In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The American Revolution

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Primary Sources
  • Comparative French and American Revolutions
  • The Revolution as an Atlantic Event
  • Imperial Relations before 1776
  • Causes of the Revolution
  • Britain and the American Revolution
  • Intellectual and Political Thought
  • Regional Studies
  • The War of Independence
  • Gender
  • Native Americans and African Americans
  • The Making of the Constitution
  • Revolutionaries
  • The American Revolution and the Wider World

Atlantic History The American Revolution
Trevor Burnard
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0005


As a transformative event in American, world, and Atlantic history, the American Revolution has always attracted great interest. One of the results is an enormous literature, meaning that any bibliography is necessarily selective and partial. There are two major ways in which scholars have viewed the American Revolution and two major ideological approaches that they have taken to their studies. The American Revolution can be viewed as the culmination of colonial British American history. In this reading, colonial British American history is but a precursor of the main event. In these accounts, the main aim is to see how the American Revolution led to the creation of the United States. It is thus a key event in the development of American nationalism and the American state. Although a number of works listed in this article illuminate this approach, this article sees the American Revolution as part of a larger age of revolutions, encompassing the French, Haitian, and Latin American Revolutions, and sees it as arising out of global contexts and having major consequences as a key event in the birth of the modern world. Most of the events leading up to the American Revolution and the War of Independence itself are well known. What remains contested is how those events are interpreted. One school of thought—the Whig or neo-Whig approach—stresses the Revolution as caused mainly by ideological difference. Whig historians of the Revolution tend to see the American Revolution as having mainly political rather than socioeconomic consequences. The second school of thought—termed the Progressive school—sees the American Revolution as a social as well as a political revolution, akin to the French and the Russian Revolutions. The early-20th-century debates that set the parameters are well surveyed in Greene 1968, cited under Reference Works.

General Overviews

These entries are a highly selective guide to synthetic works of scholarship representative of the two major lines of interpretation. Countryman 2003 and Nash 2005 see the Revolution as having profound social causes and consequences, while Wood 1993 and Middlekauff 1982 focus on political and ideological change in the revolutionary period. Greene 2000 downplays the importance of the Revolution, while McCullough 2005, in the most successful popular work of recent times, sees the American Revolution in traditional terms, as mostly important for the creation of the United States of America. Spero and Zuckerman 2014 looks at the American Revolution from unusual angles while Saunt 2014 views the Revolution as it occurred in the western parts of British North America.

  • Countryman, Edward. The American Revolution. Rev. ed. New York: Hill and Wang, 2003.

    Concise and lively summary of the cause and consequences of the Revolution. Takes a strongly Progressive interpretative line.

  • Greene, Jack P. “The American Revolution.” American Historical Review 105 (2000): 95–109.

    DOI: 10.2307/2652437

    Written as part of a forum on 18th-century Atlantic revolutions. Argues powerfully for seeing the American Revolution as a settler revolt with 17th-century roots. Summarizes many years of scholarship by a leading historian of the Revolution.

  • McCullough, David. 1776: America and Britain at War. London: Allen Lane, 2005.

    Enormously popular and influential narrative account of the first year of the American Revolution. Framed within the context of US rather than Atlantic history.

  • Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

    Volume 3 of the Oxford History of the United States series. This work is mostly narrative and is an extensive detailing of the events of the American Revolution that favors a neo-Whiggish interpretation of events.

  • Nash, Gary B. The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America. New York: Viking, 2005.

    A synthetic account of the Revolution from the bottom up that shows the Revolution was important at all levels of society and also that it provoked profound social change.

  • Saunt, Claudio. West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776. New York: W. W. Norton, 2014.

    Views the American Revolution from an unusual but revealing perspective, from the western interior of British North America. Partial and polemic insofar as the author is insistent on downgrading events in the East and in Europe, but provides a useful understanding of America as a continental nation in which in some areas the American Revolution was not that important.

  • Spero, Patrick, and Michael Zuckerman, eds. “Introduction: The Conception of a Conference.” In Special Issue: The American Revolution Reborn. Common-Place 14.3 (2014).

    Online set of short essays by leading experts looking at the American Revolution from a variety of different angles than usual. Accompanied by good visual and online material.

  • Wood, Gordon S. The Radicalism of the American Revolution. New York: Vintage, 1993.

    The most important recent book on the Revolution, by a major practitioner, that asserts that the most important consequence of the Revolution was a transformation in American attitudes toward authority.

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