The good folks at The Junto have spent the week remembering the work and legacy of Pauline Maier, the MIT early American historian who died this past summer. It is a fine tribute. It also strikes me that Maier’s work has been influential and relevant to several generations of historians.
Here is a taste of Michael Hattem’s introduction to the Pauline Maier roundtable:
Pauline Maier spent her entire career working on the American Revolution, literally starting her career with the imperial crisis and ending it with the ratification of the Constitution. At each step along the way, she made significant and genuine contributions to our understanding of the Revolution. Whether it was drawing out the transatlantic aspects of the resistance to imperial reform, providing the most readable explication of the radical Whig ideological interpretation, or telling new stories about the ways in which colonists declared independence or citizens debated the Constitution, Maier found an often elusive sweet spot between intellectual history and social history. She took ideas seriously and showed how those ideas played out “on the ground,” beyond just the elites. From that mix, she developed a brand of political history in which popular participation was not just incorporated into the narrative; it was central. Indeed, that popular participation defines the Revolution in the canon that is Maier’s work. And so while Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood may have had higher academic profiles, it was Maier who best fulfilled the potential of the “Harvard interpretation,” thereby making her work more relevant to new generations of historians than that of either Bailyn or Wood. And, to me, that continuing relevance is the core of the legacy of Pauline Maier.