Chris Pearl has always loved history. He visited historic battlefields with his parents and read books on the American Civil War as a child – but it wasn’t until college that he began to seriously consider history as a career path. Diving deeper into early American history while a student at SUNY Brockport, Pearl produced a master’s thesis on Benjamin Franklin and the coming of the American Revolution. “That process,” he says, “both the mentoring and the actual writing of the thesis, was when I realized there were several incongruities in the literature that I wanted to research further.” And so Pearl came to Binghamton University to do exactly that.
His decision to choose Binghamton was solidified when he spoke with Douglas Bradburn, associate professor of history. “My meeting with Dr. Bradburn and Dr. Dave Hacker in the weeks before I made my decision assured that I would be coming to Binghamton,” Pearl explains, describing his mentors as “inviting and interested in my work.” The deal was sealed for Pearl when he learned about the Upstate Early American Workshop, still in its beginning stages, and about Binghamton’s intention of joining the McNeil Center for Early American Studies consortium.
With Bradburn as his advisor, Pearl began to develop his own work on the American Revolution in Pennsylvania, focusing on the American Revolution as a process of state formation, taking a “more structural approach” to his initial research questions.
“Through my research I began to ask new questions focusing on the impact of these social changes,” says Pearl. Soon, a discovery was made: The colonial and imperial governments were not willing to evolve to fit the changing lives of the citizens they governed. This “influenced Pennsylvanian’s perception of their government as cruel and unresponsive to their needs,” Pearl says. Initially focusing only on the causes of rebellion and revolution in America, Pearl now sees Pennsylvanian’s concerns as crucial to their later sense of government distrust, and to the process of state formation.
Pearl also came to another realization about the creation of the United States: “They did not formulate a more democratic government for democracy’s sake. Rather, it represented a means to fix the issues of government that they had found so problematic, by making the government bend to the people’s will.”
The importance of Pearl’s work stems from its refusal of common perceptions of American history. “Historians of early America often stress continuity rather than change, arguing that state and local governance basically replicated the colonial system. “My work demonstrates the opposite,” he says, showing that the American Revolution “was transformative for everyday people,” and “the inadequacies of the colonial government powerfully influenced how people thought about their government, and how they sought to change it.”
Pearl hopes to turn his dissertation into a book manuscript, and that his work “will change the way historians think about the revolution and its relationship to the formation of states, and the creation of legal structures.” Pearl recently accepted a tenure track position at Lycoming College in Williamsport, PA.
Last Updated: 2/1/13