UPROOTED AMERICANS: Essays to Honor Oscar Handlin by Richard L. & Others--Eds. Bushman

UPROOTED AMERICANS: Essays to Honor Oscar Handlin

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Members of a favored ""tribe of Americanists,"" the students of Oscar Handlin (Boston's Immigrants, The Uprooted), gather here to pay their teacher homage. As Barbara Miller Solomon (Aneestors and Immigrants) describes him, Handlin was well-skilled in using ""the weapon of listening to teach."" He was a teacher who, when students complained of difficulty in writing, might remark, ""Good, it should not come too easily""; one who would congratulate a new mother, then ask, ""Are you back at work?"" While the essay topics range widely--from Alfred Stieglitz to Israel Zangwill, from the ""Politics of Industrialization"" to utopian fiction--two of the finest concern women and witchcraft. Anne Firor Scott (The Southern Lady) taps daily life in the Colonies through the portraits of three women. The first, Jane Franklin Mecom, sister of Benjamin Franklin, provides a case in point for Virginia Woolf's question, ""What if Shakespeare had a sister?"" Franklin did, yet while he was able to run off at 15 to begin ""his rise to the pinnacle among the Anglo-American intelligentsia,"" she, at the same age, was married and soon pregnant. The lives of Elizabeth Sandwich Drinker, a Philadelphia Quaker, and Eliza Lucas Pinckney, a well-to-do Charlestonian, were similarly circumscribed by births and deaths, unto the second generation. Indeed, throughout these accounts the struggle to hold families together overpowers reports of political events and religious or philosophical currents. One social current which did directly involve women in the 17th century, however, was witchcraft. Based on his research on Hampton, New Hampshire, John Demos (A Little Commonwealth) considers belief in witchcraft to have been ""a persistent feature of life in early New England."" Accusations were most likely to surface when the community was not preoccupied with outside threats (via land claim disputes) to its political integrity; and the most frequent target at such times was Goodwife Cole, a poor disreputable woman ""given to threats and curses"" and ""not reluctant to confront established authority."" Other essays--including one by Moses Rischin (Immigration and the American Tradition) on historian Marcus Lee Hansen--stick closer to Handlin's major interest, yet throughout the collection it is clear that these historians share Handlin's appreciation of the ""scholar's enterprise"" as not just a vision but also as ""a business, a craft."" They practice it well.

Pub Date: June 12th, 1979
Publisher: Little, Brown