Bernard Bailyn, Eminent Historian of Early America, Dies at 97


Professor Bailyn, who once described himself as “not very political,” cheerfully scoffed at the idea that he would be using Hutchinson to make a modern-day point. But he did allow that he had come to feel sympathy for Hutchinson, whom he described as “that rather stiff, intelligent, highly literate, uncorrupted, honest, upright provincial merchant-turned-judge and politician.”

In more recent decades, as interest in the experiences of women, African-Americans and other marginalized groups exploded among historians, Professor Bailyn’s name was sometimes invoked as “pejorative shorthand for an outmoded view of the past that celebrates elites,” as the historian Kenneth Owen put it in 2017.

For his part, Professor Bailyn often spoke against what he called the “fashionable” tendency to excoriate the American founders, whom he called, for all their faults, “one of the most creative groups in history.”

“They gave us the foundations of our public life,” he told an interviewer in 2010. “Their world was very different from ours, but, more than any other country, we live with their world and with what they achieved.”

Professor Bailyn won a second Pulitzer in 1987, for “Voyagers to the West,” the first volume of a series called “The Peopling of British North America,” which traces the journeys of the nearly 10,000 Britons who were known to have emigrated to America from 1773 to 1776 and explores the processes by which the colonies became a distinctly American society.

A second volume, “The Barbarous Years,” published in 2013, chronicles the chaotic, violent decades between the founding of Jamestown in 1607 and the 1675 conflict known as King Philip’s War, which effectively pushed Native Americans out of New England.

“The Barbarous Years” was a finalist for the Pulitzer, but, like “Voyagers,” it drew strong criticism from fellow historians for what they saw as inadequate or dismissive treatment of nonwhite people.



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