University of Notre Dame

Puritans in Popular Culture

Course Number: HIST 13184-10
Instructor: Catherine Cangany

Emblems of Thanksgiving, a byword for those hostile to social pleasures, Puritans occupy a prominent place in American popular culture—a position they have held since the nineteenth century. Although New England’s first colonizers have come to stand for everything from witchcraft and Communism to lineage societies and discount vitamins, the real Puritans were much more unassuming, making sense of their chaotic and unpredictable world by withdrawing from it and practicing intense moral purity. This course begins with a study of these seventeenth-century men and women, using their personal writings as a window into their religious beliefs, cultural practices, and worldview. We will then investigate the ways in which Puritans and Puritanism have been remembered and imagined in the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. Aside from primary documents, we will also consider more recent sources, including Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850), Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1953), the CBS sitcom Thanks (1999), and the PBS reality series Colonial House (2004) to determine how and why Puritans possesses such enduring prominence in American memory.