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The Trouble with Christian History: Thomas Prince's “Great Awakening”


The Christian History, a revivalist newspaper edited by the Boston minister Thomas Prince, is perhaps the most important cultural artifact of eighteenth-century revivalism in New England. It provides source material for countless studies, and more recently served as an exemplar of how revival participants constructed a “Great Awakening.” This essay undertakes a close historical, textual, and quantitative analysis of this two-volume periodical. It reveals complex divisions among revival supporters and surprising alignments among those who disagreed over revivalism. Attitudes toward the social order were a key factor. The Christian History was central to the construction of the “Great Awakening,” (a process shaped both by social power and contingencies), but failed to promote moderate revival activity as intended. Ironically, the newspaper designed by Prince to unite the Congregationalist establishment only contributed further to existing controversies.

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Jon Butler , “Enthusiasm Described and Decried: The Great Awakening as Interpretive Fiction,” The Journal of American History 69 (1982), 305325.

Susan O'Brien , “A Transatlantic Community of Saints: The Great Awakening and the First Evangelical Network, 1735–1755,” American Historical Review 91 (1986) 811832

Douglas L. Winiarski , “Souls Filled with Ravishing Transport: Heavenly Visions and the Radical Awakening in New England,” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, vol. 61 (2004): 346

Thomas S. Kidd , “Daniel Rogers' Egalitarian Great Awakening,” Journal of the Historical Society 7 (2007): 111–35.

S. Lovejoy , Religious Enthusiasm in the New World: Heresy to Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985)

Stephen A. Marini , Radical Sects of a Revolutionary New England (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982), 159

Michael P. Winship , “Prodigies, Puritanism, and the Perils of Natural Philosophy: The Example of Cotton Mather,” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, vol. 51 (1994): 92105, especially 102

David Harley Explaining Salem: Calvinist Psychology and the Diagnosis of Possession,” American Historical Review 101 (1996), 307330

Douglas C. Stenerson , “An Anglican Critique of the Early Phase of the Great Awakening in New England: A Letter by Timothy Cutler,” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, vol. 30 (1973): 475–88, especially 483–84.

William Howland Kenney , “George Whitefield, Dissenter Priest of the Great Awakening, 1739–1741,” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 26 (1969): 7593

Harvey H. Jackson Hugh Bryan and the Evangelical Movement in Colonial South Carolina,” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 43 (October 1986): 594614.

Harry S. Stout and Peter Onuf , “James Davenport and the Great Awakening in New London,” Journal of American History, 70:3 (December 1983): 556578

George W. Harper , “Clericalism and Revival: The Great Awakening in Boston as a Pastoral Phenomenon,” New England Quarterly, 57 (1984): 554–66

Robert E. Cray Jr.James Davenport's Post-Bonfire Ministry, 1743–1757,” Historian 59 (1996): 5973.

Harry Stout Religion, Communications, and the Ideological Origins of the American Revolution” William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 34 (1977): 519-541

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Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
  • URL: /core/journals/church-history
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