This past week I drove to Nebraska and back. It’s beautiful country. I had never been there before, but I will certainly go there again.
As we all look forward to the upcoming 2016 S-USIH conference this October at Stanford University, the members of the 2017 conference committee (listed below) are pleased to announce that we have finalized key details for the 2017 conference.
The ninth annual S-USIH Conference will be held from Thursday, October 26 to Sunday, October 29, 2017, at the Dallas/Plano Marriott at Legacy Town Center. The theme of the conference will be “Histories of Memory, Memories of History.”
We are delighted to report that our keynote speaker will be renowned historian and legal scholar Annette Gordon-Reed, Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History at Harvard Law School, Professor of History in the History Department at Harvard University, and Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute. Professor Gordon-Reed has published seven books, including The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (2008), winner of the Pulitzer Prize in history and the National Book Award for nonfiction. She published her most recent book, “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination (co-authored with Peter S. Onuf), this past spring.
We are excited about what lies ahead, and we hope you are as well. After the conclusion of the 2016 S-USIH conference, we will post a CFP and will share further information about plenary sessions, social events, room rates, and local dining/attractions.
In the meantime, mark your calendars now for the 2017 conference. We look forward to seeing you deep in the heart of Texas!
2017 S-USIH Conference Committee
L.D. Burnett (chair) – Collin College
Ben Alpers – University of Oklahoma
Christopher Cameron – University of North Carolina, Charlotte
Anthony Chaney – independent scholar (Dallas, TX)
Sara Georgini – Massachusetts Historical Society
Andrew Seal – Yale University
Whitney Stewart – Rice University
I just finished reading Myra Strober’s recently-published memoir, Sharing the Work: What My Family and Career Taught Me about Breaking Through (and Holding the Door Open for Others). Strober is a labor economist and a pioneer in the fields of both feminist economics and women’s/gender studies. A professor emerita at Stanford, she is the founding director of what is now the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. (The institute, founded in 1974, was originally called the Center for Research on Women, or “CROW” – not the greatest acronym, Strober allows, but perhaps preferable to the alternative proposal: “Stanford Center for Research and Education of Women, or SCREW.”)
I found Strober’s memoir (which is a pleasant read) thanks to an adapted excerpt from it that ran last week in Times Higher Education. In the excerpt, Strober notes that in the early 1970s, only 5 percent of tenure-track faculty members at Stanford were women. From her memoir, I learn that by the early 1990s – just after the canon kerfuffle – a not-so-whopping 16 percent of tenure-track faculty were women.*
[Editorial note: The following essay by Wesley R. Bishop is adapted from a paper he presented at the June 2016 Midwest Labor and Working Class History Conference at Purdue University. The conference’s theme was “Social Justice for a Global Working Class,” and the panel focused on the question of periodizing the Gilded Age.]
The Shape of an Age: The historian’s use of periodization and the question, “Are we living in a Second Gilded Age?”
by Wesley R. Bishop
In the 1873 novel, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, the novelists Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner wrote, “Beautiful credit! The foundation of modern society. Who shall say that this is not the golden age of mutual trust, of unlimited reliance upon human promises?” The sentiment, and overall story, is of course, satire. Meant to mock the nouveau riche of the late 19th century, and their ability to influence politics, the book predated much of the period’s later issues with large scale industrial and corporate capitalism. The book is noteworthy because although the book was not well received critically, the title nonetheless went on to have a second life of its own, literally giving its name to the period of time from the end of Reconstruction to the beginning of the reform efforts of the Progressive era.
Yet, despite this second-life, the book itself, since it was authored in the midst of the Reconstruction era, missed many of the important issues that would animate the late 19th century. The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today was, therefore, unable to address the U.S. labor movement, widespread strikes, and the unabashed aggression of various governments which curtailed working class movements. Instead, the story focused on a series of loosely connected narratives dealing with the issues of land speculation, lobbying Congress, and attempts of people to make it rich in post-Civil War society. As such, some historians have argued that the term “Gilded Age” is a highly problematic one, a name predating the actual period of study, and that we should therefore consider retiring it. This is further complicated by others who have accurately detailed the problem in using such a term in the first place. As Alan Lessoff, the former editor of the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era has argued, the very term “Gilded Age” presents a problematic teleos where the 19th century’s Gilded Age gives way to an ascension in the Progressive era. As a result, the Gilded Age, its actors, and the span of time it traditionally encompasses is seen only as a period of greed, corruption, and shallow material gains. Lessoff has argued such imaginings ignore the real reform and radical thought that existed in the period. Similar to the frustration over the term “Dark Ages” which many Medievalists and Early Modernist scholars have balked at, the negative labelling of these periods of time serve to establish the supposed victory of the Scientific Revolution, or the coming of the New Deal. Therefore, should we retire the term from popular use, and instead adopt a competing term, such as “Long Progressive Era”? Understanding this historical background is vital in order to answer the more pressing question in the present of “Are we living in a Second Gilded Age?” And, if we are living in a Second Gilded Age, what does that mean for our society? I believe these questions have a direct impact on both the way we think as scholars who study the late 19th century, and how we go about conceptualizing our own actions and activism in the various reform movements of social justice in the 21st. As such, the question “Are we living in a Second Gilded Age?” is not merely idle intellectual banter. It has the potential to radically alter the way we think and speak about our actions in the present.
The question itself has garnered no shortage of attention. Historians such as Richard Schneirov, James Livingston, Thomas Sugrue, Glenda Gilmore, and Alan Lessoff have all contributed widely to the debate arguing various well researched and reasoned positions. Likewise, the question has gained even more consideration outside of academic circles with Paul Krugman, Thomas Piketty, and various journalists wondering, and answering, the question “Is our period a Second Gilded Age?”
Yet, before we can hope to answer such an inquiry we need to first understand what we are doing when we answer such a question. Who is the “we” in the question of “Are we living in the Second Gilded Age?” And, more importantly, as Lessoff has shown, what do we even mean by the term “Gilded Age”? Also, what philosophical assumptions do we make when we argue that there could even possibly be a repeated period?
Last week I suggested that Stanford professor Robert Harrison’s nostalgic apologia for the Western Culture program at Stanford – or, at least, his apologia for the program’s shared reading list – echoed older assertions about the power of common readings to foster intellectual community. Indeed, this defense of the core reading list was practically an article of faith for some Stanford professors, from the time the course was adopted in 1980 to the time that it was replaced in 1988. In this post, I look more closely at this faith in the power of common books to constitute community.
[Editorial note: This essay is the third in a series of posts examining a recent student-sponsored forum on intellectual history held last week at Stanford University. You can find the previous two posts here and here.]
Area Studies and the Problems of Global Histories
by Ruben Flores
Portrayals of academic area studies centers in the U.S. that have arisen in the debate concerning Stanford University’s decision to deny tenure to historian Aishwary Kumar have perplexed me. In one, Stanford literature scholar Robert Harrison describes the centers as “nationalist” rather than concerned with communication across nations. In another, Matthew Linton argues that the centers have proven unable to craft global education models or to create “independent theoretical concepts without grounding in a single discipline.” One comes away from these pieces convinced that area studies centers are parochial in their intellectual labor and thus ill-suited to the study of a noncontext-based intellectual history, by which Harrison means an intellectual history that is attuned to flows of ideas across contexts rather than their production in any one.
Here I offer two objections to these pieces. First, they misrepresent the intellectual labor taking place within area studies centers, which is not only comparative and attuned to cross-national communication but is also intellectually innovative. Second, they rest on a distinction between area studies centers and the disciplines that is not sui generis but instead part of a structural problem created by the disciplines themselves. Whatever absence of innovation exists is not the fault of area studies, I argue, but the fault of structural inertia within history departments and other disciplinary units.
[Editorial note: this essay is the second of two posts today discussing the recent Stanford forum on intellectual history. You can read the first post here. UPDATE 6/5/16 – 5:00 PM: We have received a third post addressing this topic. You can find that post here.]
A Host of Complex Subjects
by L.D. Burnett
During last week’s Stanford forum on the essence and significance of intellectual history, a student-sponsored colloquium occasioned by and responding to the university’s decision not to grant tenure to associate history professor Aishwary Kumar, fellow panelists Russell Berman and Robert Harrison considered the causes and consequences of a decision the university made almost 30 years ago: the decision to replace the Western Culture course sequence and its core list of “great works” drawn from a (purportedly) single cultural tradition with a three-quarter course sequence in Cultures, Ideas and Values (CIV).
In the process, both of these professors drew upon arguments and ideas that had swirled about during that 1980s curricular debate about what Stanford students should learn and who should teach them. And make no mistake: the debate about the form of the curriculum was also (always already?) a debate about the composition of the faculty.
[Editorial note: this essay is the first of two thhree posts that will discuss the recent Stanford forum on intellectual history. The second post will run this afternoon and the link will be provided here. UPDATE 6/5/16 – 5:00 PM: We have received a third essay addressing this discussion — you can find that guest post here.]
Areas of Concern: Intellectual History and the Challenges of Academic Globalism
by Matthew D. Linton
On May 24, a public discussion of the oft-asked question “What is Intellectual History?” was held at Stanford University. The discussion was organized by students in response to the university’s decision not to grant associate history professor Aishwary Kumar tenure. For students and faculty supportive of Kumar’s tenure case, his work tracing planetary flows of political and moral ideas is essential to showing how concepts create global communities. The value of intellectual history is in its ability to move across space highlighting the “channels of communication” across nations and cultures. Intellectual history, for Kumar and others, is a potent tool for tracing the genealogy of how globalism was constructed and who has benefitted most from its creation.
While the centrality of ideas to the history of globalism should come as welcome news to most readers of this blog, the Stanford discussion highlights the challenges and shortcomings of another method – interdisciplinary area studies – in retaining its relevance in a university emphasizing global continuities instead of regional specificities. As Robert Harrison, a professor of Italian literature and contributor to the Stanford discussion eloquently stated, “Area studies falls short of the goal or idea of what has been called global education. We need a form of history that gets inside of those who do the thinking in a given society or culture.” Harrison’s comment raises two interconnected problems that the area studies method has struggled with since its inception in the early 20th century: 1) how to integrate diverse area studies into a single program of global education, and 2) if area studies can create independent theoretical concepts without grounding in a single discipline.
A few years after I graduated from college, when I was short on cash, short on space, and short on hope that some significant portion of my days might ever again be spent in reading and writing and thinking about something beyond my immediate material circumstances and familial duties, I made a decision that I have wished many times to take back: I sold almost all of my textbooks. Not just the overpriced and (for me, anyhow) under-studied behemoth from Intro to Econ, nor my well-used but no longer useful grammar and exercise book from French I and II – those weren’t the only texts I culled from my little library.
No. I gathered up Robert Lowell and Alice Walker, Edmund Spenser and Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lucretius and Virginia Woolf, Lorraine Hansberry and Aristotle, Montaigne and Nietzsche, Flaubert, Boethius and Baudelaire, and many others besides – most of them authors I had never so much as heard of before I set foot on the Stanford campus. Norton critical editions, and anthologies of fiction and poetry, Penguin Classics, and mass market paperbacks I had acquired for classes — when I had been compelled to choose between buying my books and, say, eating more than one meal a day for a few weeks, I chose the books. I don’t regret those purchases.
INTELLECTUAL HISTORY FROM BELOW
by Emily Rutherford
When he came to give a lecture at Columbia University last month, Chris Hilliard was introduced as “an intellectual historian from below.” “From below” is a term to conjure with in modern British history: a field whose forebears include E.P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm, Raphael Samuel, Christopher Hill, and others; a field in which class as a category of analysis is never far from the foreground. But “intellectual history from below”? Isn’t that an oxymoron? To judge from classrooms, conferences, even the pages of (ahem) a certain journal, it would seem that there is a rather specific and narrowly-defined vision of who gets to be a subject of intellectual history. But if, as Joyce Chaplin suggested in her Lovejoy Lecture earlier this month, intellectual historians might attune themselves to the nonhuman, surely they might also profit from inquiries into less elite, less educated subjects—even illiterate or barely literate ones. I am going to tell you a bit about how Hilliard has done this in his work. And then I am going to get a bit polemical. “Intellectual history from below” means two things: it refers to the subjects the intellectual historian investigates; but also to the culture of the field itself, which could be made more equitable and welcoming by a rethinking of what sort of subjects constitute intellectual history. As an editor at JHIBlog, I have had probably a hundred conversations with potential writers who say, “What I do isn’t intellectual history/history of ideas. It’s not clever enough. It’s too far from political thought or the history of philosophy.” This perception is widespread and it is holding intellectual history back. Hilliard’s work shows us how it can be changed.