Having just passed my tenth anniversary as a holder of the doctoral degree in history, I’ve found myself reflecting back on my training. What did I learn? How did it change me? How have I evolved since completing the degree? Where is it all going? Continue reading
The following guest post, by Leo P. Ribuffo, is the fifth and final entry in our AHA roundtable on culture wars historiography. For an introduction to the roundtable and the first entry, by me (Andrew Hartman), click here. For the second entry, by Adam Laats, go here. For the third, by Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, here. And the fourth, by Stephen Prothero, here. Thanks for reading along! (Also be sure to read Ribuffo’s essay “The Forebears of Trumpism,” which makes connections between the long culture wars–“so-called”–and contemporary political events.)
Leo P. Ribuffo
The term “culture war” should be buried in a deep, deep hole with nuclear waste alongside Jacksonian democracy, populism, progressivism, isolationism, paranoid style, late capitalism, political correctness, neoliberalism, the other, American exceptionalism, and “and the rise of the right.” All of these terms have either outlived their usefulness or were worse than useless to begin with. Since the time “culture war” became trendy via James Davison Hunter and Pat Buchanan I have argued that we should conceptualize instead a series of cultural shouting matches over the centuries to define a normative American way of life.  Continue reading
The following guest post, by Stephen Prothero, is the fourth in our AHA roundtable on culture wars historiography. For an introduction to the roundtable and the first entry, by me (Andrew Hartman), click here. For the second entry, by Adam Laats, go here. And for the third, by Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, here. The final entry, comments offered by Leo Ribuffo, is forthcoming.
By Stephen Prothero
We misunderstand the culture wars if we see them as a one-off. The culture wars did not start with the Moral Majority. And as one glance at the culture warrior du jour, Donald Trump, attests, they did not end with Obergefell v. Hodges.
The culture wars have been with us roughly since the start of the republic, more specifically since the French Revolution helped to usher in modern Anglo-American conservatism. This should not be surprising, because culture wars, as I understand them, are conservative projects, typically initiated by cultural conservatives and largely prosecuted by them. Continue reading
The following guest post, by Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, is the third in our AHA roundtable on culture wars historiography. For an introduction to the roundtable and the first entry, by me (Andrew Hartman), click here. For the second entry, by Adam Laats, go here.
Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, The New School
* this essay is of my remarks at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta, GA on January 7, 2016.
Are the Culture Wars Still a Useful Concept?
This is the question animating this exciting panel, and I must begin by emphatically saying YES. Like any well-worn phrase – multiculturalism, rise-of-the-Right, progressive education, to use a few that figure heavily in several of the books featured on this panel – it can lose its meaning or become too rigid over time. But I think that even as we continually reimagine the definition of “culture” and of the “wars” waged to control this protean concept, “culture wars” is a useful term to understand both the series of skirmishes in the 1980s and 1990s to which the label is usually applied as well as a longer durée of cultural conflict, in the case of this panel in U.S. history writ large, and in my case, over three decades, the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, particularly in the California public school system. The risk is taking our current polarization for granted and imposing it on the past rather than seeking its origins and exploring the contingencies that created it. Continue reading
The following guest post, by Adam Laats, is the second in our AHA roundtable on culture wars historiography. For an introduction to the roundtable and the first entry, by me (Andrew Hartman), click here.
The Hundred Years’ War
Adam Laats, SUNY Binghamton; firstname.lastname@example.org
Does it help us understand the twentieth century better if we talk about culture wars? I think it does, in a few important ways. In short, talking about culture wars gives us indispensable context and necessary connections between a series of related events. It frees us from relying on inaccurate and self-interested definitions.
To be clear, I’m not talking about the capital-letter “Culture Wars” of the 1980s and 1990s that Andrew focuses on in his book. Rather, I’m referring to our past century of repeated conflicts over basic issues such as the nature of science, sexuality, and religion. Talking about them as culture wars helps us recognize that they are not all separate incidents, but rather part of a history that builds on itself to influence contemporary debates in each new generation. When a textbook is accused of being a partisan weapon in the culture wars, for example, it immediately takes on a heavy historical load of meanings that may or may not be fair or accurate. Also, if we want to understand key terms such as conservative or progressive, it only makes sense to do so as part of a longer culture-war history. To be a “conservative,” for example, has meant more than just calling oneself part of a self-consciously conservative intellectual movement. It has meant lining up on one side of our durable culture wars, taking on the accumulated weight of past conflicts. In sum, thinking about our long history of battles over culture-war issues makes more sense—indeed, only makes sense at all—if we see it as it really is. Each individual episode is not complete in and of itself, but rather serves as the latest outbreak of our continuing culture wars. Continue reading
I am happy to publish the formal comments from the American Historical Association (AHA) panel that I chaired, titled, “Are the Culture Wars History? New Comments on an Old Concept.” (For a summary of the panel see Brantley Gasaway’s post here at John Fea’s blog.) Before I begin I would like to thank Mark Edwards, who teaches history at Spring Arbor University, and who put this panel together even though he was not on it, simply because he wanted it to happen. As a way to introduce our topic, let me briefly quote from the proposal that Mark wrote:
There is a lot still don’t know about one of the most familiar analytical concepts of the past twenty-five years. What precisely is a ‘culture war?’ If culture is always contested terrain, how is it possible to periodize just one or a set of battles? Assuming that we can find beginnings, middles, and ends for America’s contemporary culture wars, is it possible to establish and prioritize causation? For example, are the culture wars mainly about religion, race, gender, sexuality, science, or something else? Finally, how do we situate America’s culture wars within larger structural contexts such as the Cold War, consumerism, deindustrialization, and suburban succession? Considering those questions altogether, we might ask: Is it even possible for historians to narrate the culture wars?
Last week, I blogged about the need for our professional societies to more actively involve themselves in helping our profession, our departments, and our institutions grapple with the changes in historical scholarship brought about by the digital revolution. This week there has been an important development on this front. The AHA’s ad hoc Committee on the Professional Evaluation of Digital Scholarship in History, which was formed in January 2014, issued draft Guidelines for the Professional Evaluation of Digital Scholarship in History. The committee is asking for feedback on this draft. They hope to put together a final version of these guidelines for approval by the AHA’s Council during the last two weeks of May. I encourage anyone interested in these issues to read the draft and join the conversation.
Since the draft was only circulated online two days ago, my responses to it are very preliminary. I may blog about it again when I’ve had more time to think about it. But here are some immediate responses to the draft. Continue reading
One of the many lines of argument in the ongoing debate over David Armitage and Jo Guldi’s The History Manifesto concerns revisions to the work made in the midst of the conversation over it. As readers of this blog probably know, when The History Manifesto appeared last October it was both published as a conventional book and made free for download under a Creative Commons license by its publisher Cambridge University Press. The online version was not merely a more convenient way to access the book. As the Chronicle of Higher Education noted in an April 9 report on the controversy surrounding Armitage and Guldi’s book,
Unlike a traditional book, the online version of The History Manifesto displays some of the interactivity of a massive open online course, or MOOC. It features video content, a blog, a reader forum, event listings, and social-media posts from people who use the hashtag “#historymanifesto” to discuss the book on Twitter.
Armitage and Guldi see this interactivity as an opportunity for their work to improve and evolve in real time, a form of continuous peer review, in which they can respond to their critics in a way that refines their arguments to everyone’s benefit. But to many of those critics, including Deborah Cohen and Peter Mandler, whose exchange with Armitage and Guldi appears in this month’s issue of the American Historical Review, these on-the-fly revisions raise ethical questions. Some, including Lynn Hunt, have questioned how open Armitage and Guldi have been about changes to their text. Armitage and Guldi argue that they’ve been transparent, noting changes on the blog at the book’s website. AHR editor Robert A. Schneider, in the recent Chronicle piece quoted above, suggests that the controversy over these revisions
just alerts us to what is obviously going to be an ongoing question: What is the text? If it’s a changing entity, it creates certain problems that we’re going to have to address about protocol.
Which brings us to professional societies and a central role that I believe they need to play in the near future. Continue reading
In the second week of every other month, the U.S. Intellectual History Blog has a Focus Week, during which a number of our bloggers post on a common theme. Since the Organization of American Historians (OAH) is having its 2015 Annual Meeting in St. Louis later this week, we felt that it might be worth exploring the theme of professional societies.
Among the bloggers who’ll be contributing to this conversation will be:
Andy Seal, who’ll post later today about a pair of essays by James Kloppenberg and David Hollinger on intellectual history and the OAH and its predecessor organization, the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, that appeared in Richard Kirkendall’s edited volume The Organization of American Historians and the Writing and Teaching of American History (OUP, 2011).
Andrew Hartman, who’ll be posting on Wednesday about how the OAH and the American Historical Association (AHA) have taken a much more active interest in the public school history curriculum since the 1990s.
Robert Greene, who’ll be posting on Sunday about the Association for the Study of American American Life and History (ASALH).
My guess is that others will contribute as well. Stay tuned!
This morning, the American Historical Association announced that it has put together a draft revision of its taxonomy of the discipline and that it’s inviting comment from members as it moves toward a final form of the document. The deadline for comment is September 30.
The taxonomy is the list of subfields from which those joining, or renewing their membership in, the AHA select when describing their professional interests interests. Every member can list themselves as working in up to three subfields. These self-descriptions, in turn, become the basis for the AHA’s understanding of the overall shape of the discipline, no small matter for the principal professional organization of historians. Taken as a whole, the taxonomy is also an attempt to divide the discipline up into logical subunits, which is an interesting, but difficult, task.
The new taxonomy is of interest to me—and I suspect most other U.S. intellectual historians–in at least three distinct ways. Continue reading