History 231 Reading Guide

Discussion: American Social Development and the Convergence of Regions in the Eighteenth Century

  • Jack P. Greene, Pursuits of Happiness: The Social Development of Early Modern British Colonies and the Formation of American Culture (1988).

Questions:

  • What is his stated goal—and what are his underlying goals?
  • What is his thesis?  How does he go about proving it?
  • What model does he propose for describing and analyzing the process of development of colonial American societies?
  • What aspects of colonial society and culture does he examine? Which of those arguments are most persuasive? least persuasive?
  • On which groups of Americans does he focus to establish the patterns and interpretation that he offers? Whose perspectives and experiences does he omit or downplay? How do those choices shape and limit his argument and conclusions?
  • What is the significance of the different processes by which the various regions reach convergence between centrifugal and centripetal orientations of society?
  • Why is he so insistent about showing that slavery existed everywhere else while deemphasizing its influence on Chesapeake society?  What are the implications of his effort to challenge New England and especially Puritanism as the model of “things America”?  Why did nineteenth century Americans “switch” their origins away from the Chesapeake and toward New England?