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 five, from Amy Kittelstrom, in our weeklong roundtable on Andrew Hartman’s A War for the Soul of America. Kittelstrom is an Associate Professor of History at Sonoma State University. About his time last year Kittelstrom’s well-received book, The Religion of Democracy: Seven Liberals and the American Moral Tradition, was published by Penguin Press. The roundtable’s first review came from Bob Hutton, the second was by Vaneesa Cook, the third by Peter Kuryla, and yesterday’s from Michelle Nickerson. Finally, a change! Hartman’s reply will arrive on Tuesday after a surprise, sixth-and-final installment from Christopher Shannon on Monday. Enjoy! – TL]
Andrew Hartman’s history of the so-called culture wars of the late twentieth century admirably represents a wide range of American thinkers from a pivotal period. The reverberations from the rights revolutions and countercultural developments of the circa-1968 seismic blasts were rippling from sea to shining sea, disturbing fixed ideas and alienating children from their parents, voters from their parties, and neighbors from one another. The resulting conversation, conducted in shrill tones and exaggerated rhetoric, helped create the cripplingly polarized political landscape Americans live in today, which makes Hartman’s work important to know and to teach. (more…)
[Introduction: This is review number four, from Michelle Nickerson, in our weeklong roundtable on Andrew Hartman’s A War for the Soul of America. Nickerson is an Associate Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago. She is probably known to S-USIH readers for her two books, Mothers of Conservatism: Women and the Postwar Right (Princeton, 2012) and the co-edited collection (with Darren Dochuk), Sunbelt Rising: The Politics of Space, Place, and Region (Penn Press, 2011). Nickerson is currently studying the Camden 28, a Catholic anti-war group of the Vietnam era apprehended, brought to trial, and acquitted after raiding a draft board office in 1971. In the meantime, look out for her essays in the Oxford Handbook of American Women’s and Gender History (forthcoming, Oxford) and Beyond the Culture Wars: Recasting Religion and Politics in the Twentieth Century (forthcoming, University of Pennsylvania Press). The roundtable’s first review came from Bob Hutton, the second was by Vaneesa Cook, the third by Peter Kuryla, and tomorrow’s will be from Amy Kittelstrom. Hartman’s reply comes on Saturday. Enjoy! – TL]
What is the “culture” in “culture wars” supposed to mean? As Andrew Hartman demonstrates with the breathtaking range in A War for the Soul of America, there were plenty of battles in the latter half of the twentieth-century over art, film, and rap music, but there were also plenty of disputes about the tax code, abortion, and public school curricula. Should the influence of religious institutions or political lobbying groups be lumped into the category of “culture?” What seems to unite all of the episodes recounted by Hartman are politics. The book shows over and over again that Americans made ideological fodder out of most every aspect of their daily lives: from the living room, to the workplace, the principal’s office, church pews, the doctor’s office . . . up to the Supreme Court. So, I am curious, why do we call this “culture” and not “politics?” (more…)
[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.