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Conforti, Joseph A. 1945-

PERSONAL:

Born February 1, 1945. Education: Springfield College, B.S. (with honors), 1967; Brown University, A.M., 1972, Ph.D., 1975.

ADDRESSES:

Office—University of Southern Maine, American and New England Studies, 11 Granite St., P.O. Box 9300, Portland ME 04104-9300. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Historian and educator. Rhode Island College, Providence, assistant professor of history, 1978-80, assistant professor, 1980-82, associate professor of English and history, 1982-87; University of Southern Maine, Portland, professor of American and New England Studies, 1987—, director of American and New England studies, 1987-97.

MEMBER:

New England Historical Association (vice president, 1999-2000; president, 2001-02).

AWARDS, HONORS:

University of Southern Maine Faculty Achievement Award, 1988; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1989; National Endowment for the Humanities grants, 1988, 1989; Davis Foundation grant, 1990; Richard Beale Davis Prize for the Best Essay Published in Early American Literature, 1991; Annual Best Book Award, Northeast Popular Culture-American Culture Association, 2002; Certificate of Merit, Association for the Study of State and Local History, 2006, for Creating Portland: History and Place in Northern New England; Choice Outstanding Academic Book, 2007, for Saints and Strangers: New England in British North America.

WRITINGS:

Samuel Hopkins and the New Divinity Movement: Calvinism, the Congregational Ministry, and Reform in New England between the Great Awakenings, Christian University Press/Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1981.

Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1995.

Imagining New England: Explorations of Regional Identity from the Pilgrims to the Mid-Twentieth Century, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 2001.

(Editor) Creating Portland: History and Place in Northern New England, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 2005.

Saints and Strangers: New England in British North America, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 2006.

Editorial board member, Maine Historical Society Quarterly, 1994—, and Religion and American Culture, 1998—. Member of advisory board, University Press of New England's "New England Studies" series, 1992-97.

SIDELIGHTS:

Historian Joseph A. Conforti earned his B.S. from Springfield College in 1967, and then went on to earn his A.M. and Ph.D. from Brown University in 1972 and 1975, respectively. Conforti began his academic career at Rhode Island College, working his way through the ranks before joining the University of Southern Maine, where he has worked as a professor and director of American and New England studies.

Throughout his career, Conforti has served on the editorial board of historical reviews and university presses. He has also won several grants from organizations, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities. Conforti published his first full-length work, Samuel Hopkins and the New Divinity Movement: Calvinism, the Congregational Ministry, and Reform in New England between the Great Awakenings, in 1981.

Conforti's second book, Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture, was released in 1995. This biographical and critical volume seeks to reassess Jonathan Edward's influence on religious theory, particularly Calvinist thought and the New Divinity. In his study, Conforti examines Edwards's writings, as well as public records surrounding those writings. Conforti discusses theologians whose ideas either competed with or coincided with Edwards's, including Mary Lyon and Samuel Hopkins. Paul Chironna, examining the book in a lengthy review for the Christian Century, explained that "Conforti argues that Edwardsianism was a widespread phenomenon in 19th-century America and that the Edwardsians were more interesting and more sympathetic figures than has generally been supposed." Chironna noted that "in this ambitious new work [Conforti] examines the full sweep of Edwards's influence from his death in 1758 through the early years of this century." Concluding his review of the book, Chironna remarked: "Scholars may wish to take issue with some of Conforti's specific interpretations, but he has clearly succeeded in retiring the image of Edwards as a solitary genius with no real influence on the religious culture of the young American republic." Chironna continued by stating that Conforti "has also provided a compelling illustration of the truth that traditions, whether cultural, religious or theological, are as much constructed as inherited." The critic predicted that the "book will stand as an important contribution to Edwards studies and to the study of the history of religion in America."

Imagining New England: Explorations of Regional Identity from the Pilgrims to the Mid-Twentieth Century, Conforti's third book, was published in 2001. The work studies the myths that came to define New England, from Puritanism to the Minute Man to the industrious Yankee. According to Jack Tager in the American Historical Review, Conforti explains that some of these myths came about as the "crass commercialization that eclipsed rural life beginning in late eighteenth-century Massachusetts and Connecticut endangered [the region's] nascent cultural identity. ‘Aggrieved’ regionalists reacted by inventing a colonial past that was in harmony with a new nationalism." Overall, Tager had a positive opinion of Imagining New England, asserting that "Conforti offers a splendid close analysis" and "rightfully laments the chronic failure to address the story of the industrial/ethnic transformation of New England." Tager concluded that Imagining New England is "an important book on historical misconception and mythmaking."

In 2005 Conforti edited Creating Portland: History and Place in Northern New England. This book won a Certificate of Merit from the Association for the Study of State and Local History in 2006. Conforti then published Saints and Strangers: New England in British North America in 2006. The volume was also a prize winner, earning the Choice Outstanding Academic Book award in 2007. Saints and Strangers was widely reviewed and applauded.

In Saints and Strangers, Conforti examines the very foundations of New England, both before and as it was being formed, from British lifestyle to Native Americans to Puritan culture. Peter Gregg Slater, critiquing the book in Teaching History: A Journal of Methods, commented on this approach, noting that "one of the many virtues of this compact, but multi-layered, survey of colonial New England is that it never forgets that the past had a past." Ultimately, Slater felt that "this valuable book … belongs on the reference shelf of anyone teaching colonial history," further noting that the volume is "written in a clear, straightforward style" that is "jargon free." Church History contributor Thomas S. Kidd echoed several of Slater's assessments. Commenting on Conforti's approach to the topic, Kidd observed: "Refusing to equate New England culture with Puritanism, Conforti emphasizes how tensions between ‘saints and strangers,’ or Puritans and non-Puritans, shaped colonial New England…. He also shows … how colonial New England was no isolated enclave, but a vital part of Britain's Atlantic world economy." Like Slater, Kidd commented on the book's educational value, observing that "Conforti has provided a very up-to-date and readable survey of important events. I can easily imagine this text being assigned with good results in undergraduate history classes."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

American Historical Review, June 1, 1982, review of Samuel Hopkins and the New Divinity Movement: Calvinism, the Congregational Ministry, and Reform in New England between the Great Awakenings, p. 846; October 1, 2002, Jack Tager, review of Imagining New England: Explorations of Regional Identity from the Pilgrims to the Mid-Twentieth Century, p. 1218.

American Literature, December 1, 1996, Philip Gould, review of Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture, p. 849.

Choice, June 1, 1996, B.M. Stephens, review of Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture, p. 1659; May 1, 2002, M.J. Butler, review of Imagining New England, p. 1646; October 1, 2006, J.C. Arndt, review of Saints and Strangers: New England in British North America, p. 358.

Christian Century, May 1, 1996, Paul Chironna, review of Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture, p. 491.

Christianity and Literature, March 22, 1996, Edward J. Ingebretsen, review of Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture.

Church History, December 1, 1996, E. Brooks Holifield, review of Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture, p. 789; December 1, 2006, Thomas S. Kidd, review of Saints and Strangers, p. 930.

Cross Currents, September 22, 1996, Gerald R. McDermott, review of Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture, p. 426.

Early American Literature, September 22, 1996, Donald Weber, review of Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture, p. 316.

Historian, September 22, 2007, Gloria L. Main, review of Saints and Strangers, p. 529.

International Philosophical Quarterly, March 1, 1997, Joseph Grange, review of Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture, p. 120.

Journal of American History, September 1, 1982, review of Samuel Hopkins and the New Divinity Movement, p. 430; September 1, 1996, Kenneth P. Minkema, review of Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture, p. 599; December 1, 2002, Tamara Plakins Thornton, review of Imagining New England, p. 1145.

Journal of American Studies, April 1, 1997, Boyd Stanley Schlenther, review of Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture, p. 136.

Library Journal, May 1, 1981, Peter De Klerk, review of Samuel Hopkins and the New Divinity Movement, p. 982.

Reference & Research Book News, May 1, 2006, review of Saints and Strangers.

Teaching History: A Journal of Methods, September 22, 2006, Peter Gregg Slater, review of Saints and Strangers, p. 109.

William and Mary Quarterly, October 1, 1996, Robert H. Abzug, review of Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, and American Culture, p. 815.

ONLINE

University of Southern Maine Web site,http://www.usm.maine.edu/ (May 27, 2008), faculty profile.

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Conforti, Joseph A. 1945-

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