The Wall of Smoke That Divides Us: Serena Zabin on the Boston Massacre

RevereOver at “We’re History,” Serena Zabin, a history professor at Carleton College, offers a slightly different perspective on the so-called “Boston Massacre” and Paul Revere’s famous engraving of it.

There is a lot going on in this short piece. Zabin offers an uncommon reading of Revere’s image that focuses on the shield of smoke billowing between the British and the colonists. She situates both the colonists and the British soldiers in the context of 1770s Boston, suggesting that all the people pictured in this image were neighbors.

In the process, she offers a lesson about what Revere’s engraving and the 246th anniversary of the Boston Massacre might mean for us today.

Here is a taste of her piece:

There certainly were tensions in Boston in 1770. A year and a half before the “massacre,” 2,000 soldiers, along with hundreds of women and children, had crammed into a city of 16,000 inhabitants that sat on a peninsula not much more than a single square mile in size. There was little room to spread out, so it was no wonder that resentments flared. But the conflicts were between neighbors, not strangers. Soldiers and Bostonians found that their daily lives were tangled and knotted together. No bright white line divided them.

Political spin as blatant as that of Revere’s engraving seems to pervade our world today, and we often believe that we can see through the manipulation. But sometimes the most obvious sleight of hand is precisely the one we overlook, because it plays to our assumptions about the world. We let our focus on political difference blind us to the strength of our human relationships. Sometimes the lines that we believe divide us from each other really are no more than smoke.

Read the entire essay here.