[ Editor’s note: The following guest post comes to us from David Moltke Hansen, Independent Scholar and Founding Co-Editor of the Cambridge University Press series Cambridge Studies on the American South. This is the first in a series of guest posts, curated by Sarah Gardner, collectively entitled “Michael O’Brien, Intellectual History, and the History of the American South,” which will be appearing today and on the following three Fridays. You can read more about the series here. — Ben Alpers]
The label southern intellectual historian only really fit Michael O’Brien for the first dozen years of his career. That claim needs explanation and then analysis. Most people rather understood the label as reasonably descriptive from the time O’Brien began publishing—this in a field that the profession doubted existed until a quarter of a century later. Then Conjectures of Order appeared, O’Brien’s two-volume study of intellectual life in the American South between 1810 and 1860. This magnum opus resoundingly proved the subject’s richness. Yet it also slyly challenged many of the claims of the South’s intellectual life to regional distinctiveness and separateness.
How became clearer after the multiple awards and accolades that the book won. O’Brien bemused many colleagues then by announcing his intention to leave southern history for other climes and a different range of engagements. He did so when receiving the Frank L. and Harriet C. Owsley Award at the November 2005 Southern Historical Association Meeting in Atlanta and again at the February 2006 Southern Intellectual History Circle Meeting at the Radcliffe Institute in Cambridge. Not only did he step down as founding organizer of the latter group, he also relinquished his chairmanship of the Southern Texts Society, which had published original source material for nearly fifteen years, first with the University Press of Virginia and then with the University of Georgia Press. The news surprised, even stunned many southernists. (more…)
Michael O’Brien, Intellectual History, and the History of the American South (Introduction by Sarah Gardner)
[Editor’s note: It’s my great pleasure to announce that, over the next four weeks, the US Intellectual History Blog will be hosting a series of guest posts on the legacy of Michael O’Brien (1948-2015). The series has been curated by Sarah Gardner, Professor of History and Director of Southern Studies at Mercer University. The first post, from David Moltke-Hansen, will appear later today. Next Friday, March 17, we’ll hear from Steven Stowe. On March 24, Mary Frederickson’s post will appear. And the series will conclude on March 31 with a piece by Mitchell Snay. The following introduction comes from Sarah Gardner. I’ll add links below the fold to the four posts in the series as they appear. — Ben Alpers]
Michael O’Brien’s sudden death nearly two years ago has prompted a wide array of scholars to reflect on his considerable contributions to the fields of southern intellectual history in particular and in intellectual history more broadly. For members of this group, Michael might be best remembered for his magisterial Conjectures of Order: Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810-1860, which won the Bancroft Award in 2005. In 2016, S-USIH sponsored a panel at the OAH that brought together some of Michael’s longstanding colleagues and collaborators. That same year, a panel at the Southern Intellectual History Circle, an organization Michael founded more than 25 years ago, assembled a different set of scholars whose trajectories intersected with Michael’s at different stages. For some, the connections had been established decades earlier; for others, the relationships were of a more recent vintage. But all involved in these, and similar projects, were informed by and benefited from Michael’s body of work.
Over the next four weeks, S-USIH’s blog will run pieces by contributors to these various fora. Some are achingly personal. Others are more detached, even if equally reflective. Taken together, they convey the profound sense of loss that many of us in the academy still feel. (more…)
[Editor’s Note: The following essay is from Wes Bishop, a doctoral student in United States History at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. His concentration is U.S. intellectual history, labor history, social reform movements, and political economy. The following is a portion of a conference paper recently delivered at the 37th Annual Meeting of the Indiana Association of Historians. For the conference’s theme, participants were asked to think about the legacy of Martin Luther and widespread literacy on the concept of mass human liberation.]
Print and Space, A Public Does Not Make:
Thoughts on the role of literacy in the public sphere
Although historians, philosophers, and political scientists understand that the public sphere is a complex aspect of modern democratic societies, without fail the default setting of thinkers and lay people alike is to treat the public sphere as largely the rise of print culture, and to a lesser extent the creation of physical space. In this way, the public sphere is only really a thing that reflects how people speak to one another. The rise of print and the creation of spaces, like boulevards, cafés, and working class beer halls undoubtedly had important impacts on society. Yet is this what we mean when we invoke the public sphere? Furthermore, what issues arise when we permit a popular understanding of the public sphere which views it as largely a change in space, availability of print, and ability to access that print via literacy? (more…)last entry brought us up to chapter 5. Today’s brings us nearly back on schedule. I say nearly because chapters 6-10 are fully covered, but I couldn’t reach 11. – TL]
In the interest of expediency—due to the fact that I’m covering five chapters (252 pages)—this installment will follow a mechanical format. I’ll be concentrating on facts and highlights instead of constructing a review narrative with lots of reflection. I hope to resume that format next week. (more…)
[Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Jesse Lemisch, New Left Historian and author of, among other things, “Jack Tar in the Streets: Merchant Seamen in the Politics of Revolutionary America,” “The American Revolution Seen from the Bottom Up,” and “On Active Service in War Peace: Politics and Ideology in the American Historical Profession.” From 1965 until her death in 2015, he was married to Naomi Weisstein; “people,” he notes, “correctly thought of us as a sect of two.” He is also a longtime friend of S-USIH and of this blog. He has, in the past, written a number of guest posts for the blog, including one on John Higham, Richard Hofstadter, and C. Vann Woodward. This post is written in response to a recent post by LD Burnett on the “career” of Naomi Weisstein’s essay “Kinder, Kuche, Kirche as Scientific Law” (1968). — Ben Alpers]
LD Burnett’s “Back to the Well” is an excellent piece, and I fully agree with Burnett that the concrete actualities of the spread of ideas should be an important part of intellectual history. Burnett does a fine job of tracing the various early versions of the essay, anchoring the perhaps too frequent abstractions of the field in actual reality. (For more information about further versions of Naomi’s essay, her papers are available at Harvard’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women.)
Burnett leads us well though the thicket of the various lives, births and rebirths of “Kinder, Kuche, Kirche as Scientific Law: Psychology Constructs the Female” [hereafter, KKK]. Reading Burnett and re-reading Naomi’s essay so many years after having lived through it with Naomi, I’m impressed by the similarity between 1) the spread of her work on psychology and women in the 1960s-70s and since; and 2) the rapid movement of ideas on the internet since the 1990s. We may have reached the point where US demographics have shifted to the point where many people have simply not experienced life as it was before the internet. There were internet-like phenomena before there was an internet. What follows is a beginning attempt to sketch in some of the contexts in which Naomi’s essay took place. (more…)
I’m teaching a graduate seminar in the fall on the history of capitalism with a (semi-) focus on the US, titled towards the 20th century. Yesterday I put in book orders. Tough choices had to be made and I’m sure I’m missing important books. But in any case, here is the list. I think it’s a good one. I am open to further suggestions since I will build a bibliography for students in the syllabus. I posted this list at Facebook and have already received MANY great suggestions–and some outrage: Nothing on Nature? Economics? Veblen? VEBLEN!!!!
Robert Tucker, The Marx-Engels Reader (more…)