History 1014 (12)

Instructions for writing the short essays


First essay:

  • John Winthrop, “A Modell of Christian Charity” (1630), reprinted in Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society 3rd. series, vol. 7 (Boston, 1838):31-48.  From Hanover Historical Texts Project, http://history.hanover.edu/texts/winthmod.html (1996).

Note: Prior to the Puritans’ departure from England in 1630, John Winthrop was chosen governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. His fellow passengers on board the Arabella were, along with Winthrop, the first contingent of that colony. But the Puritans were not setting up a “utopian” community, and they had no intention of establishing a “community of goods” (communal sharing of property). Winthrop was their governor, but he was neither their founder nor their absolute “leader.” He could not require them to follow different laws than the laws of England, nor could he alter the basic structures and functions of their community. But he could offer them a model (or a vision) of mutual relationships and responsibilities, based on what he saw as their shared goal to create a cohesive community that would be guided by their religious convictions as Puritans.

With respect to their faith, the Puritans were indeed Christians. But they viewed themselves as Puritans, and in their case, as non-separating Congregationalists, defined in relation to the Church of England (they had not separated from the national church, but they viewed their Congregations as “independent,” with the right to choose their own ministers and determine the proper membership of the congregation, and therefore as complete in and of themselves). So historically, you should try to view them as they viewed themselves, rather than generalize about them as “Christians.”

For this short essay (2-3 pages), you are not expected to have much background in the early history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but you do know something about the critiques and visions that produced utopian communal experiments.  You might think of your essay as an exploratory essay, in which you attempt to understand Governor Winthrop's perspective and his goals in 1630 when he gave the sermon to his fellow Puritans while on board the Arabella.  In your reading, focus on the “modell” that Winthrop presented for the new society that the Puritans would be creating in the north American wilderness, considering his model historically (from the perspective of his era and culture rather than comparing it to a present-day perspective).

As you read the sermon, you might consider some of these research-oriented questions as a way of helping you understand the model of community that Winthrop presented to his fellow passengers:

  • On what model or models of "community" did Winthrop base his "modell of Christian charity"? 
  • According to Winthrop, were the Puritans. who had “escaped” the corrupt world of England and Europe, intentionally establishing “separate” and “isolated” communities in the wilderness, or did they intend to maintain connection with the larger society?
  • To what extent did Winthrop present his model as communal? To what extent did he attempt to preserve and safeguard the Puritans’  “Errand” in the wilderness? To what extent did his model also serve his interests and concerns as governor?
  • Does Pitzer’s concept of “developmental communalism” offer insight into this endeavor?

For the first essay assignment, shift your focus away from a present-day, research-oriented perspective and consider Winthrop's sermon from his perspective as he wrote the sermon that he delivered to his fellow passengers on board the Arabella.  As you consider his sermon, you can use the secondary sources that we have read thus far to help you ask questions about Winthrop’s sermon.  But in your essay, try to keep your focus squarely on the model or vision of community that Winthrop presented, how he presented it in 1630 to that particular audience aboard the Arabella, and why—what he hoped to create, accomplish, or achieve

Keep in mind that that this is a short essay:  choose a section of his sermon which interested or intrigued you, perhaps because he addressed a subject, or offered an argument of particular interest.  Examine closely and carefully how he wrote this section, and how he presented and developed his discussion and interpretation in that section.  Keep in mind the context in which he framed and presented the descriptions, evidence, and/or arguments that intrigued you.  Your argument or thesis should focus on what he wrote in this particular section, how he crafted it point by point, and what he intended to convey.  In your essay, introduce your section and focus, present your thesis, and support your discussion and argument with quotations from Winthrop’s text, using footnote citation format. (See A Brief Guide to Footnote Citations in History.)


Second essay:

  • W. D. Howells, “A Shaker Village,” The Atlantic Monthly XXXVII (June 1876), 699-710, or in the Making of America Collection, Cornell University Library: LINK  .pdf

In the first essay, you discussed and analyzed a primary source:  Winthrop’s model of Christian charity as the basis for a godly community. In the second short essay, you should discuss and analyze a nineteenth-century source that was written as a “secondary” source (from an outsider's perspective) but that we might consider as a primary source:  William Dean Howells’s 1876 observations and reflections about the Shaker Village at Shirley, Massachusetts.

While you should focus your attention squarely on Howells's account, you can use what we have learned about the questions, concerns, and measures that Nordhoff, as a journalist and commentator, brought to his examinations of “communistic societies” in 1874 to help you consider Howells’s text. Based on the questions Howells raised and the aspects of the community that he explored, try to figure out his perspective and how it shaped his account. He was also a journalist, writing during the same era as Nordhoff. However, his visits to the Shaker village in Shirley grew out of rather different interests than Nordhoff’s. Furthermore, Howells’s sense of his relationship with his Atlantic Monthly readers, his assumptions about their expectations of him as an informed observer, and his goals in this free-standing account differed quite markedly from Nordhoff’'s study.

Once again, this is a short essay. Pick a section of his account of the Shaker community and society in Shirley, Massachusetts, to discuss and analyze.  Consider the context in his essay in which he located the section and then focus on how he developed his discussion in this section.  What did he consider and describe?  What questions did he pose (if any), and what answers  and assessments did he propose (if any)?  While you should keep in mind that his descriptions and assessments were influenced by his particular interests and concerns, and that his account reflected his view of himself as a nineteenth-century observer and writer, keep your focus squarely on what he wrote in that section.


Third essay:

Documents (choose one of the following):

  • Nathaniel Hawthorne, Passages from the American Note-books of Nathaniel Hawthorne, [April-October 27, 1841], Vol. II (1868), 1-49;  Online Books Page, University of Pennsylvania Library, at Eldritch Press.  LINK  [Note: Focus on the entries from his first stay at Brook Farm, April 13-September 3, 1841].
  • Ora Gannett Sedgwick, “A Girl of Sixteen at Brook Farm [1841-42],” The Atlantic Monthly 85.509 (March 1900), 395-404. Making of America:  Cornell University Library.  LINK

In contrast to the sermon about a “model of Christian charity” that Winthrop wrote, as governor, prior to the Puritans’ arrival at Massachusetts Bay, and to the article that Howells wrote about the Shaker Village at Shirley, Massachusetts, as an informed six-week neighbor and outsider, the individuals who wrote first-hand accounts about Brook Farm actually participated in that Transcendentalist utopian experiment.  As participants (rather than as leaders or observers), these individuals focused on the particulars of these communities as they experienced or remembered them. For the most part, their accounts were neither visionary nor disinterested (although both contemporaneous and retrospective accounts could be disenchanted!).

Analyze either a contemporaneous journal (Hawthorne) or a published recollection (Sedgwick, published 1900).  Be careful not to assume that either genre followed “customary” conventions; instead, look for the ways that the author's era (contemporaneous or retrospective), perceived audience, purpose, and perspective shaped the author’s account in that particular text.  As you focus on one of these texts for your essay, you might consider the basis or reasons for that individual’s connection to the community (what they explained about why they participated, what they hoped to gain by living in the community, what—if any—reservations they had).  You might also explore how that foundation shaped and influenced their rendition of their experience and of their assessment of the venture at Brook Farm.

Once again, this is a short essay. Write your essay about either Hawthorne's journal or Sedgwick's recollection. Focus your essay on a section of the account that interests or intrigues you.  Discuss and analyze how the author described the community and his or her experience in the community in that particular section, using quotations (full sentences or clauses, rather than phrases or words) to support your discussion.  Try to determine what the author intended to convey in that section, keeping in mind that the message and purpose may be more complex than simple and clear.


Fourth essay:

Documents (choose one of the following):

Questions to consider:

  • When Joseph Smith wrote his “History” in 1838, did he address a particular or, if not a particular, then a primary audience? Who did he envision as his most important audience? What message did he want to impart to that audience, and for what purpose? Did he have a different message for a secondary audience?
  • How did his message and his goals shape his rendition of the events and occurrences which led to his position of leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?
  • Ann Eliza Young wrote an apostate account of her parents’ marriage which described how (some) wives experienced the practices of the Mormon priesthood, and, in particular, the practice of polygamy. (Later in her book, she also described her experience as Brigham Young’s nineteenth wife.)
  • What did she emphasize and reiterate in her account? What challenges to Mormon faith, practices, and leadership did she pose?

Instructions: for the final short essay, write a critical analysis of a section of Joseph Smith’s “History” or of a section from either of the assigned chapters from Ann Eliza Young's memoir using the Guidelines for Writing a Critical Analysis of a Primary Document under the Resources on the History 12 homepage.

Once again, this is a short essay, so you will not be able to analyze either of these sources in their entirety.  Focus on a section of Smith’s or Young’s account, using the perspective described in the Guidelines.  Make sure that you cultivate generosity!


  • Charles Schulz, Peanuts (9/25/1984; 8/20/1986):