Renowned Historian Draws Parallels between Colonial America and Arab Spring
This week, Groton students had the opportunity to hear the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Professor Gordon Wood, talk about the Revolutionary War, the Constitution, and the early history of America. He spoke to all the students in American History classes and any students simply interested in the topic.
Through his extensive knowledge, the historian—a professor emeritus at Brown University and author of The Radicalism of The American Revolution—was able to give energy and relevance to the names and dates of our nation’s early history in ways textbooks cannot. He bounced around, not simply telling the chronological progression of events leading to the adoption of the Constitution but also drawing parallels to other historical periods.
Mr. Wood told the story of America, turning from the Articles of Confederation to the Constitution, through characters like John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, who came to life thanks to his vast knowledge of their actions and personalities.
America’s republic was unprecedented, an experiment into democracy that had never been tried to the extent that it was by America after the revolution. As a result, leaders encountered issues that never could have been predicted—issues surrounding the “excesses of democracy” and the power majorities had under the Articles of Confederation.
At the time, there was considerable doubt about whether America’s fledgling democracy would survive. “Many thought the country might fall apart under the Articles of Confederation, so perhaps we need a bit more patience with the Arab Spring if it took us over a decade to figure out our own government,” Professor Wood pointed out, casting current events in the context of our own country’s history.
The historian went on to talk about religious tolerance as it existed in early America, drawing parallels and distinctions with the Arab Spring. In his opinion, the absence of a dominant religious denomination in the U.S.—not the case in the Middle East today—allowed for separation of church and state, which was critical to the co-existence of the many different religious groups that were present in America at that time.—Schuyler Colloredo-Mansfeld ’14
Recently, Mr. Wood was asked to speak to a group of Egyptian leaders at a conference in Williamsburg, Virginia, and to use his historical knowledge to attempt to shed light on what they should do right now. “One of the lessons I hoped to give to these Egyptians at Colonial Williamsburg,” he explained, “was that there was more to democracy than majority rules … and that the separation of church and state does not have to mean any loss of faith.”
All of us in the audience left with not only a greater understanding of early U.S. history, but also of the relevance history has in today’s world.