Keywords for religion and the American Revolution

We’re starting part II of the semester: building a shared database about religion and the American Revolution using a group library in Zotero and the sources we have in Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers.  The idea is to analyze the way “religion” is used in American newspapers during the era of the Revolution (1764-1789), as a way to understand what religion actually meant during the era of the nation’s founding.

The first task, as we are beginning to find the articles, is to develop a set of keywords that we can use to create tags across a lot of articles.  Some seem easy – place of publication, key events that are near the time of the article, denominational categories.  The harder part is the part that has to do with religion.  There are almost 20,000 articles that Readex tells us have the word religion in them in this period.  Will these adequately capture the concept’s variations?

What I’m most curious about is the “ideals” and “principles” that seem to be so linked to the era.  In last week’s exam, students were asked to identify three aspects of early American history that were important for understanding the Revolution.  More than half of the students who answered the question interpreted it to include ideals and principles.  (In fairness to them, Kidd led them that way.)  But if the representation of “religion” that matters for understanding religion is a principle, like morality or virtue, will that necessarily have the word “religion” in it?  If not, does it have anything to do with religion?  Do we need a keyword for principle?

Any suggestions for keywords to add, or concepts to search for, please put them in the comments!

Leave a Reply