History 248 Reading Guide

The Revolutionary Era:  The Rise of New Domestic Values and the End of the Old Hierarchy

  • T. H. Breen, “Narrative of Commercial Life:  Consumption, Ideology, and Community on the Eve of the American Revolution,” William and Mary Quarterly 3rd. Ser., 50. 3 (1993), 471-501.  JSTOR
  • Toby L. Ditz, “Ownership and Obligation:  Inheritance and Patriarchal Households in Connecticut, 1750-1820,” William and Mary Quarterly 3rd. Ser., 47.2 (1990), 235-265.  JSTOR


  • According to Breen, why did “narratives of consumption” begin to circulate in the 1760s?  What were main themes of those colonial narratives?  What experiences did they link?
  • How did colonists respond to and act on those messages?
  • How does Breen’s construction of this new commercial perspective revise our thinking about the world view of late eighteenth-century Americans?
  • What does this perspective suggest about changing ideas and ideals of community and society at the end of the eighteenth century?
  • How does Ditz define “household patriarchy” in late colonial Wethersfield and the four upland towns in interior Connecticut?  Given that household orientation, what tension did traditional inheritance practices cause in this New England colony?  What inheritance strategies did family farmers adopt in the late colonial era?
  • How did those inheritance practices change in Wethersfield by 1820?  Why (and why not in the upland towns)?  What were the implications of those changes for both family and community in the early national period?