Archer, Richard 1941-
ARCHER, Richard 1941-
PERSONAL: Born November 22, 1941, in Whittier, CA; married; children: one daughter, one son. Education: University of California—Santa Barbara, B.A., 1964, M.A., 1966, Ph.D., 1968.
ADDRESSES: Office—Department of History, Whittier College, Whittier, CA 90608.
CAREER: Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, MI, assistant professor, 1968-72, associate professor of history, 1972-75, director of honors program, 1972-74; Whittier College, Whittier, CA, began as assistant dean, became associate dean for academic affairs, 1975-92, director of Whittier scholars program, 1977-92, professor of history, 1982—, dean of college life, 1989-90, faculty master, 1990-94.
AWARDS, HONORS: Fellow of Haynes Foundation, 1984; Whittier College, Harry Nerhood Teaching Excellence Award, 1986, Marilyn Veich Award, 1993; named outstanding academic advisor for Pacific region, American College Testing Program and National Academic Advising Association, 1989.
Coauthor of booklet From Commonwealth to Commerce: The Pre-industrial City in America, Forum Press, 1978. Contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including American Studies and William and Mary Quarterly.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Editing Pen, Ink, and Paper: Letters of a Nineteenth-Century American Family, with Virginia Archer; New England in a Revolutionary Era.
SIDELIGHTS: Richard Archer told CA:"Fissures in the Rock: New England in the Seventeenth Century is the product of a long and circuitous journey. When I left graduate school for my first job in 1968, I was a historian of the early national period. My dissertation was on the Hartford Convention, and it reflected my interests in the question of how governments function after a revolution and in anti-war movements.
"1968 turned out to be a threshold year for me. Not only was I finally finished with being a student and was beginning my first full-time position, but by the time my wife and I left California for Michigan that summer she was pregnant with our first child. In a larger context, of course, were the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the election of [president] Richard Nixon. As a new teacher, I questioned how I could justify taking up some of the allotted hours of my students' time. As a father-to-be, I began to read books on child development and child-rearing—books like Summerhill, How Children Learn, and Growing up Absurd. As a citizen, I began to question whether the American system worked. All told, I was becoming disillusioned with many American institutions and started a search for alternatives.
"Four years later I was director of the honors program at Central Michigan University. In many ways, that was a surprise. A son of teachers, I generally had a low opinion of administrators (I must confess to a certain extent I still hold that view), and now I was one. That was not the way I had envisioned my career, but the honors program provided a rare opportunity. It had died, and the president of the university wanted it resuscitated. He offered a small group of us pretty close to carte blanche, and we leapt at the chance. We transformed it into a residential program in one of the residence halls where alternative educational options were offered to students, and it became an honors program in name only. Quickly it grew to 500 students. Although I was teaching only part-time, I introduced some topics that had not been available in the history department, such as a course on intentional communities and communes.
"The course sparked my interest in the topic so much that I began a research project on the history of American intentional communities. Here is where seventeenth-century New England comes in. What better place to begin the study? Several of the path-breaking New England town studies that were just being published suggested that these were utopian villages. Several years later I came to the conclusion that they were not early communes, and I abandoned the project; but my interest in early New England remained.
"In 1975 I returned to California. Whittier College attracted me with its long tradition of innovative education and the social ethic of its Quaker founders. Here was an opportunity to create a full-fledged, degree-granting, individualized program, and it also would bring our two children closer to their California grandparents. For the next half-dozen years, most of my energy was devoted to developing a program and helping to rear our children. Occasionally I produced an article or a review, and I taught one course a year in the history department, but I had no large-scale research project.
"Gradually the seed that became Fissures in the Rock began to sprout and tentatively grow. I had noticed that all of the marvelous books that were coming out on early New England focused only on a local subject (such as towns) or an idea (such as aspects of Puritanism and other forms of Reformed Protestantism) or on specific issues (such as gender). There were no studies that examined all of New England comprehensively. I decided I wanted to do a study that looked at the early history of New England from the bottom up, from the top down, and from all possible angles—a total history, if possible. I wanted to see how the pieces fit together. I wanted to examine diversity and culture. And, believing that professional history had become too incestuous, I wanted to write a history accessible to a general audience as well as to scholars.
"The work started by compiling a broad database of as many of the early residents as possible. That was necessary to find patterns that transcended the parts, and also it was manageable in short time-spans that I would work between administrative and family responsibilities. By 1987 the database had grown to 22,000 New England souls, all captured in my computer. Most of this was a slow, tedious examination of records, but it also included research trips/family vacations, such as a three-week trip where the four of us primarily visited seventeenth-century New England houses. Some of us were more enthused about the venture than others. This first stage of research culminated in an article on the demographic history of seventeenth-century New England that was published in the William and Mary Quarterly in 1990.
"In 1992 I left administration but, along with my wife, served as a faculty master. When we left I was treated to an uninterrupted fifteen months of sabbatical leave before at long last returning to my original career choice of being a faculty member. Then I was able to flesh out the research and eventually begin writing."