Yankees and Strangers

The New England Town from 1636-1992

A Let's Talk About It series

  • A New England Town book coverFrom Yankees and Strangers anthology
    1. “Symbolic Landscapes: Some Idealizations of American Communities,” by D.W. Meini
    2. “Town Commons of New England, 1640-1840” by John D. Cushing
    3. “Another City Upon a Hill: Litchfield, Connecticut, and the Colonial Revival” by A. Axelrod
    4. “Happy Times in Mill City” by Ann Sullivan
  • A New England Town: The First Hundred Years by Kenneth Lockridge
  • A New England Girlhood by Lucy Larcom
  • Amoskaeg: Life and Work In a New England Factory City by Tamara Hareven
  • Without a Farmhouse Near by Deborah Rawson

      The words “New England” conjure up an image of neat houses clustered picturesquely around a village green, or a town dominated by a white steepled church and set against rolling hills. In this traditional view, New England is pastoral, small-scale, and well-ordered. Its inhabitants, in keeping with its name, are of Anglo-Saxon stock. Taciturn, frugal, and hardworking, the typical Yankee is thought to have a staunch character molded by tilling a hard and rocky soil or battling an uncertain sea. But for all their self-reliance, these fabled New Englanders have an exceptional sense of social responsibility, typified by the New England town meeting. In short, New England represents personal fortitude in individuals and harmonious order in the community. Through these reputed virtues, the New England town has become the worldwide symbol of American democracy.
       This traditional view of New England includes much that is factual–aspects of it can be seen by anyone who lives or travels in the region today. But what this picture leaves out is perhaps even more revealing than what it includes. For example, it suggests a homogeneous community rather than the highly diverse population created by successive waves of immigration into the region. The pastoral image belies the extensive industrialization of the Northeast, with the accompanying periods of growth and decline and social disruption that these have brought. Our views of New England are dominated by the colonial period and its styles, but the popular “colonial” town image was largely created during the nineteenth century Colonial Revival movement.
     If the picture of New England is more complicated, and consequently richer, than the usual images, why has so much of the story been left out? “Yankees and Strangers” will address this question by examining the New England town–its beginnings, its changes, and its power to symbolize a way of life. Through the slide presentation, readings, and discussions with a history scholar, participants will explore these topics: How and when did the popular image of the New England town develop? What role did immigration and urbanization play in the idealization of the New England town? Did idealization serve to exclude some citizens and privilege others, and if so, does it continue to do so? How does our sense of town history affect our response to changes happening now? Are the traditional town virtues a vital reality today, or only a nostalgic image?

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