Today we are lucky to have a guest post from Matthew D. Linton, who is a doctoral candidate in history at Brandeis University and research assistant at the Harvard Business School. His dissertation, Understanding the Mighty Empire: China Studies and the Construction of Liberal Consensus, 1928-1980, examines the development of academic China scholarship and the field’s relationship to domestic liberal politics. The following text in italics is Matt’s introduction to his series on country music and intellectual history. After that (once more in Roman type) follows the first installment of that series. – Andy Seal
This is the first of a five-part examination of how country music can inform current historical discussions over class, race, gender, and global history. I will try to release the parts weekly, though it is contingent on dissertation progress.
Background: I have enjoyed country music for the last four or five years. Growing up in New England, a place with only a tenuous connection to the country tradition, I was not exposed to country much as a child and had little interest in it. I was lured to the genre by the usual suspects, Bob Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” and Johnny Cash’s late career work with the producer Rick Rubin, but grew to love the storytelling, humor, and honesty of artists across the genre from pioneers like Jimmie Rodgers, Ernest Tubb, and Kitty Wells to Merle Haggard and Buck Owens’ Bakersfield Sound and beyond.
I was always troubled by the politics of classic country music, however. (more…)
The bringing down of a nineteenth century moment dedicated to white supremacy and terrorism in New Orleans last week has reminded all of us of the ways in which Civil War and Reconstruction still loom large in American memory. Arguing over old neo-Confederate monuments, or state support for flying the Confederate flag, has a new lease on life in both an “Age of Trump” and an “Age of Black Lives Matter.” That the nation is at a crossroads of race and memory right now—just as the United States wrestles with both the legacy of Barack Obama and the presidency of Donald Trump—is not a surprise. But events since the Charleston massacre of 2015 prove that the debate over memory in American society is never-ending.
This semester I’m writing a paper on transnational conceptions of witchcraft. As many of you know, this is far afield from what I “do.” But I’ve gotten more and more interested in academic studies of witchcraft (and the absence of books on 20th century witchcraft and magic in the United States, as if everything stopped post Salem.). The majority of studies on the topic focus on the Middle Ages and Early Modern Europe. These are perfect for my project on transnationalism, but not so great for my study of the United States. The vast majority of books written on the topic in the United States focus on Salem, or are clearly living in it’s shadow.
There is one recent synthesis on witchcraft and magic post Salem,America Bewitched: The Story of Witchcraft after Salem by Owen Davis and the new Oxford Illustrated Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Magic does a lot of great work. These books have paved the way for more “serious” scholarly studies of witchcraft and folk magic. But there is still much room for expansion in this literature.
My own interest in the subject stems from from an event that happened in my rural home county in the 1920s. In 1929 a York County, Pennsylvania man Nelson Rehmeyer was murdered by three men because they believed he had cursed them, using Pow-Wow, a form of Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Magic. The men originally aimed to destroy his copy of Pow Wows, or Long Lost Friend, as instructed by the Witch of Marietta (a powerful witch in the area). Rehmeyer was in fact a practicer of Pow-Wow. He was also an active socialist and autodidact. To complicate the story, Rehmeyer’s murderers all practiced Pow-Wow as well.
The case became national news, headlines commenting on the backwardness of Pow Wow and the amazement that people were still practicing and believing in witchcraft in the mid 20th century. Jokes and criticism about rural people abounded. But this murder, in many ways, precluded serious study of Nelson Rehmeyer as an activist, intellectual, and practitioner of folklore. Much of his use of Pow-Wow was devoted to healing people. He read voraciously and became involved in socialist politics in a very conservative area. (more…)
The following is a gust post by Jeremy C. Young, assistant professor of history at Dixie State University and the author of The Age of Charisma: Leaders, Followers, and Emotions in American Society, 1870-1940 (Cambridge University Press, 2017).
In early 2005, the fundamentalist minister Douglas Wilson announced that he was publishing a revised version of his notoriously pro-slavery book, Southern Slavery as It Was – now under a new name, Black and Tan. The original book (co-authored with League of the South founder Steve Wilkins) was famous both for being partially plagiarized from Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman’s Time on the Cross and for repackaging the most outrageous lies about slavery – that it was easy for slaves, that many slaves enjoyed it, that masters were kind and generous – in an easily-readable narrative intended for high school students. Wilson’s decision to reissue the work surprised no one; after all, Wilson is a shock jock who has defended marital rape and described marriage equality as far worse than slavery. What shocked the historical community was the endorsement on the back cover of the book. (more…)
The Seventies (long, short, and in between) has emerged in recent years as an object of intensive scholarly investigation. Many historians of the twentieth century now see that decade as a watershed. It is the focus of books such as Jefferson Cowie’s Stayin’ Alive and Judith Stein’s Pivotal Decade. It is the start of Dan Rodgers’s Age of Fracture. It’s the fulcrum of Robert Self’s All in the Family. It is the star of Rick Perlstein’s tomes Nixonland and Invisible Bridge. I’m one of two members of my department currently writing a book on the decade. But what’s the place of the Seventies in U.S. intellectual history? What works from the Seventies have made it into the USIH canon? What works should?
Two things have me thinking about these questions this week. First, I finished the second volume of David Hollinger and Charles Capper’s American Intellectual Tradition — which is, among other things, an exercise in canonization — in my lower-division Honors intellectual history course. For the first time, I used the 7th edition of this volume, which was published last year. And the Seventies as a distinctive moment in American thought are largely absent from the volume. The book contains fifteen texts written in the 1960s, but only two written in the 1970s. And these two – a selection from Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978) and Nancy Chodorow’s “Gender, relation, and Difference in Psychoanalytic Perspective” (1979) are from the end of the decade. And both point toward the five following works from the 1980s, which are focused, broadly speaking, on questions of identity and postmodernism. The last of the Sixties readings, Noam Chomsky’s “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” was published in 1967. So the book skips eleven years, the longest gap in time between any two readings in the volume.
Every two years, the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture holds a remarkable conference. If there was an equivalent of “must-see tv” in the world of religious studies, this is it. The conference does well because it consistently hits the trifecta for these kinds of events: it invites dynamite speakers, it organizes discussions around fascinating topics, and it uses a format that encourages intelligent, sustained exchanges. Of particular note to the S-UISH gang, this year’s speakers include Matt Hedstrom, Melani McAlister, Paul Harvey, Tisa Wenger, Marie Griffith, and Katie Lofton (the 2014 S-USIH conference keynote). If you are in striking distance of Indianapolis, get thee to the Biennial! (more…)