“Yankee go home!” has often been hurled at Americans indiscriminately. But the reality is that Yankee as a category initially meant the people of New England and its colonies across the northern fringe United States, from upstate New York to Minnesota. Yankees were a minority of Northerners during the American Civil War. Nevertheless, Yankee spearheading the Northern cause meant that Southerners disparaged all their occupiers with that label. This reflects the core insight that Yankees were, and arguably still are, far more influential in American culture and history than the raw weight of their numbers would indicate.
On this episode of The Unsupervised Learning podcast, Razib talks to Kerry of the Mary Lincolniana Substack about the role New England culture has played in shaping America and the world. A native New Englander, she does not flinch from asserting that in many fundamental ways, being American is a product of the norms and values of New England culture. Kerry argues the formative history of the colony of Massachusetts set the template for the later United States of America. Razib and Kerry discuss the possibility that the rise of a Southern elite counterculture was mainly a reaction to the preeminence of New England as an intellectual superpower in the early 19th century. They also explore the idea that America’s middle-class egalitarianism today reflects the aspirations of the founders of the New England colonies specifically, where the early focus was on literacy, communal debate, respect and rank accrued by those who attained erudition and learning. Kerry believes that the New England model of acculturating immigrants through a path of ascendance up the class hierarchy, starting with the Irish of the 1830’s, informed America’s later success with the mass migration of the late 19th and early 20th century. She also argues that 21st-century America could still learn much from the New England model of a well-educated and socially engaged populace.