In its commitment to promoting research, teaching and intellectual exchange on the historical study of American thought, the Society for U.S. Intellectual History offers a book review section that identifies new and significant historical monographs in the field of U.S. intellectual history. Book reviews facilitate informed dialogue on the current state of the field and raise interest in the political, cultural and intellectual project of writing history. Historical scholarship is the foundation of our profession and teaching its heartbeat; book reviews introduce our diverse readership to the creative and original questions and methodologies of scholars dedicated to the dissemination of historical knowledge and understanding. Thus, book reviews play an integral part in the collective intellectual project that is the writing and teaching of U.S. intellectual history.
“Democracy, in silence, biding its time, ponders its own ideals….”
–Walt Whitman, Democratic Vistas, 1871
In 1981, Ralph Ellison explained that he had offered his 1952 novel, Invisible Man, as “a raft of hope, perception, and entertainment that might help keep us afloat as we tried to negotiate the snags and whirlpools that mark our nation’s vacillating course toward and away from the democratic ideal.”[i] James T. Kloppenberg’s monumental Toward Democracy: The Struggle for Self-Rule in European and American Thought does a great deal to chart this “vacillating course.” Colossal in its scope, rigorous in its attention to detail, simultaneously synthetic and path-breaking, Toward Democracy asks readers to explore Ellison’s whirlpools and snags, rather than plot a straight course through the currents of democracy’s history.
By Holly Brewer http://history.umd.edu/users/hbrewer
(This is the second installment of the Toward Democracy Roundtable. Check here for yesterday’s introduction.)
James Kloppenberg begins his meditation on the origins and tensions of democracy with the observation that democracy has won. Everywhere throughout the world, he begins, democracy is “the world’s governing ideal.” Where then did it come from? And what did its first advocates mean by it, and how was it supposed to function? Beginning with the Athenians, and pausing quite dramatically with the Reformation, his answer is in America, before the Revolution, indeed, he is even more specific: in Rhode Island, somewhere in the 1640s. One might laugh at the specificity, or raise a skeptical eyebrow, but in truth – as one explores the modern meanings of democracy, of a broadly representative and inclusive government, that respects difference, and allows for equality within reason, and fosters virtue—all crucial elements of Kloppenberg’s definition, perhaps he is not wrong. He comes from a long line of reputable philosophers who have given democracy similar origins; my favorite is Alexis de Tocqueville, who similarly positioned democracy emerging among more generally the New England Towns, though Tocqueville was not new–he was reading earlier historians of New England. Once discovered, Kloppenberg argues, democracy slowly spread, despite troubles from pesky kings, rising triumphant with the American Revolution.
By Lilian Calles Barger https://lilianbarger.com
James T. Kloppenberg, Toward Democracy: The Struggle for Self-Rule in European and American Thought (Oxford University Press, 2016), 892 pages of text plus endnotes. Extended notes available here http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/jameskloppenberg/files/toward_democracy_extended_notes.pdf
It’s my pleasure to introduce this roundtable on James T. Kloppenberg’s masterful work Toward Democracy: The Struggle for Self-Rule in European and American Thought. I encountered the book shortly after its publication last year and had the opportunity to host a podcast conversation with the author.
Suber, Peter. Knowledge Unbound: Selected Writings on Open Access, 2002-2011. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2016. 436 pages.
The full text of the book is freely available here, as an open access (OA) publication.
Review by Scott Richard St. Louis
Cards on the table: during my undergraduate years, and more recently as an early-career professional, I have found it lamentably true that conferences tend to lack a felt coherence. Even when these gatherings convene around various themes, the splintered arrays of concurrent activity often fail to inspire the development of robust intellectual community: something that can persist long after the flights home have landed and the CVs are updated. This is a bleak assessment, given the tremendous potential that such community can entail when it becomes both durable and open to new participation, especially for younger scholars. Even so, this perception is almost definitely not mine alone. In fact, it is thrown into stark relief every time an abundance of meandering presentations are inflicted upon overtaxed audiences from reams of double-spaced Times New Roman. I am exaggerating for effect, of course, but only for the sake of appealing to an observation I take to be fairly common, albeit difficult to act upon productively. Happily, in any case, exceptions to the rule are plentiful. (Thanks in no small part to this wonderful blog, I would count the Society for U.S. Intellectual History among them!)
Feminist scholarship is in an introspective mood attempting to save the feminist past for a liberating future. Within a narrative of onward and upward that is useful for inspiring social change a new wave of historiography is less concerned with triumph and more willing to admit its failures and embrace fragmentation and small scale. Historians have begun recovering forgotten women who lived out feminist ideas in their everyday lives as in the hope of offering relevancy to a younger generation. But other theoretical and cultural forces may make this task all but impossible.
Caroline Winterer, American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason (Yale University Press, 2016)
Book Review by Lilian Calles Barger.
Here is a podcast conversation with Caroline Winterer hosted by Lilian Calles Barger.
Caroline Winterer’s latest book, American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason looks among eighteenth-century Americans for multiple answers to Immanuel Kant’s famous question: What is enlightenment? For centuries, enlightenment had a religious meaning of the soul awakening to divine light; however, by the 1700s it came to mean using reason and empirical evidence as guides and exchanging tradition and divine revelation for a humanistic and historical view of the world. The aim was nothing short of the pursuit of happiness, an idea connected to communal wellbeing and largely lost to us today. Winterer’s insightful book gives us a glimpse into how Americans, as the “first prophets of tomorrow,” thought of enlightenment—both what it meant and how to achieve it (2).