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Prof.’s book covered in New York Times column

A New York Times article titled “Joe Klein Explains How the History of Four Centuries Ago Still Shapes American Culture and Politics” highlights that the divide between two groups in a nation is by no means a new phenomenon. Klein cites David Hackett Fischer’s (HIST) book, “Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America,” about the history of British migration to colonial America and how the process of assimilation went as a way of showing that these trends can be found in history.

Klein describes how during the times of COVID-19 he noticed the divide in the United States: in the South cases soared, while in New England there were high vaccination rates and fewer cases.

“The divide between maskers and anti-maskers, vaxxers and anti-vaxxers is as old as Plymouth Rock. It is deeper than politics; it is cultural,” writes Klein in the article.

According to the article, the deep South was settled by emigrants from Scotland and England, who brought their “clannish, violent, independent culture, which had evolved over seven centuries of border warfare.” Klein notes that Fischer described the South as “a society of autonomous individuals who were unable to endure external control and incapable of restraining their rage against anyone who stood in the way.”

Fischer describes the Scots and Irish as people who “were intensely resistant to change and suspicious of ‘foreigners.’ … In the early 20th century, they would become intensely negrophobic and antisemitic.”

Meanwhile, New England was settled by the Puritan founders for whom “order was an obsession,” according to Fischer’s book. It was a society where everything was regulated. These trends continue to today, according to Klein.

The book shows how these were the roots of American culture, and how tangled they are today, as well as the effect that the entanglement has on contemporary society. The value systems that the British emigrants brought to America can be seen in “distinctive societies and value systems” according to Klein, though he highlights that “Culture is amorphous; it isn’t immutable.”

Fischer’s book was published in 1989. The focus of the book is the assimilation of various British cultures in colonial America. Fischer is an Emeritus Earl Warren Professor of History; he taught The United States in World War II (HIST 166), according to his faculty page. He also won the Pulitzer Prize in History for “Washington’s Crossing” in 2005, among numerous other awards.

 

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