Today we have Ann Marie Plane, author of Dreams and the Invisible World in Colonial New England: Indians, Colonists, and the Seventeenth Century. From angels to demonic specters, astonishing visions to devilish terrors, dreams inspired, challenged, and soothed the men and women of seventeenth-century New England. English colonists considered dreams to be fraught messages sent by nature, God, or the Devil; Indians of the region often welcomed dreams as events of tremendous significance. Dreams offered entry to "invisible worlds" that contained vital knowledge not accessible by other means and were viewed as an important source of guidance in the face of war, displacement, shifts in religious thought, and intercultural conflict. Utilizing firsthand accounts of dreams as well as evolving social interpretations of them, Dreams and the Invisible World in Colonial New England explores these little-known aspects of colonial life as a key part of intercultural contact.
(Previous Q&As: Cathy Lisa Schneider, Police Power and Race Riots; Jennifer Curtis, Human Rights as War by Other Means; Matt Cohen and Edlie Wong, The Killers: A Narrative of Real Life in Philadelphia; Jacqueline Bhabha, Human Rights and Adolescence; Rebecca Cook, Abortion Law in Transnational Perspective: Cases and Controversies; Megan Threlkeld, Pan American Women: U.S. Internationalists and Revolutionary Mexico; William Paul Simmons, Binational Human Rights: The U.S.–Mexico Experience; Martin Jacobs, Reorienting the East: Jewish Travelers to the Medieval Muslim World; Leilah Danielson, American Gandhi: A. J. Muste and the History of Radicalism in the Twentieth Century)
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Penn Press: You quote Merle Curti as saying “the American interest in the nocturnal dream is for the most part an untold story.” What made you want to begin telling this “story,” and especially the story of those dreamers in the seventeenth century?
Ann Marie Plane: One of the hardest things in Colonial American history is finding new sources and fresh perspectives. This is perhaps especially true in colonial New England, one of the most intensively studied regions of early North America. When I began this project, I wanted to focus on something that would allow me to explore the interior experience and emotional texture of life in colonial societies—for both Native Americans and European colonists. I cannot remember now whether it was more of a bolt from the blue or a gradually sneaking realization that dream texts had largely been hiding in plain sight, located in well-known diaries and letters and religious tracts, but largely unexplored by previous generations of historians. So it was the reinterpretation of these sources that seemed most exciting to me at first.