Stephen Foster

An historian of early America, he received his PhD from Yale University in 1966 and spent his entire academic career at Northern Illinois University, where he is now Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, as well as a member of the Council of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, and was also Visiting Editor of The William and Mary Quarterly.  His earlier scholarship centered on the history of Puritanism in America and England.  Among his publications in this area are Their Solitary Way: The Puritan Social Ethic in the First Century of Settlement in New England (1971), Notes from the Caroline Underground:  Alexander Leighton, the Puritan Triumvirate, and the Laudian Reaction to Nonconformity (1978), and The Long Argument:  English Puritanism and the Shaping of New England Culture, 1570-1700 (1991). 

His article and article length publications of the same period mostly deal with the same subjects, but also include a study (co-authored with T.H. Breen) of the migration patterns of the 1630s, which won the prize for the best article of the year in The William and Mary Quarterly, and an interpretation (co-authored with Verna A. Foster) of John Ford’s The Broken Heart, which the Royal Shakespeare Company adapted for its program note to its production of the play.  More recently his attention has shifted to New England in the first half of the eighteenth century, while simultaneously an early interest in British Imperial history has been rejuvenated, resulting in, among other items, an edited collection, British North America in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (2014, pbk. 2017).  

These two focuses are combined in the current undertaking, a book-length study of the concept of provincialism as it applies to the New England colonies from the Glorious Revolution to (roughly) the beginning of the Seven Years War.  The overall framework is that of a culture that according to its foundation myths was obliged to take itself very seriously indeed but that was located in actual fact in a moderately prosperous corner of a large and expanding empire.   This tension led to some strange mental gymnastics, certainly, but it also was productive of any number of  intriguing instances in which common transatlantic traits were dramatically modified by the particularities (what one might call the intellectual logistics) of  New England’s provincial status.  Both kinds of activity are relevant to explaining the ways in which New Englanders of European origin or descent navigated their no longer new but still strange world and, as well, how they came to interact as they did, deliberately or carelessly, with the other peoples of British North America.

About Stephen Foster