A Place Called Paradise
Culture and Community in Northampton, Massachusetts, 1654-2004
A volume of essays commemorating the 350th anniversary of a historic New England community
In 1790, President Timothy Dwight of Yale offered this description of Northampton, a town situated on the banks of the Connecticut River in western Massachusetts: "The inhabitants of this valley possess a common character," he remarked. "Even the beauty of the scenery, scarcely found in the same degree elsewhere, becomes a source of pride as well as enjoyment." For Dwight, the appeal of the place lay in its proportions, which epitomized eighteenth-century ideas about the proper balance between the natural world and the built environment.
Northampton evoked equally powerful visions in others. To minister Jonathan Edwards it was a stage for the enactment of God's drama of saving grace and redemption, while to Swedish soprano Jenny Lind it was simply a "paradise." During the 1920s Northampton became Main Street USA—a reassuring backdrop for the presidency of the city's former mayor, Calvin Coolidge. But for Smith College professor Newton Arvin, it was the dark side of small-town America that surfaced during the early decades of the Cold War. From witchcraft trials to Shays' Rebellion, from Sojourner Truth and the utopian abolitionists to Sylvester Graham and diet reform, many of the main currents of American life have flowed through this New England river town.
To commemorate the 350th anniversary of the founding of Northampton, A Place Called Paradise brings together a broad range of writing on the city's rich heritage. Edited with an introduction by Kerry W. Buckley, the volume includes essays by John Demos, Christopher Clark, Nell Irvin Painter, David W. Blight, and other distinguished scholars who have found this region fertile ground for research. Together their writings not only chronicle the history of a place but illustrate, in microcosm, the dynamics at work in the larger sweep of America's past.
"This is local history at its best. These insightful and readable essays explore central themes of American history as they played out in a single remarkable community. Since its founding 350 years ago, Northampton has seen it all—seventeenth-century witchcraft trials; eighteenth-century revivalism and revolution; nineteenth-century Romanticism, reform, and commerce; twentieth-century feminism and Cold War homophobia. The next-best-thing to living in Northampton is reading this wonderful volume."—Paul S. Boyer, editor, The Oxford Companion to United States History
"Historic Northampton deserves high praise for bringing together such a fine collection of essays. What a smart way to celebrate a 350th anniversary! Serious history is the best kind of monument."—Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Phillips Professor of
Early American History, Harvard University
"A Place Called Paradise is a wonderful introduction to the historical life of Northampton, Massachusetts, one of the most extraordinary places in the Atlantic world, and a place which has inspired some of the most outstanding historical writing of the past decades."—Emma Rothschild, University of Cambridge and Harvard University
"A Place Called Paradise fully vindicates Buckley's insistence that 'it is at the local level where history happens and where historians can see larger forces at work.' Other towns and communities facing milestone anniversaries should consider emulating Historic Northampton's example; while not every locality can be a 'paradise,' surely Northampton is not unique in possessing fascinating stories that illustrate the American experience."—Len Travers, The New England Quarterly