American Roots

American Roots

Basic information

  • Author(s):
  • Included in: Calvin Shorts
  • Published: August 15, 2016
  • Publisher: Calvin College Press
  • Page count: 100
  • ISBN: 978-1-937555-19-1
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-937555-20-7
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American Roots

"Diversity" is not a new, foreign element in American life. It goes back to the earliest roots of the nation, when five distinct regions emerged along the Atlantic shore in the 17th century. This book explains how and why that happened, and with what consequences.

Each region was marked by a different geography and economy, a different mix of people and different sets of social expectations. Religion and politics varied sharply from one area to another. In each case the blend of ingredients also bore lines of tension that built up to a point of crisis: the Salem witch-craze in New England, for instance, or the Stono Rebellion of enslaved Africans in the Lower South. Out of these crises came reforms that set the five regions on their course to converge, eventually, in a new nation. But many of the old differences came along, making the young United States a rambunctious, often uneasy place, filled with quarrels and culture wars. That is, the United States today shows some remarkable similarities to times far away and forgotten. This book brings those times back to life in the hope that clearer memories might help us live better today.

Read the introduction to American Roots


"James Bratt has distilled a lifetime of study and teaching into this one Calvin Shorts. For an efficient, clear, balanced, readable—but above all, reliable—introduction to colonial American history, it is hard to imagine a better book." 
—Mark Noll, author In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783

"James D. Bratt's American Roots offers a brisk, engaging review of the often grim realities of early America, and those realities' enduring significance in our national life. Readers will find Bratt a sure guide and a judicious interpreter of these controversial issues." 
—Thomas S. Kidd, Distinguished Professor of History, Baylor University 

"American Roots is a gem of a book. Instead of seeing "the American colonies" as a whole, author James Bratt shows how remarkably different the colonies' five main regionsNew England, Middle Colonies, Chesapeake, Lower South and Back Countrywere in their development and defining moments. Each put its unique stamp, for good and ill, on what it means to be an American today. This is one powerful little book, full of insights for Americans who want to know themselves and for anyone else who wants to understand Americans." 
—Joel Carpenter, Nagel Institute, Calvin College

"This slim volume is at once a masterful primer on colonial America, a lively exemplar of historical thinking, and a pocket guide to understanding the tensions and ideals that created and continue to shape the American nation. Crisply written and chock full of colorful bits of wisdom and insight, Bratt’s book is ideal for the classroom or for a quiet evening at home." 
—Kristin Kobes Du Mez, author A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism

"I am really impressed with Jim’s ability to pack so broad a story into so tight a package. The book covers a huge amount of ground in a manner that is unified, coherent and accessible. It accomplishes its purpose admirably ... the introductory chapter explains a historian's work in terms about as clear as he could make them to a high school student. I wish every student in the US—and most teachers—had a copy of this book just for this purpose alone."
—Timothy D. Hall, Associate Dean and Professor of History, Central Michigan University

About the Author

James D. Bratt is Professor of History emeritus at Calvin College, where he taught for twenty-eight years. Prior to that he taught in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. He earned his PhD in American history at Yale University (1978). His many courses on US history include surveys of Early America and American intellectual and religious history. He is particularly interested in the interaction between religion, politics and social reform; the history of theology; and the religious aspects of immigration.

Professor Bratt is the author of many books and articles in three main areas: (1) Dutch immigration to the United States, especially in its religious dimensions; (2) the life and thought of the Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper; and (3) American religion on the eve of the Civil War. He contributed an essay on American Protestantism in the 17th-century to the Cambridge History of Religions in America.

He studied abroad on two Fulbright Research grants and also enjoys spending time at his cottage near Lake Michigan. Professor Bratt is married and the father of four adult children. He blogs at The Twelve (


Great Migrations, British Origins, 1630-1770

Great Migrations, United States, 1630-1770

The Chesapeake

The Lower South

Puritan New England

The Middle Colonies

The Backcountry


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