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Longing for Connection

Entangled Memories and Emotional Loss in Early America

Andrew Burstein

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Untangling the private feelings, ambitions, and fears of early Americans through their personal writings from the Revolution to the Civil War.

Modern readers of history and biography unite around a seemingly straightforward question: What did it feel like to live in the past? In Longing for Connection, historian Andrew Burstein attempts to answer this question with a vigorous, nuanced emotional history of the United States from its founding to the Civil War.

Through an examination of the letters, diaries, and other personal texts of the time, along with popular poetry and novels, Burstein shows...

Untangling the private feelings, ambitions, and fears of early Americans through their personal writings from the Revolution to the Civil War.

Modern readers of history and biography unite around a seemingly straightforward question: What did it feel like to live in the past? In Longing for Connection, historian Andrew Burstein attempts to answer this question with a vigorous, nuanced emotional history of the United States from its founding to the Civil War.

Through an examination of the letters, diaries, and other personal texts of the time, along with popular poetry and novels, Burstein shows us how early Americans expressed deep emotions through shared metaphors and borrowed verse in their longing for meaning and connection. He reveals how literate, educated Americans-both well-known and more obscure-expressed their feelings to each other and made attempts at humor, navigating an anxious world in which connection across spaces was difficult to capture. In studying the power of poetry and literature as expressions of inner life, Burstein conveys the tastes of early Americans and illustrates how emotions worked to fashion myths of epic heroes, such as the martyr Nathan Hale, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln. He also studies the public's fears of ocean travel, their racial blind spots, and their remarkable facility for political satire.

Burstein questions why we seek a connection to the past and its emotions in the first place. America, he argues, is shaped by a persistent belief that the past is reachable and that its lessons remain intact, which represents a major obstacle in any effort to understand our national history. Burstein shows, finally, that modern readers exhibit a similar capacity for rationalization and that dire longing for connection across time and space as the people he studies.

Reviews

Reviews

No one has thought more deeply about the role of sentiment in the history of the early American Republic than Andrew Burstein. This marvelous cultural history weaves together biography, anecdote, and poetics to reveal the importance of emotion and metaphor to the construction of American myths.

This is an important, well-timed book. In a moment when partisan warfare seems to tear the nation irremediably apart, Burstein refreshes our collective memory. He reminds us that many Americans of the past have also tried to go beyond their feelings of separation. If they didn't succeed in forging a 'more perfect union,' at least, they kept longing for it.

In prose as sparkling as some of the poetry he explores, Andrew Burstein brilliantly restores the emotional and sensory life of the early American republic. Exquisitely researched and skillfully told, Longing for Connection more than achieves its aim.

Andrew Burstein takes on the tough stuff of American history. How are ineffable emotions both universal and historically specific? With his own deep sympathies in play, he shows us how to empathize without forgetting the stakes, because bad feelings have their reasons and even good feelings have their costs. This is a deep, engaging read that performs, with style, confidence, and due humility, what it discerns in the past.

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Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
392
ISBN
9781421448305
Illustration Description
1 b&w photo, 7 b&w illus.
Table of Contents

Introduction
1. Memorable Words (Martyrdom)
2. Great Distances (Apprehensions)
3. Shakespearean Recitals (Yearnings)
4. Explosive Satire (Laughter)
5. Historical Sensibilities (Vainglory)
6. Race and

Introduction
1. Memorable Words (Martyrdom)
2. Great Distances (Apprehensions)
3. Shakespearean Recitals (Yearnings)
4. Explosive Satire (Laughter)
5. Historical Sensibilities (Vainglory)
6. Race and Resistance (Rationalization)
Conclusion: The Great Longing
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index

Author Bio
Andrew Burstein
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Andrew Burstein

Andrew Burstein (CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA) is the Charles P. Manship Professor of History (emeritus) at Louisiana State University. The author of numerous books, including Jefferson’s Secrets: Death and Desire at Monticello and The Passions of Andrew Jackson, he is also the coauthor of Madison and Jefferson and The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality.