Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Revisiting the Great Awakening

I am currently working on a chapter that chronicles the publishing of Jonathan Edwards's works during the Great Awakening. As you can imagine, there is an immense amount of literature on the Great Awakening. One of my favorite books on this subject is Frank Lambert's Inventing the "Great Awakening." Lambert responds in his own way to Jon Butler's influential article, "Enthusiasm Described and Decried: The Great Awakening as Interpretive Fiction," arguing that a series of revivals did in fact take place during the early 1740s, which succeeded in large part because they were publicized (or, as he says, "invented") by evangelicals on both sides of the Atlantic.

Lambert is one of the few historians who recognizes the significance that print media had on the growth of evangelicalism in the eighteenth century. He offers helpful narratives of how works by Edwards and other revivalists were published, giving further details on specific booksellers and printers in America and Britain who became involved in the Old Light-New Light debates over the authenticity of the awakenings as a work of God. Samuel Kneeland and Timothy Green, for instance, not only printed the bulk of Edwards's works coming out of Boston, but they also provided favorable news of the revivals in their newspaper, the Boston Gazette in the 1740s. Contrast Kneeland and Green with the Boston printer Thomas Fleet, who buttressed the criticism of the Old Light ministers against the revivals by writing caustic editorials on George Whitefield and traveling itinerants in his Boston Evening-Post. Such behind-the-scenes stories in Lambert's book reminds us that scholars have not yet fully explored the Great Awakening despite the vast literature on this event.

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