“The Refinement of America: Is There Hope?”
by Richard Lyman Bushman
The tenth annual Robert C. Baron Lecture
Richard Bushman’s The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities (1992) examines the historical origins, the geographic spread, and the cultural consequences of the rise of “gentility” in early America—a complex of ideas and behaviors that encompassed how to talk, worship, and dress, how to paint your house and furnish your parlor. Combining cultural and social history with the sensitive study of material culture, The Refinement of America offers a comprehensive account of how manners and consumption were used to mark (or obscure) class boundaries from the colonial period to the mid-nineteenth century, and how these shifts interacted with the political and social transformations in early American society. In this lecture, Richard Bushman will reflect on the impact of this work that he said, “began in a museum and expanded to encompass the entire western world for three centuries and seemed to explain everything, including the author’s relationship with his mother.”
Richard Lyman Bushman is the Gouverneur Morris Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University and the Howard W. Hunter Visiting Professor in Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University. Bushman's scholarship includes studies of early American social, cultural, and political history, American religious history, and the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which he is a member. His publications include: From Puritan to Yankee: Character and the Social Order in Connecticut, 1690-1765, which won the Bancroft Prize in 1967; King and People in Provincial Massachusetts; and Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling.
Named in honor of Robert C. Baron, past AAS chairman and president of Fulcrum Publishing, the annual Baron Lecture asks distinguished AAS members who have written seminal works of history to reflect on one book and its impact on scholarship and society in the years since its first appearance.