Past and Prologue

In Past and Prologue, Michael Hattem shows how colonists’ changing understandings of their British and colonial histories shaped the politics of the American Revolution and the origins of American national identity. Between the 1760s and 1800s, Americans stopped thinking of the British past as their own history and created a new historical tradition that would form the foundation for what subsequent generations would think of as “American history.” This change was a crucial part of the cultural transformation at the heart of the Revolution by which colonists went from thinking of themselves as British subjects to thinking of themselves as American citizens. Rather than liberating Americans from the past—as many historians have argued—the Revolution actually made the past matter more than ever. Past and Prologue shows how the process of reinterpreting the past played a critical role in the founding of the nation.

Available in hardcover and ebook now through Yale University Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Fort Plain Museum Bookshop, and other booksellers.


Nicole Penn, “Teapots and Tempests,” American Purpose, January 6, 2021.

Gene Procknow, Journal of the American Revolution, February 1, 2021.

Lynn Uzzell, “Past as Prologue,” Law & Liberty Blog, April 27, 2021.

Tanner Ogle, H-Early America, August 18, 2021.

Jordan Pellerito, American Nineteenth Century History, Spring 2021.

Sarah Purcell, The William and Mary Quarterly, October 2021.

Ellen Ka-May Cheng, “A Revolution in Defense of the Past,” Reviews in American History, December 2021.

Shira Lurie, Journal of the Early Republic, Winter 2021.

Aaron Noble, New York History, Winter 2021-2022.

Scott Casper, Journal of American History, September 2022.


December 7, 2020: “How ‘Revisionist History’ Shaped the American Revolution,” hosted by Benjamin Carp, New-York Historical Society, 5pm EST. (audio below)

January 27, 2021: “Past and Prologue: Politics and Memory in the American Revolution — A Virtual Discussion with Michael D. Hattem,” David Center for the American Revolution, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, PA, 1pm EST.

April 1, 2021: “The American Revolution and the Creation of American History,” Fraunces Tavern® Museum, New York, NY, 6:30pm EST.

April 22, 2021: “Past and Prologue: A Conversation with Michael D. Hattem,” Smith National Library at Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon, VA, 7pm EST.

April 29, 2021: Fireside Chat, The Library Company of Philadelphia, 7pm EST.

July 7, 2021: “Ben’s Book Club: Past and Prologue by Michael D. Hattem,” Benjamin Franklin House, London, UK, 5pm GMT.

August 29, 2022: American Revolution Roundtable of Philadelphia.

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