A Cultural Approach The cultural and developmental aspects of American history in the 17th and 18th centuries are certainly among the most important and influential factors in the shaping of this country’s long and storied history. Historiographically speaking, there are undoubtedly thousands upon thousands of different studies and opinions on the most influential cultural strides of early Americans well as the pros and cons that each colonial region developed in shaping America and readying it for the Revolutionary Era. Each of these four studies brings a slightly different and even, at times, conflicting approach to analyzing the cultural and social roots of early America, but each one provides a fresh perspective that enhances the idea that America is a true “melting pot” of ideas, social values, and cultural traits. Zuckerman, in his article, focuses his attention on the middle colonies and the erroneous tendencies of historians to ignore controversial or pertinent historical issues in favor of obvious, harmless social arguments. Historians have focused on New England as the true “birthplace of America” because of its early literature and thought that focused solely on Puritanism, and therefore offered an obvious and easy starting point with which to measure the region’s cultural metamorphasis. However, as Zuckerman points out, New England was fairly unrepresentative of the real America, as it was a homogenous society dominated by English Puritans and their inflexible doctrines and unstatic customs and economy. The middle colonies, on the other hand, were made up of people of many different origins, races, and creeds, and their interrelationships are definitely more symbolic of American culture.
Like most people’s idea of America, the middle colonies developed a commercial culture ba! sed on a balanced economy, and, besides that, showed no real homogenous cultural traits that ran through the region. Indeed, most of the different groups that coexisted in this region did not intermingle with each other at all, but instead kept their own distinctive cultural and social habits. Because of this, the argument can be made that the middle colonies were not the heterogenous, “melting pot” culture that Zuckerman claims existed. After all, heterogenous seems to suggest a fusion of different types of people, when in fact these colonies offered more of a clannish type of policy when it came to dealing with their new neighbors. However, the simple fact that they coexisted with relative peace in such a dynamic and volatile atmosphere is evidence enough that the middle colonies were indeed representative of America’s “melting pot” reputation. Jack Greene hypothesizes that the idea of mastery and the relationship between the new colonies and Great Britain were foremost in shaping America’s colonial culture. Greene suggests that the idea of the English who migrated to the Americas was to achieve mastery over the rugged land of America as well as other groups, a mastery that was unavailable to them in their homeland. The problem with this mastery hypothesis is that it covers only the English migration to the New World, and only a relatively small portion of that group.
After all, many English people chose to relocate to America for a wide variety of reasons that had nothing to do with mastery over others, and mastery was surely not at the top of their wish list once they arrived in the New World. Greene also advocates relating the culture of colonial America back to that of Great Britain, and that technique can be useful in some ways, such as delineating the differences between the two areas. However, taking thi! s approach too far can be extremely dangerous, as the English in America were quick to develop cultural traits that had no connection whatsoever to their homeland and a comparison of some of these cultural aspects would only serve to confuse. Also, the many people who came to America from countries besides England would not fit into this historical approach. Mintz and Price focus their concentration on the development of a distinct Afro-American culture in the New World. Their conclusion that the majority of Afro-American customs and cultures were consummated in the New World and did not directly stem from any particular pre-migration group culture seems sound, even if some of their methods of documentation are somewhat dubious.
Their hypothesis can also help to understand the European migration to the Americas, as it seems that the development of mainstream American culture would undergo a similar pattern. With many different people arriving from Europe, it is logical to assume that their intermingling would cause a similar merging of cultural traits that they brought from their birthplaces. Greene would argue differently, and it is true that the fusion of a single American culture took a longer time to develop, but it is certainly likely that the European contingent in the New World underwent similar processes in becoming a! n independent and self-sufficient group. Finally, McCusker and Menard, like Zuckerman, focus on the middle colonies and their influence on the colonial period, but their concentration is centered on the commercial aspects of middle America. They see the middle colonies as more of a commercial balancing point between the plantation dominated southern colonies and the manufacturers of New England. Like Zuckerman, they believe that because the middle colonies offered such a balance in commercial capabilities as well as native inhabitants, that they should be seen as the focal point of America in its early years.
Menard and McCuskey do give New England more credit than does Zuckerman, as they show that New England did indeed lead the way in foreign trade capabilities, but they also document the rise of Philadelphia and New York as the major urban areas ofAmerica by the mid 18th Century. Overall, Menard, McCuskey and Zuckerman take a similar view on the importance of the middle colonies in colonial America.