Archive for July 21st, 2009

Puritans on YouTube

Posted on July 21, 2009. Filed under: American history, Puritans | Tags: |

I thought I’d do a search for Puritans on YouTube and see what’s out there. There’s a lot, it turns out, of varying purpose and quality.

Today, I’ll share a video simply called “Puritans”:

This video states that it wants to clear up the negative myths about the Puritans, and counter their bad image in popular culture, by explaining all the wonderful things the Puritans did, their legacy to modern Americans. You know I’m on board with that! But this video fails, however, to give those explanations, constantly telling us that the Puritans were amazing but never telling us why. “There are few more misunderstood people in America,” it claims, but does little to provide understanding.

My favorite moments are:

The video uses images from the 18 and 19th centuries at will. Some of those images don’t even pretend to show Puritans, but they are marshalled for the cause. At 1:36 you see a Victorian drawing of a Puritan woman, tightly corseted, wearing blush, and sporting a fashionable beauty mark.

At 2:15 an image that looks like a representation of the Thirty Years’ War in Europe is used to illustrate the Puritans’ “in-dome-itable” spirit.

At 2:21 an 18th century image is slowly scanned as the narrator says, “By the end of the 17th century, the Puritans forever altered the world in which they had arrived, finding success where others found only death and desolation.” This odd claim must apply to English colonists, since Americans had been successfully living in North America for thousands of years. But many colonies were thriving by the end of the 17th centuries; Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland were paradises of plenty that put Massachusetts to shame. The odd claim is made odder by the painting being scanned, which includes a Native American on his knees as if crawling toward busy 18th-century Puritans gathering firewood and cooking out in the middle of a wintry forest.

At 2:55 Puritan ministers are claimed as some of the earliest, most outspoken opponents of slavery, which is untrue if one means slavery of Native Americans or Africans. The claim is then quickly made that the Puritans wrote the first diaries and the first love letters, which isn’t even debatably plausible if restricted to New England, let alone British North America or, perhaps, the world.

The video ends tantalizingly with this: “Who were the Puritans, and what did they actually believe? How did one of the most influential societies in America turn itself inside out? Enter the world of those who called themselves the godly…” I don’t know what they mean by turning itself inside out. I would have liked to hear that theory, because it sounds interesting. One might hope that the video itself would explain what they actually believed and how they were influential. As this narration rolls, a painting of Pocahontas’ wedding in London is scanned.

So this video has a good idea—truth v. myth—but doesn’t deliver. Surely my next visit to YouTube – Puritans will uncover something more promising.

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