Karen Hansen's richly anecdotal narrative explores the textured community lives of New England's working women and men—both white and black—n the half century before the Civil War. Her use of diaries, letters, and autobiographies brings their voices to life, making this study an extraordinary combination of historical research and sociological interpretation.
Hansen challenges conventional notions that women were largely relegated to a private realm and men to a public one. A third dimension—the social sphere—also existed and was a critical meeting ground for both genders. In the social worlds of love, livelihood, gossip, friendship, and mutual assistance, working people crossed ideological gender boundaries.
The book's rare collection of original writings reinforces Hansen's arguments and also provides an intimate glimpse into antebellum New England life.
Karen V. Hansen is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Brandeis University.
"Based on an extraordinarily rich and varied collection of diaries, letters, and autobiographies of European Americans and African Americans, this book presents the voices and views of unpropertied, unprivileged people and sensitively probes the commonalities and differences in their experiences and perspectives. Hansen persuasively argues that recognizing the 'social' domain illuminates the agency of working people and dissolves the stereotypically gendered public/private dichotomy."—Nancy Grey Osterud, author of Bonds of Community
"It is a pleasure to welcome Karen Hansen into the first rank of historical sociologists. In this superb model of scholarship, she leads us on an illuminating tour of the social life of literate working people in antebellum New England. Her arena is 'the social'—the territory that overlaps with private and public, where the dynamics of friendship, visiting, gossip, and collective worship combine to fashion many of life's great joys and sorrows. Best of all, she tells her story through the experiences of the people themselves. In a clear and honest way, Hansen manages to raise fundamental questions about perceived conceptions of gender, class, and the public-private dichotomy."—Neil J. Smelser, University of California, Berkeley
"This wonderful book makes a real contribution to our understanding of the lives of women and men in antebellum New England. With its focus on people of modest means and its meticulous and insightful exploration of friendship, visiting, gossip, and church-going, Hansen's work refines and concretizes how we conceive the 'social.'"—Mary Ann Clawson, Wesleyan University
"How refreshing it is to see someone address the big issues in sociology based on the experience of real people. Karen Hansen has valuable things to say about the limits of the public/private distinction and the importance of the social. Her book moves the discussion of these issues to a new level."—Alan Wolfe, author of The Human Difference