Why were autobiographies so important in Joyce Appleby's book Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Inheriting the Revolution is a 2000 historical work by Joyce Appleby, detailing the transition state of the United States from British Colonies to an independent nation.

Appleby's goal was to show how the colonists changed from subjects of a monarchy to members of a free democracy, not by reiterating the American Revolution and the work of the Founders, but by researching the individuals who came after. These people were in the "first generation" of true Americans, people who were not born to the revolution but inherited it. In the introduction, Appleby states:

The passage of social responsibility from parents to children... forced the members of this generation to move forward on their own, a necessity that set them apart from earlier and later cohorts. Neither their parents' example nor their communities' tested formulas could guide them in the new situations they encountered.
(Appleby, Inheriting the Revolution, Google Books)

The use of autobiography was invaluable to her research and to the book. Personal accounts give an intimate look at people in a constant state of change, instead of looking at them from outside. The personal view allows the reader to feel privileged, given information unavailable to the larger public, and usually not used in historical works; it also gives stronger credibility to the narrative, since the quoted people lived and worked during that time. Their personal experiences give greater insight into their world, and cover many unique topics and areas that Appleby may not have encountered with standard research.

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