Review: Rethinking America From Empire to Republic by John M. Murrin


In the introduction, Andrew Shankman narrows down the one word that has driven the history career of Dr. John M. Murrin; “Anglicization.” (page 1).  This process happened in a period of approximately 60 years, as the colonists along the eastern seaboard of North America became “in virtually every measurable way…more not less British in their attitudes, outlooks, and actions…” (page 1).

With that thought in mind, the collection of essays from the pen of Dr. Murrin comprise this single volume, Rethinking America, From Empire to Republic published by Oxford University Press. Understanding the history and historiography of these decades and the military, political, social, and economic sub-themes of the time period define the work. Yet, this is not history from just the top down; from the perspective of the elites nor from the bottom-up, but a melding of the various tiers of society. 

In a series of thought-provoking essays, historian John M. Murrin, a professor of history at Princeton University for over three decades, challenges readers to rethink and reevaluate that early period of American History. The collection of essays are broken down into two main fields—an overview essay begins the main portion of the text—with those two umbrella topics being the movement “Toward Revolution” and then “Defining the Republic.”51rlOzB77uL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

History has been compared to a singe track train moving in one direction. One cannot go back and relive bygone eras. In that aspect, the previously mentioned metaphor is correct. Yet, just because the events themselves cannot be relived does not mean the prism in which we view yesteryear has to remain the same as well.

Pulling out a few gems from the narrative underlines the depth of discussion Murrin provides for the reader. In the “Great Invasion” essay, “broad colonial developments” cannot be discussed without observing a “few trends.” These include the paradox that the “generation that experienced the stabilization of Britain’s constitutional order also witnessed the institutional elaboration of imperial control.” (page 43).

Furthermore, in another section, part two, on an essay about “The French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the Counterfactual Hypothesis” Murrin leaves the reader with a further discussion point to mull over; “Britain may have actually have lost her colonies because…the English simply did not know how to think triumphantly” (pg. 126). A further exploration of the essay unfolds Murrin’s dissection of other historian’s views, in a constructive way, and outlines some of the conclusions they have reached while still mainting the objectivity needed for a thoughtful discourse. The portion quoted above is the concluding sentence of that part.

He leaves the reader with a concluding essay on “War, Revolution, and Nation-Making” which examines the American Revolution versus the Civil War. A very interesting read and insight, especially in the context of current affairs in regard to the latter war’s remembrance and controversy. Altogether, the book provides for a thorough investigation into this pivotal time in early American history while challenging a few preconceived notions and directions.

Just like that train; moving one direction but the study and interpretation allow for continued exploration and insight. Hope you enjoy the journey with this publication as well!



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