Two important history conferences were held this weekend: the Future of the African American Past Conference, hosted by the American Historical Association; and the Memphis Massacre Conference, commemorating the events of 1866 in Memphis, Tennessee. Both conferences were important for two broad reasons. One, they both indicate a continued interest by some historians—especially those focused on the African American experience—to speak to the public about history. Second, they both speak to Emily Rutherford’s concerns about opening up intellectual history to groups traditionally marginalized within the field. An intellectual history from below, as it were, would provide the fodder for more questions to be asked within American intellectual history. As this week’s conferences prove, a general concern about history from below—and its connections to current events from below—engulf the historical profession in new, and intriguing ways.
Thanks to all of you for helping to build the first part of this intellectual history of early American women. In many ways, this work builds on conversations held at the 2011 USIH conference, and the comments that Ray Haberski kindly gathered and posted here. Now it’s time to crowdsource a bibliography for the second phase, which spans the Victorian period, from 1848 to 1891. For now, I define intellectual history as ideas in action. And so I’m interested in it all: manuscripts, monuments, myths, memorials, biographies, secondary sources, and public history sites that feature/analyze the intellectual and cultural contributions of early American women. Following up on L.D. Burnett’s sage notice of new media’s ability to broaden the realm of traditional academic scholarship, I’m seeking citations for related blogs/posts here, too, in order to form a sound bibliographical foundation. A short list appears below. Paging all historians, librarians, editors, archivists, journalists, and history fans: Please add suggestions in the comments. Continue reading
During the #BlkTwitterstorians chat on AAIHS a few days ago, we began by discussing what intellectual history is, as well as what it means to study African American intellectual history. The 140 character limit on Twitter, as well as the 15 minutes we spent on each question, did not allow me to answer as fully as I would have liked. I did offer a few thoughts on common approaches in the broader field of intellectual history but want to develop those just a bit.
My view of what intellectual history, as I noted in the chat, is that it is the sub-discipline of history that deals with the ideas and symbols that people use to make sense of the world. A guiding assumption of this sub-discipline is that human beings depend upon the use of language, which gives meaning to individual lives. Another assumption of intellectual historians is that human beings cannot live in the world without theories about what they are doing. These theories may be explicit or implicit, but they are always present and make up our cultural construction of reality, which again, depends upon symbols and language. So intellectual history is not about what people did, necessarily, but more about what they thought they were doing.
By nature, intellectual history is an interdisciplinary field, and there are many approaches that scholars take to studying the history of ideas. I would like to outline five of the most prominent of these approaches. Continue reading
Embarking on a study of early American women’s intellectual history calls for a strong bibliographical base, and I’m using this post to learn your news and views of useful literature. Hopefully, we can refer to and build on Patrick S. O’Donnell’s excellent list of resources regarding “Women Intellectuals in the European Enlightenment,” published here. Since this nascent project has a public history feel—I’m interested in how women’s lives and intellectual contributions (ca. 1612-1891) are reflected in everything from standard scholarship to city statues and social crusades—I have listed select digital and archival resources for the first phase (1612-1848), below.
This is, of course, only a preliminary list. Paging all historians, librarians, editors, archivists, journalists, and history fans: Please add your recommendations in the comments.
Questions about the relationship between Senator Bernie Sanders and African American voters have dogged the senator from Vermont almost from the start of his presidential campaign. Last year it was based around his views on the Black Lives Matter campaign. In the last week, however, the question has been raised once again, this time by Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic. The rejection of reparations as a feasible, or even desirable, political goal by Senator Sanders was the occasion for Coates’ critique of Sanders and his particular brand of social democratic ideology. I believe, however, Coates’ arguments—and the pushback by some on the Left online—is a reason to revisit the long and complicated history of the relationship between Black Americans and the American Left.
I do not think there is much more I can say to add to the cacophony of voices that have spoken out since the horrific terror attack in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday night. A massacre that harkened back as much to the racial strife of Reconstruction-era violence as it did to anything in recent memory, the attack on Mother Emanuel AME Church has reminded Americans of the continued presence of anti-black, right-wing extremism that exists on our shores. Historians have performed a great public service in recent days in contextualizing the attack within the history of Charleston, of South Carolina, and of Confederate imagery. But I want to remind readers that we also need to contextualize this attack within the history of recent, extreme right-wing terrorism within the United States.
Today is Martin Luther King Day, a time for many of us to enjoy a day off from work or school, for some of us to reflect on the legacy of Dr. King, and for still others of us to tendentiously claim that Dr. King would support our pet political causes, however far they may have been from his actual beliefs. As the old conservative habit of attacking King as a Communist or worse begins to fade, the misappropriations of his legacy become more common. As Scott Lemieux notes over on Lawyers, Guns, and Money, most of these take the form of ripping a single line from the “I Have a Dream” speech out of context and using it to suggest that King was dedicated to the proposition that any discussion of race constitutes racism. But some of the appropriations of King are more creative than that. Occasionally they are even from the “left,” like Jeh Johnstone, now Secretary of Homeland Security, then General Counsel to the Department of Defense, arguing in 2011 that Dr. King would have supported America’s current wars.
It is to these more interesting misuses of King that I like to grant the Ward Connerly Award for Martin Luther King, Jr., Revisionism, named after the former University of California regent who has dedicated most of his public life to destroying civil rights in the name of civil rights. Continue reading
In lieu of an extended post, I’d like to call your attention to a few essays and articles touching upon themes and topics that may be of interest to our readers, from Ferguson, Missouri to the mechanisms if not the mindset(s) of the ruling class to the vintage pages of The New Republic. Continue reading
I’m happy to add to LD Burnett’s wonderful post from yesterday detailing her experience with Ebony magazine—and Vince Harding’s exhorting scholars to pay attention to it—as part of her overall research. Today I wish to add to that, demonstrating how Ebony has also played a role in my understanding of several strands of intellectual history running through the early 1970s. Considering Ebony as a place of considerable debate over African American politics, culture, and history is, as the Harding article indicated, important for anyone attempting to understand elements of the Black experience.
Readers of this blog – and members of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History – will be excited by the arrival of a sibling society and blog: the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS). The AAIHS was founded in February 2014 in order to “foster dialogue about researching, writing, and teaching black thought and culture.” In July, their blog went online and it has already become an active and interesting place. Among the regular contributors are two scholars who should be familiar to our readership: Chris Cameron, who has been a frequent guest blogger at USIH, and Lauren Kientz Anderson, who was a regular blogger for us.
I look forward to continuing to follow the AAIHS blog and hope that our blogs – and societies – can work together in the future!