FC 65 A Little Commonwealth with John Demos
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This week on Fieldstone Common our featured guest is Professor John Demos, author of the books The Unredeemed Captive; Entertaining Satan; and A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony. In this episode we discuss these books as well as his career and the state of history in America.
John Demos was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard College, and received his graduate training at Oxford, the University of California at Berkeley, and Harvard. He has taught at Brandeis and at Yale, where he is the Samuel Knight Professor Emeritus of American History. Some of his books include A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony, Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England, for which he received the 1983 Bancroft Prize, and Past, Present, and Personal: The Family and the Life Course in American History. Demos’ The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America received the National Book Award in 1994. More recently he published Circles and Lines: The Shape of Life in Early America.
Professor John Demos is an expert in early American history. His book A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony recreates the life and family structures of members of Plymouth colony in the 17th century. In Entertaining Satan Demos provides an overview of witchcraft in New England in the 17th and 18th centuries. His work The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America focuses on the 1704 Indian raid on Deerfield, Massachusetts. The book describes the taking of the Williams family and the choice of daughter Eunice to remain among the Mohawk community.
Books by John Demos:
- A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony (1970)
- The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America (1995)
- Past, Present, and Personal: The Family and The Life Course in American History (1988)
- Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England (2004)
- Circles and Lines: The Shape of Life in Early America (2004)
- The Enemy Within: 2,000 of Witch-Hunting in the Western World (2008)
- The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Early Republic (March 2014)
In this interview we discuss how John Demos came to be a history professor and the influence of his years in the Peace Corps in Ghana, West Africa. We talk about the influence of his book as well as those of three colleagues Ken Lockridge, Philip Greven, and Michael Zuckerman who all wrote seminal New England town studies in the early 1970s which changed the focus of Early American history.
We discussed three of his books – A Little Commonwealth, The Unredeemed Captive and Entertaining Satan and the influences they had on interpreting Early American history. Demos credits Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum for their theory of explaining the Salem Witch Trials on an economic basis in their book Salem Possessed.
His later research into witchcraft was metaphorical as exemplified by the play The Crucible by Arthur Miller.
John has grown to love material culture and that has manifested in his passion for collecting antiques.
He has had a great influence on a generation of new writer-historians including Jill Lepore, Allegra di Bonaventura, Jack Larkin, Jane Kamensky, Wendy Warren, Peter Silver and many more.
In early 2014 be on the lookout for his next book The Heathen School (Knopf, 2014).
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