History 332

Introduction:  Historical Visions and Sociological Models of Community

  • Thomas Bender, Ch. 1, “Introduction: The Meanings of Community,” Ch. 1, “Social Theory and the Problem of Community,” 3-43, in Bender, Community and Social Change in America (1978).  e-Reserve
  • David J. Russo, “Introduction,” “The Little Community: Towns (and Rural Areas Too?),” in Russo, Families and Communities: A New View of American History (1974), 1-51.  e-Reserve
  • Darrett Rutman, “Assessing the Little Communities of Early America,” William and Mary Quarterly 3d ser. XLIII (1986), 163-178.  JSTOR


Further reading:  additional documents:


The three essays present and consider some of the questions, definitions, and perspectives that we will explore during the semester.  Bender and Russo wrote their essays as the field of community history became established within the historical profession.  In 1986, Rutman offered a retrospective assessment of the evolution of the field.

  • Which definitions, descriptions, and concepts of community resonate for you?
  • Which theories or models of change most compel you? confuse you?
  • What common threads and concerns do you find in the three articles?
  • What do these scholars view as the main flaws in previous, often long-standing theories of “historical” change in community? What do they mean when they describe a theory, a model, or an assessment as “ahistorical”?
  • What can historians bring to the discussion and analysis of community?

John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts Bay, delivered his sermon in 1630 on board the ship Arabella:

  • Consider his sermon as offering a model or vision of community that he hoped his company of fellow Puritans would implement in Massachusetts Bay.  What expectations did he have for the community? What was he trying to ensure and/or protect?  What did he think would hold community together?
  • What problems or concerns did he anticipate, and what anxieties did he state less clearly? Why did Winthrop’s model emphasize religion (although not the church) and administration?
  • Within his community, whose values, beliefs, and assumptions did he represent? For whom did he speak?