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A common theme emerges in the analysis of The Shoemaker and the Tea Party and Paul Revere’s Ride: the impact of memory on the creating of history. If history were a simple and universal process of providing factual narrative, there would be no need any updated study of events like the “Boston Tea Party” or “Paul Revere’s Ride” unless radical new evidence presented itself. But history is as equally interpretative as narrative, and thus is subject to revisions and/or updates because of the unforgiving fallibility scholars’ interpretation of history in light of contemporary issues. Problematic of human memory is the unreliability of accurate recall. Alfred F. Young makes an interesting point in suggesting that history and memory merge on certain events, creating a new category he calls public memory. If certain aspects of history are akin to memory, cognitive psychology—the neuroscience of emotion, thinking, and memory—occupies a much larger position of significance in the realm of history than is generally realized.
Alfred F. Young’s The Shoemaker and the Tea Party consists of two parts, and makes for a very useful narrative and historiography. First Young establishes a brief and matter-of-fact historical narrative of one George Robert Twelves Hewes. It is clear that Hewes—who became Young’s subject through serendipity—would not be overly significant to American history were it not for two things. First of all, Young finds in Hewes a quintessential perspective from which to write what Jesse Lemisch phrased as a “bottom up” narrative of the pre-Revolution period. In this poor shoemaker who goes from the paradigm of humble deference in the face of aristocracy to stubborn and brash defiance in the face of the same aristocracy, Young has given us a brilliant subjective microcosm that clearly shows the changing of American attitudes during the revolution.
The second part of Young’s work is based on the other achievement that makes George Robert Twelves Hewes significant: his role in the writing of two early (1834 and 1835) histories of the event we now call the Boston Tea Party. After serving in various duties in numerous theaters of operation during the Revolutionary War, Hewes somehow re-emerges in 1830’s Boston as a living artifact from an era that only then being further explored historically. It is in James Hawkes’ A Retrospect of the Boston Tea Party and later Benjamin Bussey Thatcher’s Traits of the Tea Party that for the first time in writing the events which Hewes participated in on December 16th, 1773 was referred to as the definitive “Boston Tea Party.” Young’s historiography goes much deeper than just the his insightful analysis of the Boston Tea Party, as he addresses the “taming” of the Revolution that occurs due to a lack of survivors and written histories, and the interference caused by popular culture and political agendas. In the popular history, or public memory of the Revolution, numerous details are altered or deleted for the sake of providing a more streamlined and acceptable history for the emerging nation.