Darnton Moment?

May 25, 2004

I have been revising chapter four for the last few days, thus the light blogging. Yesterday was spent in the library, and while reading or skimming through some 13 books and a few journal articles I came up with some useful thoughts. I will sketch them out here, then go grab a yellow pad, a pen, and the printout of the previous version of this chapter and start scribbling.

There is a moment in the early 1840s when things change. I know it, other historians know it. We are not sure how to explain that change. This is not technically a Darnton moment - that would be when a historian digs through the archives and finds something that the people of the time found powerful and compelling and that the historian simply does not understand, I take the term from Darnton's essay "The Great Cat Massacre" in his book of the same title.

While not quite a Darnton moment, it does share with his example the fact that I know there is something important going on and I am not quite sure how to explain it.

Details below the fold

I am writing about religious groups in the nineteenth century. I argue - correctly - that things changed in the 1840s. I am struggling with how best to characterise that change. I know that the World Evangelical Alliance is important. I know that the 1845 schisms over slavery in the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Baptist Triennial Convention are important. I know that the 1844-6 argument in the Presbyterian church about whether to rebaptise converts to Presbyterianism from Catholicism is important. I know that the influx of Catholic immigrants, and the militancy of John Hughes of New York City are important. And, I know that the Oxford movement, Horace Bushnell's Christian Nurture, geology, Mormonism, Unitarians, Universalists, Spiritualists, and Millerites are also important. Finally, I know that the debate over Temperance shared characteristics with the debates over slavery, Hopkinsian theology, and the Evangelical Alliance.

It was a time of flux.

I am not quite sure how to characterize and explain that flux. I thought about using categorization theory, wrote that up, and discarded it. I thought about focusing on ultra-ism, wrote that up, and discarded it. I thought about focusing on Catholics, or slavery, or the Mexican War, and discarded those. All were incomplete; all were instances where the historian was forcing a theory or structure onto events of the past, fitting some and distorting others.

So, having whined about it here, I think I get to take my coffee and my yellow pad and go sit on the porch and mull.

Posted by Red Ted at May 25, 2004 09:35 AM | TrackBack