Jeanne Abrams is Professor at the University Libraries and the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Denver. This interview is based on her new book, A View from Abroad: The Story of John and Abigail Adams in Europe (NYU Press, 2021).
JF: What led you to write A View from Abroad?
JA: I was first exposed to primary sources as a college freshman and had the good fortune to visit the New York Historical Society to work on a paper about Loyalists in the American Revolution. That launched me on a lifelong love affair with primary sources and a special interest in America’s founders. I examined certain aspects of the lives of John and Abigail Adams in my previous books, Revolutionary Medicine: The Founding Fathers and Mothers in Sickness and in Health and First Ladies of the Republic: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Dolley Madison, and the Creation of an Iconic Role. I was so impressed with John and Abigail’s extraordinary descriptive writing skills and their commitment to the American public good. I wanted to find out more about their experiences during the time they spent in Europe.
JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of A View from Abroad?
JA: The European journeys of John and Abigail Adams not only influenced the course of their intellectual, political, and cultural development–transforming them from educated provincials to sophisticated world travelers–but most importantly served to strengthen their love and loyalty for America. Their story also helps demonstrate how they and their contemporaries set about supplanting their British origins with a new American identity.
JF: Why do we need to read A View from Abroad?
JA: My book details the ten years John spent in Europe and the four years in which Abigail joined him. Their experiences are fascinating on their own as a travelogue, but the book also gives us a bird’s eye view into life in Europe during the 18th century, from the opulent royal courts to how the poor struggled to simply put bread on the table. More importantly, it helps us understand the essence of the Adamses’ commitment to the American republican experiment and how hard they worked to try to ensure its success.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
JA: As I mentioned above, I became hooked on American history as an undergraduate. Since my parents were immigrants, I became fascinated with the early development of American history. I became particularly interested in narrative history, and my work has allowed me to combine many facets of American history, from the country’s founding, to the subject of immigration, and even medical history.
JF: What is your next project?
JA: Right now after having completed six books in the last 13 years, I am taking a little breather and concentrating on smaller projects in the form of articles.
JF: Thanks, Jeanne!