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First Generations: Women in Colonial America Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Apr 3rd, 2020

Over the last several decades feminist movements gained a lot of strength and power, this is why many studies and scientific perspectives today employ feminist points of view in order to research the events and happenings of the past. This approach allows the researchers to see new angles and aspects of the old societies, their structures and motivations.

This perspective creates additional depth to the contemporary understanding of various social developments and processes. For the contemporary reader who grew up in a society with equal rights for men and women, familiar with the concept of double standards and discrimination based on gender, a feminist point of view is not new, yet Berkin uses her professionalism and her advanced knowledge of history in order to create a new, more vivid perspective on social processes of Colonial times.

The book called “First Generations: Women in Colonial America” was written by Carol Berkin in 1997. The author is a Professor of History, she works as the University of New York Graduate Center. The book of Carol Berkin combines historical and feminist perspectives on the societies of the Colonial America and gender roles in them.

In “First Generations: Women in Colonial America” Berkin argues that the role and social status of a woman in America of Colonial times was determined by “her race, her social class, and by where she was in the socially defined life cycle”.1

In order to support her argument, Berkin uses various historical documents and evidences she studied. Being a historian, the author emphasizes social differences between women of different ethnicities and classes, she analyzes the societies these women originated from and gender roles in them.

The book is well organized. The chapters are divided chronologically and based on the social actors, processes, historical periods and happenings they describe. In order to cover her argument to the fullest Berkin selects women with all kinds of backgrounds and stories in order to present the details from their lives as illustrations of the social settings they were a part of.2

Berkin’s research for “First Generations Women in Colonial America” is based on such sources as multiple historical archives, documents, diaries, letters, wills, court records. One of the arguments Berkin makes in her book is viewing witch trials in the perspective of the time they took place in. The trials occurred during the major shift of power in the American society, it moved from Puritans to the royal rulers, and also when economic hardship appeared as a result of power transition between agrarian and industrial economies.

The author explores witch trials as a social reaction to the tension created by various changes. This approach is very logical, because the major political and economic changes caused conflicts and confrontation between various social classes. Women, as the weakest link of the society of that time became the victims of the tensions happening in the country.

Illustrating social processes with the events of lives of women coming from different social classes, historical periods and ethnic groups and basing these illustrations on documented data, the author makes a very strong point to support her argument. Using real histories of American women Berkin demonstrates that in spite of their ethnic backgrounds or social status they all had to deal with a lot of obstacles in the world where men had more rights and freedoms.3

The book by Carol Berkin and the arguments the author makes in it are very convincing. Besides, it is important to note that the book is written in a very readable manner, it is interesting, yet filled with scholarly data and information from the original historical sources. The language used in the book is accessible and simple, so that a reader of any kind can enjoy learning from it.

The author of “First Generations: Women in Colonial America” employs a brilliant technique of illustration of historical events through the details of biographies of average people. This way history, its processes and events become less abstract and more comprehendible for the audience. Carol Berkin creates a face for the American history by presenting it through the lives of Wetamo, Mary Johnson, Margaret Hardenbroek, Eliza Lucas Pinkney and other female characters that lived their lives struggling.

It is very important for the modern reader to be able to imagine what life of old societies, their mentality and perception were like. The book is clearly not designed to support the point stating how far we came since the Colonial times and how advanced we are today. The purpose of “First Generations: Women in Colonial America” is to educate the readers and widen their perspective on the history of their society, its development and background.

Professor Carol Berkin employs an extremely sufficient educating technique in her book, she presents history and supports it with detailed description of events witnessed and documented by real people. This way social history becomes more vivid and obtains new dimensions for the readers.

Bibliography

  1. Berkin, Carol. First Generations: Women in Colonial America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997.
  2. “Colonial American”. Beavervalleysoftware.com. Last modified 2009.
  3. ” Book Review”. Sacerdotus.com. 2013.
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IvyPanda. 2020. "First Generations: Women in Colonial America." April 3, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/first-generations-women-in-colonial-america/.

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