Ann Marie Plane is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. This interview is based on her book Dreams and the Invisible World in Colonial New England: Indians, Colonists, and the Seventeenth Century (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014).
JF: What led you to write Dreams and the Invisible World?
AMP: After I finished my first book (Colonial Intimacies: Indian Marriage in Early New England, Cornell Univ. Press, 2000), I was looking around for a new project, something different. I thought I might do a short article relying on a bunch of sources that seemed to have been overlooked—dream reports. Since most of the reports were in well-known diaries or tracts, I was intrigued by these phenomena “hiding in plain sight” as it were. I also thought I could probably use them to explore some new approaches to the history of the emotions, which had always been an interest of mine, but which seemed to have fallen out of mainstream historical discourse. I never dreamed that I would also be writing a book that engaged with the history of lived religion.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Dreams and the Invisible World?
AMP: Dreams and the Invisible World argues that dreams and dreaming were far more important to the history of colonization of New England than has been recognized by scholars. Both colonists and Native Americans paid careful attention to their dreams, and engagement with dream materials motivated action both for individuals and among groups during the seventeenth century, even though both societies differed in their understanding of where dreams came from and what they might require of the dreamer.
JF: Why do we need to read Dreams and the Invisible World?
AMP: This book tells a largely unknown story, using previously little used records, and recasts the colonization of early New England as a colonization that proceeded as much in the realm of cognition and emotion as in the realm of economics or military conquest. The religious conflicts that lay at the heart of seventeenth century New England can be seen in the varying approaches to dreams and dreaming, but these dream texts also shed new light on seventeenth-century colonial experience. While the Mathers may have condemned Quakers for their “credulous” use of dreams, Cotton Mather and his wife engaged in acting out at least one important dream experience; and at least one previously unknown revitalization movement on the Maine frontier was centered on a Native American visionary. Resistance to colonization among Indians—even after conquest—continued and was centered around potent dream experiences.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
AMP: I always loved American history, even from the time I was a little girl and my family took me to museums and historic sites all over the eastern seabord. However, after toying with interests in linguistics and classics and contemplating a career in history museums, I decided to focus in on scholarship on the seventeenth century, and in particular, on seventeenth-century New England. I came to that topic through my work as an interpreter at Plimoth Plantation, the living history museum of seventeenth-century society in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
JF: What is your next project?
AMP: Right now I have two projects—one is a study of Frank Speck, the early twentieth century anthropologist, and the nature of his relationships with Native Americans in southern New England. The other, longer term, is on anger and violence in colonial New England. Right now I envision a book that looks at anger in a variety of ways—domestic, societal, and metaphorical. I am not sure if I will work on dreams again, but I may.
JF: Thanks, Ann Marie!
And thanks to Allyson Fea who facilitated this edition of The Author’s Corner.