Unless otherwise indicated, all OI books are distributed by The University of North Carolina Press.

Through a Glass Darkly

Reflections on Personal Identity in Early America

Ronald Hoffman, Mechal Sobel, and Fredrika J. Teute

Paper: 978-0-8078-4644-5 ($33.95)

Copyright 1997
University of North Carolina Press

These thirteen original essays are provocative explorations in the construction and representation of self in America's colonial and early republican eras. Highlighting the increasing importance of interdisciplinary research for the field of early American history, these leading scholars in the field extend their reach to literary criticism, anthropology, psychology, and material culture. The collection is organized into three parts—Histories of Self, Texts of Self, and Reflections on Defining Self. Individual essays examine the significance of dreams, diaries, and carved chests, murder and suicide, Indian kinship, and the experiences of African American sailors. Gathered in celebration of the Institute of Early American History and Culture's fiftieth anniversary, these imaginative inquiries will stimulate critical thinking and open new avenues of investigation on the forging of self-identity in early America.

The contributors are W. Jeffrey Bolster, T. H. Breen, Elaine Forman Crane, Greg Dening, Philip Greven, Rhys Isaac, Kenneth A. Lockridge, James H. Merrell, Donna Merwick, Mary Beth Norton, Mechal Sobel, Alan Taylor, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and Richard White.

About the Author

Ronald Hoffman is director of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.


In addition to offering fresh insight into problems of identity, the book in all its variety makes terrific reading.

--Patricia Meyer Spacks

Drawing on a wide variety of disciplines—anthropology, sociology, psychology, material culture, and performance theory—the authors of these marvelous essays are able to find in the darkened glass of the historical archive an extraordinarily rich and complex play of reflections on selfhood and society in early America. From inquests to bequests, from clothing to cupboards, from ballads to broadsides, these historians put the scattered record of the distant past to brilliant use by showing how early Americans creatively explored and exploited the blurred boundaries of a ‘marchlands’ culture to make and unmake themselves. The double pleasure of this collection, though, is the almost kaleidoscopic reflection it casts on our own—as well as the past’s—senses of the self.

--Jean-Christophe Agnew

A compelling look at a growing trend in writing early American history. . . . The analytical categories of the new social history—race, class, and gender—remain alive and well, but now, as suggested by the book's title, historians are refracting them through a new lenses.

--Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

Every historian serious about early America, or historiography in general, should own this landmark collection


An important collection of essays. . . . Though many traditional types of sources are consulted (manuscripts, diaries, journals), the authors push boundaries to consider the nontraditional object as well. Interpretations and views of daily life are broadened and what it meant to live in seventeenth-and eighteenth-century America is reexamined.

--Journal of American Culture

Fascinating . . . rich and diverse.

--Reviews in American History