Friday, February 5, 2021

Jeanne E. Abrams's "A View from Abroad"

Jeanne E. Abrams is Professor at the University Libraries and the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Denver, where she is also Director of the Rocky Mountain Jewish Historical Society, and Curator of the Beck Archives, Special Collections. She is the author of First Ladies of the Republic: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, and the Creation of an Iconic American Role (2018) and Revolutionary Medicine: The Founding Fathers and Mothers in Sickness and in Health (2013).

Abrams applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, A View from Abroad: The Story of John and Abigail Adams in Europe, and reported the following:
Unfortunately, in regards to A View From Abroad, the page 99 test does not work very well for my book. In an effort to compare the European experience of John and Abigail Adams with another prominent early American couple, page 99 focuses not on the Adamses, the subjects of my volume, but instead on the travels of Sarah and John Jay. Jay had served as the president of the Continental Congress, and in 1770 Jay was named minister to Spain in order to seek financial and political support for the new American nation. The Jays and Adamses became friends but came from different backgrounds and led different lives in Europe.

My main thesis in A View From Abroad is that the European journeys of John and Abigail Adams expanded their life experiences and honed their analytical skills. It allowed them a breadth of perspective they could not have experienced in America. They came face-to-face abroad with some of the most powerful people in the world (including the French rulers Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and England’s King George III and Queen Charlotte) and witnessed first-hand national traditions that had been developed there over centuries. Yet their time in the Old World only served to enhance their American loyalties as they were transformed from highly intelligent and articulate provincials to sophisticated world travelers. In Europe, they were exposed to an intellectual and cultural environment far richer than they could have imagined. In significant ways, their sojourn in Europe played a pivotal role in shaping their notions about American identity and nationhood and provided them with a real life frame of comparison. The Adamses returned to their homeland with a set of attitudes towards American society that had been reinforced, strengthened, and even evolved from those they had held when they set out. Their articulate, entertaining writings, particularly their letters to family and friends back home, provide us with an intimate and fascinating portrait of life in 18th century Europe from the royal courts to those who barely earned enough to feed and clothe their families.
Learn more about A View from Abroad at the New York University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue