Providence and the Invention of American History

Sarah Koenig

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How providential history—the conviction that God is an active agent in human history—has shaped the American historical imagination

Sarah Koenig traces the rise and fall of Protestant missionary Marcus Whitman’s legend, revealing two patterns in the development of American history. On the one hand is providential history, marked by the conviction that God is an active agent in human history and that historical work can reveal patterns of divine will. On the other hand is objective or scientific history, which arose initially in the pleas of Catholics and other racial and religious outsiders who resisted providentialists’ pejorative descriptions of non-Protestants and nonwhites.

Sarah Koenig is assistant professor of history at Ramapo College. She earned her joint Ph.D. in History and Religious Studies from Yale University. She was born and raised in Oregon and now lives in Waldwick, NJ.

“A compelling story that opens an exciting conversation in the field of American history about the religious assumptions that animated the field’s founding, and endure in its core assumptions.”—Sonia Hazard, Florida State University

“An original piece of intellectual history, which locates the Whitman legend within broader historiographical concerns.”—Brandi Denison, University of North Florida

"In this extraordinarily inventive book, Sarah Koenig demonstrates beautifully how the shifting tectonics of contested interpretations, both providential and secular, continue to inform our understanding of the past."—Randall Balmer, Dartmouth College

"In this finely crafted analysis of the legend that missionary Marcus Whitman Saved Oregon, Sarah Koenig brilliantly illuminates a crucial transition from providential to scientific history and its meanings today."—Jeffrey Ostler, author of Surviving Genocide

"This book explains how a missionary myth became the testing ground for historical thinking. Beautifully written and bravely conceived, Koenig authors a landmark achievement in the study of American history."—Kathryn Lofton, author of Consuming Religion
ISBN: 9780300251005
Publication Date: June 29, 2021
296 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
9 b/w illus.