Over two hundred eyewitness accounts survive of the melee on King Street in Boston on March 5, 1770, yet historians still struggle to understand exactly what transpired that night. In revisiting this flash point of the American Revolution, Eric A. Hinderaker shows why “Boston's massacre” matters despite—even because of—the particulars that remain uncertain. The book has two principal analytical strands. First, Hinderaker shows that the massacre was “a global event shaped by local sensibilities” (p. 24). “Global” here might also be glossed as “imperial.” Hinderaker sets the conflict between British soldiers and Boston civilians in the context of Britain's struggle to manage its empire. Particularly well developed is the discussion of the enormous headaches British administrators experienced over where and how to house the soldiers sent to keep order in a restive Boston in the late 1760s. In interpreting Bostonians' protests against this occupying force, Hinderaker offers a nuanced analysis of what the “mob” signified in the early modern world. While he acknowledges the impossibility of determining precisely what happened on March 5, his contextualization shows how the conditions for that night's violence were set over the months that soldiers, the officers who commanded them, and locals of different political leanings all jostled in a Boston that, despite its pretensions to city status, continued to be a rather small town. Hinderaker's second emphasis is the Boston Massacre's place in historical memory and narrative, starting with the publications immediately after the event that turned an inchoate set of eyewitness accounts into a “massacre.” The book's final chapters explore how the massacre has been commemorated (or ignored) in the two and a half centuries since. Hinderaker emphasizes the annual March 5 commemorations in Boston during the Revolutionary War; the revival of memories of Crispus Attucks by nineteenth-century activists for African American civil rights; and the pointed comparisons to the Boston Massacre made in the wake of the Kent State University shootings in 1970. The conclusion briefly references contemporary concerns about police brutality and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement; further development of this “genealogy from Crispus Attucks to Michael Brown” would have been welcome as a means of assessing whether the Boston Massacre still constitutes a usable past (p. 282). This is the best book-length treatment of this pivotal event since Hiller B. Zobel's authoritative The Boston Massacre (1970). Hinderaker offers a streamlined (but still detailed) narrative while also incorporating recent scholarship on imperial, military, and social history to explain the events and context. These qualities make the book especially well suited for classroom use. Hinderaker's close reading of the different eyewitness accounts and subsequent retellings of the massacre will help students think critically about historical sources and narratives. The author's eye for vivid detail and his ear for striking quotations make Boston's Massacre an engaging read. As the nation looks ahead to the 250th anniversary of this world-changing event, this book is a vital addition to collections on the American Revolution. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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