Did the first truly modern society take shape in British North America between 1680 and 1770? Did ethnic and religious diversity and economic complexity combine with participatory politics to create a distinctively American society? Such questions fail to notice that these components worked at cross-purposes as often as they reinforced one another. Outlining the building blocks of ethnic or national identity without linking them to how Americans perceived themselves and their relations with one another may not be the best way to approach the emergence of a distinctive American society and culture.

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