Episode 307: Michael Hattem, History and the American Revolution


The story of the founding of the United States is a familiar one. It usually (but not always) begins with English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, describes the founding and development of thirteen British North American colonies that hugged North America’s eastern seaboard, and then delves into the imperial reforms and conflicts that caused the colonists to respond with violent protests during the 1760s and 1770s.

Then there is the war, which began in April 1775 and ended in 1783. The adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. And the story of how against all odds, the Americans persevered and founded an independent United States.

Have you ever wondered where this familiar narrative came from and why it was developed?

Michael Hattem, a historian of Early America who has a research expertise in the age and memory of the American Revolution, joins us to investigate the creation of the “grand narrative” about the Revolution and the United States’ founding, with details from his book, Past and Prologue: Politics and Memory in the American Revolution.

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Ben Franklin’s World is a production of the Omohundro Institute.

Episode Summary

Michael Hattem is a historian of Early America who works as an Associate Director of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. His research interests are in the cultural memory of the American Revolution and in Early America more broadly.

Using details from his book Past and Prologue: Politics and Memory in the American Revolution, Michael reveals the idea that history broadly and American History in particular are constructions; How Americans who lived in revolutionary and post-revolutionary America viewed and related to the past and history; And, how and why the United States’ first historians used the events of the past to fashion a new history and history culture for their new nation.

What You’ll Discover

  • American History as a construction
  • Process of constructing history
  • History culture and the American Revolution
  • American transition from British subjects to American citizens
  • Cultural origins of the American Revolution
  • Glorious Revolution of 1688 and its importance to Americans
  • British Americans’ views of history during the 1760s
  • British Americans’ relationship with British history
  • British Americans’ status within the British Empire
  • The role diversity in early American cultures & identities played in shaping a distinctly American identity
  • Use of history and history culture to unify the people of the new United States
  • Use of art and museums to create a new American history culture
  • Role of state and regional histories in creating a national history culture
  • How early U.S. Historians dealt with slavery
  • Comparing Americans’ use of history with the use of history by other nations
  • Present-day American use of history for nationalistic ends

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Complementary Episodes

Episode 031: Michael Hattem, Benjamin Franklin and the Papers of the Benjamin Franklin Editorial Project
Episode 107: Mary Sarah Bilder, Madison’s Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention
Episode 245: Celebrating the Fourth of July
Episode 250: Virginia, 1619
Episode 306: The Horse’s Tail: Revolution & Memory in Early New York City

Time Warp PlainTime Warp Question

In your opinion, what might have happened if most of the earliest historians of the United States had hailed from Pennsylvania or Virginia instead of New England? What might the early American historical memory have looked like?

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