"On our website, www.historic-northampton.org, we are experimenting with developing each of the essays in this book, unraveling the layers of primary sources. For example, if you click on 'windows in time,' you'll go to the Goody Parsons witchcraft trial website. There you'll find all the primary documents from the 17th Century relating to the trials and their transcripts. You'll find some context on the trials, the stories, and the background. It's a kind of virtual exhibit.
"But then if you take it one step further, there's also a place where teachers can get curriculum materials for the appropriate grade levels, 3, 7, and 10. They can take the case studies as windows into the 17th Century. I would like to see all 21 chapters of the book have that kind of layering as well."
"The essay 'The Communitarian Moment' discusses the Quaker influence in the mid-1800s and the Northampton Association of Education and Industry that brought together Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, George Benson, and others working for peace and for the abolition of slavery."
"The Northampton Association of Education and Industry was really unusual, which is an understatement. It embodied concepts and attitudes far ahead of its time in terms of gender equality, racial equality, and religious toleration, all of those things in the Constitution, equality of educational opportunity and of wealth. It was a commune organized around silk production and around a silk mill. Chris Clark, in his essay, says it was 'the road not taken in the industrial process.'
"I think we have to remember that when we look back in history with the benefit of hindsight, it looks like the inevitable history train moving down the tracks with the agrarian community, industrialization, and postindustrialization. Well, there are so many possibilities and so many branches and so many forks in the road. The process of industrialization could have taken many forms. It didn't have to take the form of capital and wage earner. It could have taken the form that it took in the Northampton Association, which was cooperative ownership, but that road didn't work for a number of reasons -- not just economic but due to events out of their control, the national economy. The Northampton Association of Education and Industry was certainly an attempt to subvert the cotton-based slave economy of the South by producing through collaborative work a superior product that could make a dent in the southern economy."
"In 'Love Across the Color Line,' Kathy Piess, through letters recently found in a black silk stocking hidden under some floorboards, pieces together the love affair between Alice Hanley, an Irish-Catholic coachman's daughter, and Channing Lewis, an African-American who came north to Springfield, Massachusetts, after Reconstruction."
"That essay suggests that the color line was not as sharply drawn as we might have thought around the turn of the century or in the late 1890s when Plessy v. Ferguson was enacted and segregation was established in the South. In other words, if you established segregation laws it may have been because those racial boundaries were more commonly crossed than we think about now, raising the eyebrows of the elites who wanted to maintain control."
"Piess writes, 'I believe that Northampton at the turn of the century and now up to a hundred years ago, gained a reputation as a center for social reform and women's education and was a vigorous manufacturing base and commercial hub for surrounding agricultural areas.' Do you think, a hundred years later, that these descriptions are still apt?"
"Yes they are. Smith College was part of the avant-garde in terms of women's education and women's opportunity. You also had things like the 'Home Culture Club' in Northampton and the gothic 'Female Academy,' which had a fairly rigorous curriculum for women back in the 1830s. Also, there was Sojourner Truth, an African-American and a woman with a voice, which was extremely unusual in the 1840s because the Garrisonians and the American Anti-Slavery Society split over women holding office and speaking in public.
"There was a ferment of reform taking place in Northampton. You can certainly go back to the Revolution or to Shays's Rebellion to see that radical politics had taken root and that questioning of authority was not something that was unheard of. But in the 1820s and 1830s you had something called the Second Great Awakening, which was a religious revival. What it did was to change people's ideas about reality, and the Second Great Awakening emphasized a sort of spiritual perfection, that one could, by taking action or by withdrawing from the world, perfect one's self and become more holy or more righteous. And that began to translate. Well, if you could perfect yourself, what about society? What about perfecting your neighbor? What about reforming social institutions? So you begin to have things like prison reform, mental health reform, and dietary reform."
"Yes, and few probably know that that dietary reform was promulgated by Northampton's Sylvester Graham of the graham cracker."
"All of these things, this idea of reform, this idea of perfectibility, and the idea of progress with a capital P, held that by taking action you could actually improve the community, the nation, the quality of life for your generation and for posterity. That was a radical notion, particularly if you consider the previous view, that of the Puritans, that human beings are depraved and the best you can do is hope for grace, just get along with your daily life, and not have much hope for the future. Or, consider the time before the American Revolution. If there were an ideal place, well it was in the past, it was classical Rome and Greece, and we'd all fallen from grace. We got kicked out of the Garden of Eden, but the American Revolution and even the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution began to say, 'Yet you can form a more perfect union, you can improve society.' So the Second Great Awakening was going along with that. We sometimes forget that our whole notion of progress and the idea of reform had its roots right there."