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