What were the most influential books over the years 1910 to 1940? Hold on, you’ll have a chance to answer in a bit.
In late 1938, The New Republic began running a feature, edited by Malcolm Cowley, in their books section on “Books that Changed Our Minds.” Cowley was inspired by a prior TNR symposium on US fiction that had been published the year before as After the Genteel Tradition: American Writers Since 1910. The scope of this new series was much the same—“works of the last thirty or forty years”—only restricted to nonfiction. The criterion for selection was “works… that have contributed something new to American thinking,” a formulation that today seems rather guilelessly question-begging: shouldn’t a better understanding of what “American thinking” is be the product rather than the premise of such a symposium? (more…)
The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe
by Michael D. Gordin
304 pages. University of Chicago Press, 2012
To enter the thought world of Immanuel Velikovsky, the Velikovskians, and Velikovskianism is to be absorbed into a fantastical language of largess. One hears unfamiliar terms such as cosmic catastrophism, geocentric catastrophism, flood geology, astral catastrophists, secularly-oriented catastrophists, and alternative cosmologies. Michael D. Gordin’s intellectual history provides a sense of the characters, context, and complexity that surrounded Immanuel Velikovsky, his fans, and his followers. It is a fascinating and sobering story that will be of interest to all concerned about science, democracy, and the public good. (more…)first entry in this series dealt with definitions, terms, and theory. The second explored the case of Mary Lou Wolff. This installment about Dorothy Day is split into two posts.
Catholic activist Dorothy Day (1897-1980) is best known for founding, with Peter Maurin, the Catholic Worker Movement. The Movement began in the early 1930s, growing out of Day’s long interest in labor and the laboring classes.
While the Catholic Worker Movement is less well-known today than it was at midcentury, it and Day’s name retained significance for Catholics well into the 1980s. I know of no pointed study of her impact or popularity, among Catholics and otherwise. But my sense is that her work and name became less important, or was transformed into something less jarring, as the “new orthodoxy” arose with conservative Catholics in the 1990s. That is not to say that First Things-style Catholics neglected or ignored her; her name has appeared in almost 70 FT pieces since 2000. Still, it is fairly intuitive that Day’s long and deep interest in labor would resonate more positively in an age when that topic was more central—when labor unionization was more prominent and labor was thought of as an important class of American society.
Day’s long connection with labor and her interest in class differences drew me to her writings. I was surprised, however, to also find in her works an interest in great books. (more…)
This week saw the publication by Tikkun magazine of a forum on Eli Zaretsky’s Why America Needs A Left, in both print and online iterations. I am flattered to have been included in the latter. No doubt the conversation about Zaretsky’s provocative work will be of interest to many readers of this website. (more…)
The following is a guest post from Mike O’Connor (the third of a series–see the first post here and the second here). Mike is one of the original USIH bloggers and a founder of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History. He is the author of A Commercial Republic: America’s Enduring Debate over Democratic Capitalism, which will be published in May by the University Press of Kansas. The book’s Facebook page can be found here, and information from the publisher is available here.
Like many in the early nineteenth century who called themselves “Jacksonians,” Amos Kendall could boast of a rise to political prominence that would not have been possible in a previous generation. The editor of the Kentucky-based pro-Jackson vehicle Argus of Western America had served in various posts under President Jackson and his protégé and successor Martin Van Buren, exerting significant influence as a member of the “kitchen cabinet.” In 1840, however, Van Buren was ejected from office upon a humiliating rebuke from the voters; as a consequence of the “spoils system” that had been initiated by Jackson himself, Kendall also lost his post. (more…)
Yesterday, I participated in the “Is Blogging Scholarship?” roundtable at the Annual Conference of the Organization of American Historians (OAH). It was a lively and productive conversation. Despite my concerns about holding a roundtable in the late Sunday morning session of a conference, attendance was wonderful. I’m terrible at estimating crowd sizes, but my guess is that we had about forty people in the audience. I’m very grateful to OAH Organizing Committee Co-Chair Rosemarie Zagarri for putting together the panel and for asking me to take part, as well as to my fellow panelists – Ann Little of Colorado State and Historiann, John Fea of Messiah College and The Way of Improvement Leads Home, Mike O’Malley of George Mason and The Aporetic, and Kenneth Owen of the University of Illinois at Springfield and The Junto – and the many audience members who took part in the conversation (including Mike O’Connor, former USIH Blogger and co-founder of S-USIH and Cara Burnidge, one of the co-chairs of the 2014 S-USIH Conference). Thanks, too, to Jeff Pasley for chairing the panel.
The OAH videotaped the session, so the whole thing should soon be available for your viewing pleasure (I’ll add a link when it is). In the meantime, however, there are a number of ways in which you can read what went on. Michael Hattern of Yale has Storifyed the session (h/t John Fea). Ann Little blogged her comments prior to the session. Alone among the panelists, she answered the question “no,” largely because blog posts are not subject to peer review and because historians, especially grad students on the market and junior faculty, can expect to get little professional credit for them. (I should stress that, though Ann said “no” and the rest of us said various versions of “yes,” the entire panel was substantially in agreement about the relationship between blogging and scholarship, though we approached the issue in usefully different ways.) After the session, Mike O’Malley blogged what I thought was the most fascinating and trenchant aspect of his comments: the ways in which the very narrow set of accepted scholarly genres in history – the conference paper, the article, and the book – not only artificially (and unfortunately) limits the scope of historical scholarship, but also sets us against ourselves as scholars.
Below the fold, I briefly outline what I said yesterday and add a little more about an idea that I had about peer review and blogging. (more…)