Date of Award

Spring 1987

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


This study is a personal analysis of the eighteenth-century historian-scientist-minister, Jeremy Belknap (1744-1798). Belknap's life is used to illustrate a type of history denoted "humanist" history. The goal of humanism is to uncover general truths from specific experiences. Thus, emphasis is placed upon Belknap's life-experiences and feelings rather than his place in the culture of eighteenth-century New England. The author seeks to stimulate readers to empathy, and thus reflection. Ideally, readers will discover that a past human felt the same feelings they have felt, of love, fear, uncertainty, and hope; in seeking to understand Belknap's feelings readers will, it is hoped, seek to understand their own. By studying Belknap's life, therefore, we can learn about our own.

The methodology is twofold. A large collection of letters and personal papers are preserved at the Massachusetts Historical Society, particularly the twenty-year correspondence between Belknap and his friend Ebenezer Hazard. These papers allow the historian who uses traditional historical methods to reconstruct not only Belknap's life but also his feelings and personal beliefs. Moreover, the author has consciously used his own experiences and feelings as a source with which to understand Belknap's. Hence, to know Belknap's feelings of love the author has analyzed his own. All historians interpret sources subjectively; this historian has merely done it explicitly and purposefully.

As a result this study portrays those internal feelings that humans experience the most but understand the least--of hope, faith, love, happiness, sorrow, harmony, and conflict. But more, this study portrays a man whose life was, rather than one of predictable normality, full of contradiction and confusion. Belknap, like all humans, was caught between the contending forces of culture and human constants, life's particulars and life's truths.