I appreciate Johann Neem’s gentle review of A Crisis of Community in the April 2015 volume of the American Historical Review. I would not, however, like to leave readers with the misimpression that the book “celebrates change.” While people actively participated in remaking themselves and their communities in this era in rural New England, I argue that their perceived improvements were counterbalanced by ecological, economic, social, and emotional costs. That dynamic is why I chose to tell this as a “crisis of community; the “trials and transformation” involve far-reaching, often conflicted, often unintended consequences that range from uplifting to deeply lamentable.
At its heart, this is a story about changes in the nature of belonging, changes that ultimately reshape both individual identity and attitudes towards social responsibility. I appreciate Prof. Neem’s helpful observations on bridging and bonding forms of social capital, and the insights that his particular interest in voluntary associations bring to this topic. Boylston struggled with these issues of association or belonging – balancing individual pursuits of happiness with compromise and commitment for the sake of the common good. I think Prof. Neem and I would agree that challenge remains critically relevant today.