On October 9, the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization (AHI) sponsored a presentation by Christian Goodwillie, Director of Special Collections and Archives at Hamilton College, on Utopian Societies in a course “Tocqueville’s America” taught by AHI Charter Fellow Robert Paquette. The course requires cover-to-cover readings of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (Harvey Mansfield edition, 2002) and Daniel Walker Howe’s What Hath God Wrought (2007), which won the Pulitzer Prize in history.
Goodwillie, a specialist in the history of communal and Utopian societies in the United States, focused his presentation on the origin and beliefs of a wide variety of societies that flourished during the Second Great Awakening, one of the greatest outbursts of religious revivalism in the Western world since the Protestant Reformation. Alexis de Tocqueville arrived in the United States for a nine-month stay at a time when the Second Great Awakening was peaking and shortly after Charles Grandison Finney, the most famous revivalist preacher of his day had begun his most famous campaign of salvation in Rochester, New York. During his stay in the United States, Tocqueville took a keen interest in American religious practices, how they contrasted with those in Europe, and how they shaped democratic belief and practices. That great experiment in republican government, Tocqueville observed, had combined the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom in unique ways. In sketching the beliefs of the principal Utopiansocieties of the Jacksonian Period, Howe note how the pursuit of millennial themes fed ideas of American exceptionalism and both criticized and reinforced, particularly in the antebellum North, the emergent capitalist system.
Goodwillie attended George Washington University and Indiana University where he studied medieval and Renaissance music and history. He holds a master’s degree in historic preservation from the Art Institute of Chicago. Before coming to Hamilton College he worked as curator at Hancock Shaker Village in Hancock, Massachusetts. He has published (with Joel Cohen) Shaker Songs: A Musical Celebration of Peace, Harmony, and Simplicity (2002) and (with Jane Crosthwaite) Millennial Praises: A Shaker Hymnal (2008). He is currently working on a biography of Richard McNemar, a key figure in the Kentucky Cane Ridge Revival of 1800, what many scholars regard as the inaugural event of the Second Great Awakening.
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