Past and Prologue: Politics and Memory in the American Revolution (New Haven: Yale University Press, forthcoming Nov. 2020)

  • In Past and Prologue, Michael Hattem shows how colonists’ changing understandings of history 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 and creating a new historical tradition played a critical role in the founding of the nation.


The Memory of ’76: The Revolution in American History and Culture

  • This manuscript examines the ways in which the legacy of the Revolution has been employed in American politics and culture from the end of the Revolutionary War to the present day. Previous scholars have explored this topic atomistically from the perspective of a specific literary genre or through the legacy of individual founders. The Memory of ’76, however, takes a broader, more synthetic approach using a number of political and cultural events as case studies to show how, throughout the nation’s history, various groups have used the rhetoric of the Revolution and defined its legacy as a means to both resist and defend oppression and inequality. This manuscript argues that the story of the founding as our national origins myth is not a story of consensus but one of conflict in which a wide variety of individuals, groups, and institutions engaged in a continuous, many-sided struggle have offered competing conceptions of the meaning and legacy of the American Revolution. As we approach the sestercentennial of the Revolution, it is an opportune time to look back at the role of our historical memory of the Revolution in our political culture and how that memory has been contested since the revolutionary generation itself.


“Cultural Authority and the Creation of Civil Society in Colonial New York City, 1747-1770”

  • This article examines attempts by a group of young, enlightened dissenters in New York City to foster the development of the city’s cultural life through the creation of journals, magazines, libraries, and voluntary, professional, and economic societies. However, unlike the cultural development of Philadelphia and Boston, which they sought to emulate, their efforts in New York City ran into strong opposition from the city’s Anglican establishment, particularly its clergy who saw these developments as a direct challenge to their longstanding cultural authority in the city.