York NL (2018) The Elusive Quest for a Revolutionary American State of Mind: Boston After the Massacre. Discussion by Colin Nicolson. Rothermere American Institute Special Seminar, Oxford, 03.05.2018-03.05.2018.
First paragraph: Historians explain why things happened, or at least why things happened the way they think they did. But ascribing meaning to particular events or turning points unavoidably premises certain causes as precursors of transformation. The Boston Massacre of 5 March 1770, as an event in political history, was for many contemporaries a consequence of misguided British policy; for historians, it seems a dramatic sideshow exemplifying popular mobilisation during the Imperial Crisis: both positions aver the primacy of ideology in causation. Also, as with any event commemorated in public history, the Boston Massacre invites reader-identification with reconstructed narratives and composite actors that while raising awareness of the past simplifies its complexity. Professor York cautions American Revolution historians tempted into projecting "states of mind" retrospectively, thus rendering past events "mere antecedent[s]" to the "future" course of events. Thus, historians' representations of past states of mind are proto-narratives striving to echo emotional intensity, and have meaning only within a larger explanatory matrix.
Boston Massacre; American Revolution; History; Mentalite;