In lieu of an extended post, I’d like to call your attention to a few essays and articles touching upon themes and topics that may be of interest to our readers, from Ferguson, Missouri to the mechanisms if not the mindset(s) of the ruling class to the vintage pages of The New Republic. Continue reading
Recently I came across a brief but very rich historiographic essay by Vincent Harding, “Power From Our People: The Sources of the Modern Revival of Black History,” published in The Black Scholar (Jan/Feb. 1987). Harding’s essay was originally delivered as a lecture during a summer seminar for college instructors hosted by the African-American World Studies Program of the University of Iowa. I’ll be discussing the essay today in connection with my own research, and my colleague Robert Greene will have more to say tomorrow about how the essay connects to his research interests.
I found Harding’s essay in a search for scholarship that could speak to the significance of Ebony magazine in Black intellectual life. Specifically, I was looking for work that could shed some light on the role Ebony played in providing a forum for Afrocentric classicism or Afrocentric histories of Western civilization.
André Schiffrin memorial, Great Hall, Cooper Union, October 29, 2014
by Jesse Lemsich
An extraordinary event, which will be put up on the New Press website, where it will be worth watching. Random memories of this event:
I sat with Todd Gitlin, and I guess we had mutually decided to put aside our differences and resume being old friends. Todd laughed heartily when Bud Trillin described the Yale 1950s’ ideal of being “shoe” – that is, cool, with André the very reverse of that. I concluded from Todd’s reaction that the same term had been current at Harvard. He remembered “Jack Tar” and said that at one point he had thought of writing about the role of Isaac Sears in the NY Stamp Act riots. We got along fine, which I guess is one of the things that happen at memorial services. Continue reading
Note to readers: Kevin Schultz presented the essay below as part of the S-USIH 2014 Plenary Roundtable in Honor of the Annual Book Award Recipient and Honorable Mentions. The book prize committee selected Ajay K. Mehrotra’s Making the Modern American Fiscal State: Law, Politics, and the Rise of Progressive Taxation, 1877-1929 as this year’s winner and singled out for honorable mention Raúl Coronado’s A World Not to Come: A History of Latino Writing and Print Culture. In the essay below, Schultz discusses the field of entrants from which these two books were chosen.
State of the Field
by Kevin Schultz
In 2012, David Hollinger penned an article for Modern Intellectual History entitled “What is our ‘Canon’? How American Intellectual Historians Debate the Core of their Field.” In the article, he described the process of soliciting opinions from faculty around the country on how the canon of American intellectual history has changed over the past thirty years, how he and his co-editor Charlie Capper debated requests for new entries. The article is a fun read, in part because it’s clear how much Hollinger and Capper have already thought about nearly everything you can think of that they should add, but also because they draw some summaries about our field, the most revealing of which, to me anyway, is that over the past thirty or so years, American intellectual historians have increasingly focused on political ideas and social theory at the expense of philosophy and literary culture. Hollinger cautions us against what he sees as an increasing focus on ideas-in-action because it risks, and I quote, “cutting off inquiries that are of great value to the profession and to the public that we ultimately serve, especially at a time when the studies carried out under the sign of ‘cultural history’ usually attend to only the most general of philosophical ideas and the most popular of literary works.”
I had this article in mind as I embarked on the process of reading this year’s entries for the Society’s Award for Best Book in American Intellectual History. I wanted to see if that thesis bore out. Continue reading
A few weeks ago I posted a bibliography of secondary sources for the background chapter I was all but done writing. I don’t usually compose a separate bibliography along with my chapter drafts; the pertinent bibliographic information is in the footnotes. But because I had asked our readership here for book recommendations and had received many helpful and generous responses to that post, I typed this list up so that I could pay forward the favor for someone else who might be working on a similar period or subject.
However, in rearranging my footnoted sources into an alphabetized list, I saw something that I might otherwise have missed: almost all of the secondary works I drew from for this chapter were written by men. Indeed, out of those twenty-three secondary sources, only three were written by women: Leslie Butler’s Critical Americans, Rebecca Lowen’s Creating the Cold War University, and Julie Reuben’s Making of the Modern University.*
That numerical disparity surprised me. Continue reading
In this post I want to pull a thread that has been running through several of our discussions on the blog this week, from Kurt’s tour de force demonstration of the uses of theory, to Andrew’s parsing of politics in Kloppenberg’s explanatory schemes, to Tim’s argument on behalf of the much-maligned footnote.
What I want to talk about – or, to be more precise, what I hope you all will talk about, and help me come to terms with – is the promising yet problematic role of hypothesis in historical argument.
As a point of departure, I will take Julie Reuben’s discussion of the shift in scientific epistemology from the strict empiricism of the early nineteenth century (honored more in the breach than the observance?) to the anti-foundationalism and anti-essentialism of the early twentieth century. The transitional thinker in this epistemic shift, standing somewhere between Francis Bacon and William James, is John Stuart Mill. Continue reading
In his guest essay on this blog last Thursday, Fred Beuttler suggested that there is “another cultural battle in which most of us are still in the middle of,” a battle of “not so much Culture Wars, but rather C. P. Snow’s two cultures, the relation of the humanities to the sciences, in the education of free citizens in a democracy.” He argued that the current and prevalent rationale for requiring students to take humanities courses – “critical thinking skills” – is an inadequate defense of the humanities and “puts us humanists at a distinct disadvantage in the curricular and departmental ‘wars’ taking place in our universities.” He goes on to suggest that it might be time, or past time, for the humanities disciplines to define themselves as conveying some common and necessary content, and to contend for the value of that content and for its important place in the curriculum.
I think Prof. Beuttler is right – “critical thinking skills” is poor ground on which to make a stand. I am trying to figure out a better stand to take. I suppose that’s the presentist concern undergirding my dissertation: the fight in higher education has gone from “what literature, what history, should we require students to study” to “why require the study of literature or history at all?” Of course, as Prof. Beuttler suggests, that latter question – why require these subjects at all? – is not a new one, though it does need a new answer.
In my research for the chapter I am writing now, I have come across various old answers to that question. And no answer was more jarring to me than the rationale provided by a group of Stanford engineering professors in 1925. Continue reading
In the chapter I’m working on now, I’m situating the history of Stanford’s undergraduate curriculum from the 1890s to the 1980s alongside (or within) the history of American liberalism. Alas, no one has (yet) published The Big Book of American Liberalism, so there is no conveniently periodized master-narrative upon which I can draw to trace out the career(s) of liberal thought in American life throughout the 20th century. Rather, I need to put together a relay team of historians to help me carry the baton of my argument.
For my take on the history of liberalism, here’s the team I have assembled so far: Continue reading
In the 1970s, Jerry Falwell and other conservative evangelicals built their brand on cross-town busing.
I’m not talking about federally-mandated school busing to achieve desegregation – not yet, anyhow. For now, I’m just talking about the “bus ministry,” one of several evangelistic/outreach programs Falwell deployed in the late 1960s and early 1970s to turn Thomas Road Baptist Church into one of the fastest-growing congregations in the United States.
What is a bus ministry? Basically, it’s a program through which a church provides free bus transportation to its Sunday services for members and/or visitors. Falwell did not invent the idea of bringing in the sheaves via bus, and his was not the only church using bus routes to boost Sunday attendance and garner new converts. But his very visible success surely helped make bus ministries one of the go-to tools championed by leaders of the church growth movement among evangelicals in the 1970s. Continue reading
[The following is a guest post by Sara Mayeux, a Sharswood Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a PhD candidate in history at Stanford. Her research focuses on the history of American criminal law and institutions. She can be found on Twitter at @saramayeux.]
We Are All Law and Economics Now
The “law and economics” branch of legal scholarship has generated some very complicated debates. At root, though, law and economics stems from a simple seed: the idea that concepts from economics can be usefully applied to legal questions, whether to explain why the law is the way it is or to develop normative arguments for how the law should be. Today it can be hard to understand why applying economics to law could be controversial, both because of the cultural prominence of economics generally and because it has become so commonplace to talk about law in economic terms: to question how regulations affect the efficiency of a particular market, for instance, or to accuse some statutory regime of enacting perverse incentives, or to suggest that some policy has been pushed past the point of diminishing returns. Though law and economics is often taxonomized as conservative, variants of law and economics can be found across the political spectrum: consider, e.g., Cass Sunstein’s use of behavioral economics to advocate for policies that give citizens a paternalistic “nudge.”
And yet, this particular economic mode of thinking and talking about the law only dates to about 1960, and only became widely influential in the 1970s and ’80s. That is not, of course, to suggest that no one had ever thought about law in terms of efficiency or incentives before 1960. But as Daniel Rodgers puts it in Age of Fracture, traditionally, “lawyers had not always known much about economics”; they more readily invoked “narratives of justice, property, rights, and blame”—that is, the language of morality, ethics, philosophy (56). Few legal scholars considered economics relevant to their work outside of a few niche specialties like antitrust law. Today, in contrast, it is not uncommon to encounter demand curves and mathematical models in law review articles. Every JD program includes some exposure to the major insights of law and economics scholarship, and not just in specialized seminars, but in the core required classes. Elite law schools are replete with economics-oriented faculty, programs, and centers. Lawyers and judges are comfortable sprinkling talk of markets (if only superficially, and whatever an actual economist might make of this talk) alongside, around, and on top of the older legal language of justice and rights. Continue reading