Sensibility and the American Revolution

By Sarah Knott

352 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 12 illus., notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5918-6
    Published: February 2009
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-3874-7
    Published: December 2012
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8336-0
    Published: December 2012

Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press

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Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press

In the wake of American independence, it was clear that the new United States required novel political forms. Less obvious but no less revolutionary was the idea that the American people needed a new understanding of the self. Sensibility was a cultural movement that celebrated the human capacity for sympathy and sensitivity to the world. For individuals, it offered a means of self-transformation. For a nation lacking a monarch, state religion, or standing army, sensibility provided a means of cohesion. National independence and social interdependence facilitated one another. What Sarah Knott calls "the sentimental project" helped a new kind of citizen create a new kind of government.

Knott paints sensibility as a political project whose fortunes rose and fell with the broader tides of the Revolutionary Atlantic world. Moving beyond traditional accounts of social unrest, republican and liberal ideology, and the rise of the autonomous individual, she offers an original interpretation of the American Revolution as a transformation of self and society.

About the Author

Sarah Knott is associate professor of history at Indiana University and coeditor of Women, Gender, and Enlightenment.
For more information about Sarah Knott, visit the Author Page.


"A stimulating book, beautifully edited and produced."--American Historical Review

"Knott appealingly bridges the two disciplines [18th century history and literature] with her discerning, well-organized analysis. . . . This richly reflective book is a comprehensive and sophisticated study of emotionalism and community."--Journal of American History

"This is an immensely stimulating book, one with valuable lessons for cultural historians of late eighteenth-century Britain. . . . Knott here achieves a remarkable breadth in constructing her arguments across so many different fields, while at the same time retaining a carefully structured narrative."--History Workshop Journal

"A luminous, crisply written intellectual history. . . . A masterful book. . . . A book which will, in short order, show us a new way of examining the foundation of American society and culture."--Journal of Social History

“Ambitious, demanding, and provocative.”--William and Mary Quarterly

"In tracing the arc of the history of sensibility, Knott gives us a new way of framing the cultural history of the American Revolution. One of the most original, insightful, and provocative works in early American history that I have read in some time."--Jan Lewis, Rutgers University, Newark