Everyday Life in Colonial America, June 16–22, 2019


John Demos, Samuel Knight Professor of History Emeritus, Yale University


The seminar will explore central themes and questions relating to everyday life during the colonial period of American history (roughly 1600–1775). An opening pair of units will treat the life cycle as typically experienced in that era—first, around its terminal points (birth and death), then through its various intervening stages. The remaining units will form a trio, comprising inner-life experience (psychology), interpersonal behavior (sociology), and concern with the supernatural (religion, magic, witchcraft, and related matters of cosmology).

Our larger goal is to develop a detailed sense of life on the ground among ordinary folk in this long-ago time and place. Our main focus will be New England—and the history that remains evident in its natural and built landscape—but, wherever possible, reference will be made to other colonial venues as well. The seminar will meet daily. Morning sessions will combine lectures with discussion. Afternoon activities will include field trips, library visits, and additional discussion. The field trips, in particular, will serve to connect us with the material dimension of early American life—the houses, furnishings, gardens, and other surviving artifacts.

Travel & Accommodations

Participants are responsible for making their own travel arrangements; the Institute will reimburse up to $400 in travel expenses. Read the policy here.

Yale University is in New Haven, Connecticut. The Tweed-New Haven Airport is about fifteen minutes from the Yale Campus. Taxis from Tweed cost about $15.00 one way. Additionally, Bradley Airport is located an hour north of New Haven and is served by many major airlines. Connecticut Limo shuttles leave once an hour and cost $84 round trip. Amtrak provides service directly into New Haven’s Union Station, about a ten-minute cab ride from downtown New Haven and the Yale campus. MetroNorth provides commuter service on a regular basis from New York City into New Haven.

Workshop participants will stay in a university residence hall. Rooms are arranged in suites of two single bedrooms with a furnished living room, shared bath, and kitchenette. The building is air-conditioned. Participants should bring laptops as computer access on campus will be limited. Internet service is provided, but cables are not.

Yale provides sheets and towels only. Participants should plan to bring alarm clocks, hangers, irons, and hair dryers. Kitchenettes are located in each suite. However, participants should bring their own utensils. Housekeeping services are provided throughout the week.


Meals will be served in a university cafeteria in space shared by other programs. All on-campus meals will be paid for by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.


Please be sure to review the Institute’s policies on independent school teacher participation and travel reimbursement before applying.

Course Reviews from Past Participants

“I feel like I won the teacher lottery with this program. I plan on sharing my notes and books with my other teachers and trying to bring history back into our elementary school classroom. Thank you for a wonderful week.” 

“This seminar was phenomenal. As a young teacher this incorporated previously understudied perspectives on colonial encounters that will enable me to more effectively deliver quality instruction. The use of primary sources in the reader were relevant to our topics of discussion and presented an in-depth analysis of colonial America.”

Seminar Year: 2018-2019