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.
[Introduction: This is review number three, from Peter Kuryla, in our round table on Andrew Hartman’s A War for the Soul of America. Kuryla is Associate Professor of History at Belmont University (Nashville, TN), as well as a Texan and a Cubs fan. He earned his PhD from Vanderbilt University, and is working on a book derived from his dissertation, the working title of which is “The Imagined Civil Rights Movement.” The first review in our roundtable came from Bob Hutton, the second from Vaneesa Cook, and two more will follow from Michelle Nickerson and Amy Kittelstrom. Hartman’s reply will be Saturday. Enjoy! – TL]
The Metaphors We Live By
A War for the Soul of America is a history of political culture. The book is a synthesis of lots of different ideas in different contexts, and it covers a whole lot of ground. The pace is rapid; its narrative moves quickly from one thing to the next. It’s really good to have around, because, as the author has mentioned in a few places, the book is the first formal history of its kind. It brings together countless different things under the banner of the culture wars “metaphor”: religion, race, gender, popular culture, mainstream politics, the interaction of the academy with those things, and so on. The remarkable size and variation of the cultural landscape Hartman manages to cover makes it quite an accomplishment. The book should be essential reading for those who would map out more specific features of this moment in the history of American political culture in years to come. (more…)
[Introduction: This is review number two, from Vaneesa Cook, in our round table on Andrew Hartman’s A War for the Soul of America. Cook is the Bader Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of History at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and her dissertation is titled “Thy Kingdom Community: Spiritual Socialists and Local to Global Activism, 1920-1970.” Yesterday’s installment came from Bob Hutton, tomorrow’s will be from Peter Kuryla, and two more will follow from Michelle Nickerson and Amy Kittelstrom. Hartman’s reply will be Saturday. Enjoy! – TL]
In A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars, Andrew Hartman gives the slippery topic of culture its due as a serious site of political battle. Hartman’s opening thesis that the liberation ethos and identity politics of the 1960s acted as a catalyst for the culture wars in the late twentieth century is convincing, especially given the evidence he marshals of 1980s nostalgia for the 1950s (p. 172) or quotations from 1980s conservatives like Allan Bloom who directly disparaged the sixties decade (p. 233). Hartman also plays to his strengths, fueling much of his narrative with cases from education history, while deftly avoiding a lengthy engagement with tired stories about busing and evolutionary science. (more…)
Introductory Note: Today we begin a six-part round table on Andrew Hartman’s A War for the Soul of America (University of Chicago Press, 2015). The book was released one-year ago (4/14/15), but we are using the occasion of the upcoming paperback release (4/27/16) to analyze Hartman’s work. I’m the round table editor, but my review has appeared elsewhere so this forum is for others.
Our first review is from Bob Hutton, Senior Lecturer at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Hutton wrote Bloody Breathitt: Politics and Violence in the Appalachian South (University of Kentucky Press, 2013). After today reviews will appear, daily, from Vaneesa Cook, Peter Kuryla, Michelle Nickerson, and Amy Kittelstrom. I’ll say a little something about each on the day of their reviews. Hartman’s reply will appear on Saturday. Enjoy! – Tim Lacy
Although I’m not an intellectual historian I AM tasked with explaining the second half of the twentieth century to college students, most of whom are annoyed when I tell them that their millennial conceptions of left and right are of a relatively recent vintage and difficult to match up to William Jennings Bryan or Theodore Roosevelt, let alone Randolph Bourne or H.L. Mencken. (more…)
Susan Jacoby, The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), x + 246 pages.
Review by Paul V. Murphy
One of the reasons for the popularity of Robert G. Ingersoll, the once-famous nineteenth-century lawyer and orator, despite his vocal (and scandalous) agnosticism, surely must have been his wry humor. Ingersoll’s father was a strict Calvinist, and he later recalled the pious oppression of his childhood routine on Sunday, a day “altogether too holy to be happy in.” He recalled the formidable sermons from the Calvinist divines, commencing with the “firstly” point and continuing on to the “twenty-thirdly.” The minister asked whether the congregation knew they were destined for hell, to which they answered, “Yes.” Were they willing to go to hell willingly in deference to God’s will, “and every little liar shouted ‘Yes,’” Ingersoll recalled. An occasional reward for surviving the tortures of a long day of moral admonition was, of all things, a trip to the graveyard. “It did cheer me,” Ingersoll recalled. “When I looked at the sunken tombs and the leaning stones, and read the half-effaced inscriptions through the moss of silence and forgetfulness, it was a great comfort. The reflection came to my mind that the observance of the Sabbath could not last forever.” In a debate with Henry Cardinal Manning in the North American Review in 1888, Ingersoll expressed the disgust he felt at the blanket appeal to the authority of church fathers. “They believed everything—they examined nothing,” he explained. “They received as the waste-basket receives.” Surely unfair to the ancient teachers, the tartly-stated and prosaic image suggests something of how, unlike the Calvinist ministers of his youth, Ingersoll made theological debates vivid, interesting, and understandable.
Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980)
Classics Review by Anthony Chaney
Earlier this year, the state of Texas passed a bill banning municipalities from limiting the practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) locally. In 2014, the city of Denton voted to prohibit fracking within its borders, and this new bill was the response of state legislators. One oil industry representative explained his support for the bill by saying that some people just wanted to stop drilling for oil and gas altogether. “To these folks I say, ‘Ride your horse to work every day’,” he added.
One might go on for a long time unpacking the remark. I heard it in connection to my re-reading of The Death of Nature, Carolyn Merchant’s 1980 classic of social-environmental-intellectual history.
Henry F. May. The Enlightenment in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976)
Classics Review by Drew Maciag
If ever there was a classic of American Intellectual History, Henry May’s Enlightenment in America (EIA) is it. The book won the OAH’s very first Merle Curti Award in 1977 along with the AHA’s Albert Beveridge Award; it was widely reviewed and has been routinely cited for decades; apparently the book never stops selling—my own copy (purchased many years ago) is a ninth printing of the paperback edition! Moreover, it has become one of those benchmark books to which others are compared, and possibly because May got there “fustest with the mostest” he did not get much competition on the topic for a generation. By the 1970s a major study of the subject was long overdue; May observed that although most historians were “partisans of the Enlightenment: of liberalism, progress, and rationality…there is no good book on the Enlightenment in America, indeed, no general book at all.” Coincidentally, three related titles were published at about the same time as EIA, but none equaled May’s book in their impact or longevity of influence.