing area. It also suggests a way tot understand the capacity of the black population to adopt affirmatively to its physical and economic environment. What is missing in Menard's account is the usual emphasis of historians of slavery on the slave owners, for the masters' deliberate attempts to structure the slave system do not seem to figure into this interpretation.

What sort of evidence would you look to in order to confirm (or refute) Menard? Is it possible to put ourselves in the minds of Maryland's slaves, to understand their motivation? Is that a necessary historical operation? What does it mean to speak of slave "marriage" and slave "family"? How does Menard's interpretation of the origins of slavery square with that of Winthrop Jordan?" (pp. 290-1)

"Enslavement of Negroes in America to 1700" by Winthrop D. Jordan in Stanley N. Katz and John M. Murrin, eds., Colonial America: Essays in Politics and Social Development, 4th ed. (New York, 1991).

"Winthrop Jordan casts his net widely in search of the origins of Negro slavery in seventeenth-century America. While he admits that there was no such legal status in England, he argues that Englishmen were familiar with slavery as a condition of perpetual, absolute unfreedom and that contemporary Europe provided them with real examples of the practice. Jordan notes that slavery came into existence before the end of the seventeenth century everywhere in British North America, although the process varied greatly from the West Indian islands to New England to Virginia and Maryland. Unhindered by Puritan ideology or the "captive" analogy, the Southern colonies provide an example of the gradual creation of a full-blown slave system. Southern blacks were treated differently from the start (and some may have served for life almost as soon), but by 1640 there is clear evidence of total enslavement and by the end of the century slaves were already treated more like property than men. Slave status and racial status worked together to create the "peculiar institution." Thus for Jordan, slavery resulted from social conditions in Europe and in the colonies, from the attitudes of the colonists, and from the experience of settling the New World. He believes that the legal structure of slavery did not reflect the conditions of its growth, since law so often lags behind social reality." (pp. 250-1)

"Urban Wealth and Poverty in Pre-Revolutionary America" by Gary B. Nash in Stanley N. Katz and John M. Murrin, eds., Colonial America: Essays in Politics and Social Development, 4th ed. (New York, 1991).

"Historians of the national period have generally portrayed the colonial era as a time of peace and plenty, a golden age against which the conflict and competition of the nineteenth century could be measured. In part, of course, this assumes an American Revolution that was a war of independence from Great Britain, rather than a domestic social conflict. Indeed, one might argue that a comparable notion of declension from consensual, communitarian behavior to conflictual, individualist behavior has has been used to describe every transition in American history; seventeenth to eighteenth, eighteenth to nineteenth, nineteenth to twentieth. It is predictable that historians of the mid-twenty-first century will describe our own era in comparatively idealistic terms. But was it ever so?

This is the question raised by Gary Nash in his study of the distribution of wealth in eighteenth-century American cities. Nash finds a growing inequality in the distribution of wealth over the course of the century and a corresponding increase in indices of poverty. Cities like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia are transformed from communities in which economic opportunity was widely available and economic mobility quite general to communities in which the rich (though fewer) grew richer and the poor (though more numerous) grew poorer, in a context of declining opportunity for the impoverished. By the end of the colonial period, a startling contrast characterizes urban life - an existence of ostentatious luxury for the few and of abject want for quite a few.

Why should this have been so in an age where it is arguable that general levels of economic prosperity were slowly on the rise? Nash believes that the dislocating effects of economic development in the Atlantic economy has a highly differentiated impact upon disparate sectors of the urban population. For one thing, decreasing availability of nearby arable land forced laborers into the city rather than into nearby rural communities; for another, the cycle of wartime boom and peacetime recession contorted 'normal' economic behavior, The eighteenth-century cycle of war and peace (a phenomenon ignored by too many colonial historians) thus had a particularly transforming impact upon urban life and created conditions under which the underclasses might well have nourished resentment against an elite that had fattened itself on imperial trading privileges.

Nash thus describes the era following the Seven Years' War as one of radically diminished expectations for much of urban America. If he is correct in his analysis of urban poverty (and he admits that his conclusions are necessarily speculative), what can we conclude about the large majority of colonial Americans who lived farms, plantations, in villages and on the frontier? What meaning did urban poverty have for them? Where they relatively insulated from the cyclical effects of the Atlantic economy? Or, to put the matter in a very different way, did colonials have egalitarian aspirations; were they less deferential in their expectations than in their behavior? What, in other words, can we infer from demonstrations of economic inequality? Is this the point at which the historian must return to the literary sources Nash rejects at the beginning of his article?" (pp. 447-8)

Edmund S. Morgan. "Slavery and Freedom: The American Paradox" by Edmund S. Morgan in Stanley N. Katz and John M. Murrin, eds., Colonial America: Essays in Politics and Social Development, 4th ed. (New York, 1991).

Distillation of thinking in American Slavery, American Freedom ...

"In this presidential address to the Organization of American Historians, Edmund Morgan confronts the central paradox of our history: Americans have created the freest society the world has known, and yet they have also constructed a massive slave labor system which has left behind it a heritage of racial prejudice. For two centuries historians have tried either to justify or to explain the coexistence of these seemingly incompatible social systems. Morgan's provocative answer is that American freedom could not have existed without American slavery; the two systems were symbiotic rather than antagonistic.

Part of the argument is easy to understand. It has become almost commonplace to argue that the existence of black servitude helped to placate the underclass of propertyless whites, for whom racial justice was arguably more significant than economic status. So long as poor whites could lord it over black slaves, the expected status anxiety of the poor was supplanted by identification with the plantation-owning elite.

Morgan thinks that it was precisely the reverse sort of status anxiety that encouraged the creation of the slave labor system. The colonists had emigrated from Elizabethan England at a time when the principal fear was that overpopulation would lead to a rootless, propertyless class of vagabonds who might undermine the social fabric. One solution was to send the poor to the colonies, where they might prosper or at least be removed as a threat to social order in the mother country. As life expectancy in the Tidewater South increased, and as land prices rose while tobacco prices fell, the southern colonies came, by the late seventeenth century, to resemble the perilous condition of pre-emigration England. This evoked comparable fears of social unrest, which were confirmed by the violence of Bacon's Rebellion and other disruptions. The answer (which Morgan thinks unconscious) was to supplant the white laboring force with an enslaved black labor force. This not only provided a more easily controlled labor supply, but it also created the economic conditions in which poor whites could improve themselves and, for the most part, exist on the fringe of the slave-owning class. It created the situation in the essay by David Alan Williams, in which certain aspects of the Virginia government were conceded to yeoman farmers. With slavery, that is, came freedom and republican government for all whites.

Morgan's thesis is elegantly argued, and it certainly provides a satisfying answer to the paradox of the coexistence of slavery and freedom. It does, however, raise some difficult questions. Does this argument account for the existence of slavery in the northern colonies? If not, can it be considered an explanation of "American" freedom? More narrowly, why should the emergence of the slave system have improved the lot of propertyless whites in the seventeenth century? What has slavery to do with Jeffersonian fears of an urban proletariat? You might consider some of these questions in light of the demographic evidence presented by Russell Menard. Would you expect Menard to agree with Morgan? Most important, if the creation of slavery was not a conscious response to the fears of wealthy Southerners for the security of their society, should we consider the republican ideas as more than a rationalization for the cultivation on an evil social system?" (pp. 571-3)

Other Readings:

"African and American Atlantic Worlds," special issue WMQ 3d ser. (April 1999)

Lucia Stanton, "'Those who Labor for My Happiness': Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves," in Peter S. Onuf, ed., Jeffersonian Legacies (Charlottesville, 1993), 147-180.

*Rhys Isaac, "Communication and Control: Authority Metaphors and Power Contests on Colonel Landon Carter's Virginia Plantation, 1752-1778," in Sean Wilentz, ed., Rites of Power: Symbolism, Ritual, and Politics Since the Middle Ages (Philadelphia, 1985), 275-302.

Kirkpatrick Sale, The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbus Legacy (N.Y., 1990).

Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Indians and English : facing off in early America (2000)
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