We learned yesterday that Al Young has died at the age of 87 in Durham, North Carolina. A leading scholar of the “New Left,” especially with respect to working class people and the history of the American Revolution, his influence on several generations of early American historians is indisputable. Young saw the Revolution as one that emerged from the bottom up, although he was very clear that the Revolution benefited only a tiny minority of elite Americans in spite of the sacrifices and suffering of the masses. You can read other tributes to him on H-OIEAHCnet by Mike McDonnell and Kenneth Lockridge, with others certain to follow, I am sure.
Young’s New Left view of the Revolution (as opposed to the consensus school dominated by Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood) triumphed among scholars trained from the 1970s through the 2000s. (Wood published a book called The Radicalism of the American Revolution twenty years ago. Young never wrote a book called The Consensus of the American Revolution! His full name was Alfred Fabian Young, after all.) Unlike proponents of the consensus school, Al was never offered a position at an elite, private institution, and spent the bulk of his career at Northern Illinois University.
I knew Al briefly after his retirement, Continue Reading »