Edmund Morgan passed away last year… to little fanfare outside academic circles. Morgan was an historian familiar to any student of history active the last 40 years. His studies of Colonial New England, like “The Puritan Family”, became standard reading in graduate history programs across the country. The trilogy of books he composed shed much needed light on Puritanism and life in Colonial New England. After 25 years of work, Morgan decided to study something else– academia shook.
In 1975 he published… “American Slavery: American Freedom”, a study of the slave-holding society of Colonial Virginia. Could an historian of Colonial New England provide the same rigorous analysis to a different historical region? Winning the Parkman and Beveridge awards, the book exposed Morgan to a wider and more diverse group of future historians. The great historian, Bernard Bailyn observed of Morgan’s body of work, “He covered large territories of the past with great clarity, precision and wit…”
The spirit of discovery… and storytelling Edmund Morgan brought to academic history is essential for the viability of the discipline. New media and digital transfers are replacing libraries and traditional research methods. Historical dissertations are becoming so narrow, so specialized, as to render their readability moot. The best histories read like great stories, not explanations of tedious research– and master storytellers are becoming scarce in today’s compartmentalized field of historical study.