Friday, October 31, 2008

Albion's Seed (or, I really haven't stopped reading books!)

I'd been hearing great things about Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (David Hackett Fischer, 1989) for ages, and over the past two weeks I finally got around to reading it. It's as good as advertised. Fischer compares the four major pre-Revolutionary migrations from Britain to America (East Anglian Puritans to New England, mostly south and southwest English royalists to tidewater Virginia, midland and Yorkshire Quakers to the mid-Atlantic, and "British Borderers" from Northern Ireland and along the English-Scottish border to the Appalachian backcountry) on various cultural markers.

It's a wonderful read, rich with anecdote, but what stands out, even before you get to the last section discussing how the four cultures influenced American history and culture post-1776, is the amazing continuities. For example, I am, by and large, a descendant of that fourth migration. I didn't grow up with any awareness of being part of an ethnic group or subculture, but the more I learn about Scots-Irish history and culture, the more I see how I'm a product of it. (To put it another way, you can take the girl out of the South, but you can't entirely take the South out of the girl.) Even my interest in military history and the fact I'm writing adventure stories now probably owes something to growing up in a subculture with a strong warrior ethic. It's strange to think that my personality and interests have roots going all the way back to the English-Scottish wars and border feuds of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, but Fischer makes his case persuasive.

If you're at all interested in British or American history or culture, read this book.

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