Gura, Philip F. 1950-

views updated

Gura, Philip F. 1950-

(Philip Francis Gura)


Born June 14, 1950, in Ware, MA; son of Oswald Eugene and Stephanie R. Gura; married Leslie Ann Cohig, August 4, 1979; children: David Austin, Katherine Blair, Daniel Alden. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: Harvard University, A.B. (magna cum laude), 1972, Ph.D., 1977.


Home—Chapel Hill, NC. Office—Department of English, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3520. E-mail—[email protected]


Writer, historian, and educator. Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT, instructor in American literature, 1974-76; University of Colorado, Boulder, assistant professor, 1976-80, associate professor of English, 1980-85, director of American studies, 1978-80, director of graduate studies, 1981-85, professor of English and American Studies, 1985-87; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, professor of English and Adjunct Professor of American studies, 1987-98, professor of English and American Studies and Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies, 1998-2000, William S. Newman Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture, 2000—, adjunct professor of religious stud- ies. Fellow, Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History, Harvard University, 1980-81; senior fellow, National Endowment for the Humanities, Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, VA, 1985-86, member of national council, 1991-94; Peterson fellow, American Antiquarian Society, 1989, 1998, 2002-03.


Modern Language Association of America, Colonial Society of Massachusetts, American Antiquarian Society, Massachusetts Historical Society (corresponding member, 1996).


Norman Foerster Prize in American Literature, Modern Language Association of America, 1977, for "Thoreau's Maine Woods Indians: More Representative Men"; Chancellor's Writing Award, University of Colorado, 1985; Faculty Fellowship, Council on Research and Creative Work, University of Colorado, 1985-86; Kate B. and Hall J. Peterson Fellowships, American Antiquarian Society, 1989, 1998, and 2002-03; Frances Densmore Prize, American Musical Instrument Society, 1996; Award of Merit, Society of Early Americanists, 2000; ASCAP-Deems Taylor Special Citation, 2000, for America's Instrument; University Post-Baccalaureate Distinguished Teaching Award, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2004; James Russell Wiggins Lecturer, American Antiquarian Society, 2004; Andrew W. Mellon Distinguished Scholar in Residence, American Antiquarian Society, 2006-07.


The Wisdom of Words: Language, Theology, and Literature in the New England Renaissance, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1981.

(Editor, with Joel Myerson) Critical Essays on American Transcendentalism, G.K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1982.

A Glimpse of Sion's Glory: Puritan Radicalism in New England, 1620-1660, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1983.

(Editor) Memoirs of Stephen Burroughs, Northeastern University Press (Boston, MA), 1988.

Early Nineteenth-Century Painting in Rural Massachusetts: John Howe of Greenwich and Enfield, c. 1803-1845, with a Transcription of His "Printer's Book," c. 1832, American Antiquarian Society (Worcester, MA), 1991.

The Crossroads of American History and Literature, Penn State University Press (University Park, PA), 1996.

(With James F. Bollman) America's Instrument: The Banjo in the Nineteenth Century, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1999.

(Editor) Buried from the World: Inside the Massachusetts State Prison, 1829-31, The Memorandum Books of the Rev. Jared Curtis, Massachusetts Historical Society (Boston, MA), 2001.

(Editor, with others) The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Sixth Edition, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2002, 7th edition, 2007.

C.F. Martin and His Guitars, 1796-1873, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 2003.

Jonathan Edwards: America's Evangelical, Hill and Wang (New York, NY), 2005.

English Language Notes, member of editorial board, 1977-85; Early American Literature, member of editorial board, 1984-87, associate editor, 1987-89, editor, 1989-99, advisory editor, 1999—; American Literature, member of editorial board, 1989-93; William and Mary Quarterly, member of editorial board, 1991-94; American Periodicals, member of advisory board, 1992—; A History of the Book in America, member of editorial board, 1992—; Book History, member of advisory board, 1997—; Reencounters with Colonialism: New Perspectives on the Americas, advisory editor, 1997-2002.

Contributor to literature and history journals, including American Literature, Virginia Quarterly, Yale Review, and Sewanee Review.

Contributor to books, including American Writers before 1800: A Biographical and Critical Dictionary, edited by James A. Levernier and Douglas Wilmes, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1983; and Henry David Thoreau: Modern Critical Views, edited by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House (New York, NY), 1987. Associate editor, 1987-89, editor, 1989-99, Early American Literature.


In The Wisdom of Words: Language, Theology, and Literature in the New England Renaissance, Philip F. Gura examines the cultural context out of which American literary symbolism emerged in the decades before the Civil War. Gura focuses on religion and language theory in the first section of the book, while in the latter chapters he discusses the works of such writers as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Herman Melville. In the Journal of American History, Robert D. Richardson, Jr., wrote that "the integrity of [Gura's] study lies in its fidelity to the issues and judgments of the period about which he is writing. Thus his work is solid and will last, and his readers are free to make their own connections with the present."

Gura continues his examination of New England history in A Glimpse of Sion's Glory: Puritan Radicalism in New England, 1620-1660. In this work, Gura asserts that the Puritans were not as ideologically homogeneous as some historians have suggested and that there were, in fact, numerous acts of dissent committed by Puritan radicals. Divided into three sections, A Glimpse of Sion's Glory catalogs the various types of Puritan dissent, discusses the response of the Puritan establishment to radical thinkers, and provides case studies of three radicals: Anne Hutchinson, Samuel Gorton, and William Pynchon. In the American Historical Review, Theodore Dwight Bozeman stated that "Gura displays the most thorough and integrated knowledge of New England dissent from 1620 to 1660 yet attained by any historian." Pauline Maier, writing in the New York Times Book Review, also offered praise for A Glimpse of Sion's Glory: "[Gura's] book is an evocative account of the 17th century; so sustained a work of intelligence and human sensitivity is always a rare achievement."

A practicing musician who plays clawhammer banjo in fiddle contests around the southeastern United States, Gura dedicates a pair of books to the history and development of two ubiquitous American stringed instruments, the banjo and the guitar. In America's Instrument: The Banjo in the Nineteenth Century, Gura and collaborator James F. Bollman, a prominent banjo collector, produce a work that "is and will remain the definitive history of the production, advertisement, and distribution of the banjo in nineteenth-century America," commented Chris Goertzen in Notes. Gura provides an overview of existing scholarship on the origins of the banjo, particularly its origins in long-necked stringed instruments from Africa. He looks at how the production of the banjo evolved and how access to and innovation on the instrument expanded with mass production and greater availability. The author profiles some early entrepreneurs who helped broaden banjo usage, availability, and respectability, including S.S. Stewart. Gura also explores how innovations in design and materials led to great improvements in the instrument's quality in the latter part of the nineteenth century. "The book is so dense in its documentation and technological detail that few apart from banjo lovers will read it from cover to cover," Goertzen noted, but he also concluded: "This study, while groundbreaking in its coverage of manufacturing, decoration, and advertising, is also so thorough that I cannot imagine it ever making sense to redo it."

Gura charts the history of another popular stringed instrument in C.F. Martin and His Guitars, 1796-1873. Martin is one of the most stable and sturdy brands of guitar, and various types of Martins are used and cherished by specialists in music genres ranging from folk to bluegrass to modern rock. With his book, Gura "has written the early history of the company from correspondence, invoices, company records and letters from performers and simple customers alike," noted Sing Out! reviewer Tom Druckenmiller. "Gura has interpreted the sources and drawn them together into a fascinating narrative that will inform anyone interested not just in the guitar or guitar making, but in nineteenth-century American musical life and commerce in general," observed Gary R. Boye in Notes. The history also contains a great deal of biographical and business information on the company's founder, Christian Frederick Martin. Gura "delves into a side of American musical history and of the guitar that is almost totally unexplored, and gives us a portrait of a master craftsman and businessman," commented Boye. Gura "has truly created a book, which can be enjoyed on a number of different levels," Druckenmiller remarked, from aficionados seeking photographs of early guitars, to historians interested in musical life during the mid-1800s, to students of business and marketing looking for insights into how the Martin company has remained strong and competitive for almost two centuries. Gura's "presentation and observations, based on his research of the materials loaned to him by Martin as well as other historical records, present a picture and put Martin in a context which cannot be achieved simply by observation and study of the instruments themselves," noted George Gruhn in the Folk Music Journal. Boye concluded that Gura's book is a "model of archival research and is finely written and thoroughly documented."

Jonathan Edwards: America's Evangelical is Gura's biography of Edwards, considered by many to be America's most influential theologian. As a pastor, writer, philosopher, and revivalist, Edwards also espoused many ideas that were controversial during the time of his career during the middle 1700s. Edwards was a devout Calvinist, a preacher who delivered sermons declaring everyone guilty of original sin, that the only virtue man can aspire to is love of God, and that whether or not someone goes to Hell is not based on good deeds or even salvation, but on a predestined fate already determined by God at the individual's creation. Conversely, Edwards also preached a softer, more emotional approach to God and religion, stressing the emotional aspects of experiencing God and the personal experience of loving God. Gura looks carefully at some of Edwards's more famous sermons, including the well-known "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" sermon. He recounts Edwards's early years, his studies at Yale University, his conflict with the Northampton church (that dismissed him as pastor) and with the Williams family (relatives all), his fiery career as a preacher and theologian, and his final position as Princeton University's third president. The author delineates Edwards's position within the Great Awakening, a period of intense religious revival in 1734-35, and sees Edwards's convincing preaching and religious dedication as the "beginning of the great tradition of American evangelicalism," commented a Kirkus Reviews critic. Edwards, stated Daniel Sullivan in the Weekly Standard, was "uniquely attuned to the psychology of [religious] conversion, and his endless revolution against spiritual complacency, with its anxiety as well as its hope, still agitates the American psyche." Gura "helpfully explains Edwards's special place in American literary history," noted Gerald R. McDermott in History: Review of New Books. A Publishers Weekly critic concluded that "Gura's brilliant cultural history of Edwards and his times splendidly reveals a side of the evangelist that has often been overlooked."



American Historical Review, April, 1985, Theodore Dwight Bozeman, review of A Glimpse of Sion's Glory, p. 478.

Booklist, February 15, 2005, Gilbert Taylor, review of Jonathan Edwards: America's Evangelical, p. 1038.

Books & Culture, September-October, 2005, Allen Guelzo, "Unpalatable to Modern Sensibilities," review of Jonathan Edwards, p. 16.

Christianity and Literature, summer, 2006, Michael G. Ditmore, review of Jonathan Edwards, p. 595.

Folk Music Journal, annual 2005, George Gruhn, review of C.F. Martin & His Guitars, 1796-1873, p. 651.

History: Review of New Books, winter, 2006, Gerald R. McDermott, review of Jonathan Edwards, p. 45.

Journal of American History, June, 1982, Robert D. Richardson, Jr., review of The Wisdom of Words.

Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2004, review of Jonathan Edwards, p. 1182.

Library Journal, August, 2003, Eric C. Shoaf, review of C.F. Martin & His Guitars, 1796-1873, p. 86; March 1, 2005, George Westerlund, review of Jonathan Edwards, p. 90.

New York Times Book Review, April 1, 1984, Pauline Maier, review of A Glimpse of Sion's Glory, p. 21.

Notes, March, 2001, Chris Goertzen, review of America's Instrument, p. 604; September, 2004, Gary R. Boye, review of C.F. Martin & His Guitars, 1796-1873, p. 147.

Philadelphia Inquirer, March 30, 2005, Carlin Romano, "In Jonathan Edwards' Footsteps Right to Terri Schiavo's Hospice," review of Jonathan Edwards: America's Evangelical.

Publishers Weekly, January 24, 2005, review of Jonathan Edwards, p. 237.

Sing Out!, spring, 2004, Tom Druckenmiller, review of C.F. Martin and His Guitars, 1796-1873, p. 104.

Weekly Standard, March 21, 2005, Daniel Sullivan, "The Heart Specialist: The American Mind Owes a Lot to Jonathan Edwards," review of Jonathan Edwards, p. 35.


University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, (January 2, 2007), biography of Philip F. Gura.

About this article

Gura, Philip F. 1950-

Updated About content Print Article