I’m no historian of the Christian Reformation and just barely squeeze in as an early modernist (for the most part my research covers the second half of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century), but have developed over the years an avid interest in the history of Protestantism. I’m even thinking about antebellum religious history as my next research project—after I will hopefully publish a book on the cultural history of white men in early America. So, in that dubious capacity of someone who considers himself knowledgeable—though far from a specialist—about the Reformation and its legacy, I would like to defend what had originally gotten me interested in the Reformation: the Weber thesis.
In two recent conferences I attended there seemed to be some hostility towards Max Weber’s famous thesis about the affinity between Protestantism and capitalism by scholars of early Protestantism. I first noticed this at the recent S-USIH conference in the panel “Whither Puritanism? Reflections on the State of the Field.” In that panel the eminent scholar of early American Christianity, David Hall, seemed to challenge the notion that the Weber thesis retained much of its interpretive force. I perceived this “tightness” once more at the last AHA conference in Denver in a panel titled “Whither Reformation History: A Roundtable Discussion on the 500th Anniversary.” There, to my astonishment, none of the panelists even alluded to the heritage of predestination, let alone Weber. Once I forced the issue in the Q-and-A portion there was an odd reaction from the panelists, as well as the crowd, that seemed to regard Weber and predestination more broadly as a heavy-handed and outdated way to approach the history of the period.
[Note to readers: “Memories of the Student Movement and the New Left in the United States, 1960-1969” is a five-part participant-observer account of the period written in 1996 by Jim O’Brien, New Left activist, historian, and editor at New England Free Press. Part I of this essay can be found here.]
IN THE SHADOW OF VIETNAM, 1963-67
At the start of my senior year at Carleton I told a faculty member that I was quite radical. He said it probably wouldn’t last: “That’ll probably straighten out after you get some facts under your belt.” There was truth in what he said. For all the political controversies of my senior year — and for all my eagerness to jump into them — I was more and more impressed with how complex the world was. The high point of my radicalism in college was actually the summer between my junior and senior years, 1962, when I had a lot of time to read. The National Student Association congress at the end of that summer showed me what seemed to be a dynamic liberalism embracing the causes that I cared about most. Reform seemed much more practical than revolution. I pulled back from any kind of full-blown radical view of the world. Taking one issue at a time seemed easier to defend, because I would usually have liberal as well as radical arguments at my disposal.
Graduate school in history at the University of Wisconsin in Madison reinforced that caution: complex, in-depth historical research seemed to underline how complicated everything is. And I didn’t find a home with the community of political activists in Madison. In my first year, I went to one or two meetings each of several different groups (Student Civil Rights Council, Friends of SNCC, Socialist Club, Campus ADA). In the early fall of 1963, I went to my first demonstration against the Vietnam war. But I didn’t feel at ease in an atmosphere where everyone else seemed to know each other. I quickly let myself be defined entirely as a history grad student. My fondest political memories of that time are actually of a bizarre character named Captain Bollenbeck, a World War I veteran and former statewide commander of the American Legion. He used to show up at political lectures on campus and wait for the chance to ask embarrassing questions about communism. If the speaker was actually an anti-communist, the distinction was lost on the Captain. Still, he made the programs more interesting.
A few weeks ago I read Catherine Clinton’s presidential address, “The Southern Social Network,” in the February 2017 Journal of Southern History. I had heard about it immediately after the Southern: people on twitter were talking about it and my advisor filled me in on the details. Clinton started her address as if it was a meandering walk through the history of the Southern Historical Association, the unprecedented and heralded feelings of camaraderie and friendship that go along with it. She discussed landmark moments in the history of the organization (a panel that included William Faulker, a divisive panel that included Eugene Genovese, and the creation of SAWH). Clinton then discussed her history of rape and sexual harassment, particularly in the context of what she experienced at the southern. The other side of this social network. The address, and Clinton’s experience, was something almost every women in the room could understand. However, the openness Clinton displayed, in a formal academic setting, is almost unheard of.
But I got to thinking: Clinton’s list of encounters with sexual assault at the SHA are now part of the intellectual lineage of the Southern and for future presidents her address will be what Faulker and Genovese were to her: the stuff of lore, the stuff that makes the Southern meaningful.
In this vein, I went digging through back Southern Addresses: I read some of the early addresses, when the SHA (and the field of history) were essentially white supremacist organizations. I read John Hope Franklin’s and Anne Firor Scott’s, and understood a little bit more about how the Southern Historical Association survived and eventually thrived in the context of the Civil Rights Movement and the inclusion of women into the discipline. Scott’s address was particularly powerful as she addressed the erasure of African American women by white female historians. And the history of “important” male scholars and writers seemed small in comparison to the accomplishments and women and people of color who have asserted themselves in a field that was, in many ways, designed to keep them out.
The addresses of John Hope Franklin and Anne Firor Scott did not end issues of representation and oppression n for people of color and women in the Southern history and Catherine Clinton’s address will not end sexual assault in the field either. But by addressing such an insidious and unspoken problem in academia in her address, Clinton made speaking out against sexual assault part of the intellectual and institutional legacy of the Southern Historical Association.
Note to readers: we are pleased to publish this guest post by Susan M. Reverby, Marion Butler McLean Professor Emerita in the History of Ideas and Professor Emerita of Women’s and Gender Studies at Wellesley College.
America’s Working Women: A New York Story circa 1973
by Susan M. Reverby
Publishing a history book these days by a commercial, not university, press usually involves a fulsome proposal and an agent. Not so in 1973 as publishing houses began to realize that women’s history was the new and upcoming field.
I was working in New York City then as a radical health activist/writer, having barely finished my MA in American Civilization (as it was then called at NYU) over a protracted four-year slog. I had been trained as an undergraduate in labor history when almost nothing on women was available. But I had started to work in this area and realized my friends teaching workers had only xeroxes to use. So I thought a collection of documents would be great to have. I mentioned this my friend, the late Ros Baxandall who was then doing primarily daycare work and starting to teach at SUNY: Old Westbury. We put a group of documents together and thought about what to do next. In my fantasy was John R. Commons’s multi-volume Documentary History of American Industrial Society that had been started in 1910, but did almost nothing on women.
Enter my friend, tax preparer/novelist Susan Lee who lived on the sixth floor (and I on the fifth) of a walk up in what was then known as the South Village (now Soho). She knew this editor at Random House named Toni Morrison because Toni collected the paintings of one of Susan’s friends and we had all met at his showing at the Whitney. “Send the idea for the book to Toni,” Susan Lee advised. “Remember we met her at the Whitney.”
In previous posts I have looked at the publishing history of a couple of feminist texts: the 1970 anthology of women’s liberation writings, Sisterhood is Powerful, and Naomi Weisstein’s oft-revised-and-expanded “Kinder, Kuche, Kirche: Psychology Constructs the Female,” which debuted as a paper delivered at the American Studies Association conference in 1968. Today I’m going to look at the history of another feminist text that began as a conference presentation and was subsequently published, revised and reprinted under various titles: “A Review of Sexism in American Historical Writing,” by Linda Gordon, Persis Hunt, Elizabeth Pleck, Marcia Scott, and Rochelle Zeigler.
This co-authored paper debuted at the 1970 meeting of the American Historical Association; it was listed in the 1970 program under the title, “Sexism in American Historiography” (more on that title below), one of three papers presented on a panel entitled “Politics and the American Historian: How Liberal Scholarship Serves Capitalism.”
The panel, chaired by Linda Gordon, was slotted in the last session of the last day of the conference – 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, December 30. Here’s the panel description:
Tonight I began a six-week session leading a Newberry Library seminar on Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. I’m pleased to report that the course is full. Twenty-two people voluntarily signed up to explore a 54-year-old work of intellectual history. And even the waitlist is eleven-deep. Yes, I’m bragging a bit. It’s because I’ve never had so much enthusiasm for one of my seminar offerings. It’s exciting.
But the excitement comes at a time when my relationship with the book has never been more complicated. (more…)