The fight over Reconstruction historiography traditionally begins with the Dunning School of the early twentieth century. That school of thought, out of Columbia University, argued that Reconstruction was a national tragedy and proved that African Americans were not fit to be American citizens. Often, the first stand against the Dunning School is seen in W.E.B. DuBois’ Black Reconstruction (1935). When it was released, the book was recognized for offering a stinging challenge to the then-prevailing thought on Reconstruction. However, we should also look to earlier works by African American scholars that also challenged ideas of Reconstruction. This is where the former politician John Roy Lynch comes in.
[Editor’s Note: This is the last in a series of six guest posts by Holly Genovese, which have appeared every other Sunday in recent weeks. — Ben Alpers]
I’ve been spending a lot of time this break thinking about my Syllabus for a 2000 level African American History course I will be teaching this summer. I took one of these courses as an undergrad – but we heavily relied on the textbook, something I am determined not to do. My research is primarily in the late 20th century, so I think I’ve got that covered. I’m excited to have them read MLK’s speech to the garbage workers, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, and some of George Jackson’s letters. I will blast them with photos of Black Panthers at soup kitchens, show them the COINTELPRO files on Fred Hampton’s apartment, and try with all my might to convince them that Rosa Parks was not a tired old lady. But there are other periods, one’s that I don’t study, but are no less important, that I’m at a loss for. One of those is Reconstruction. So I solicited suggestions on twitter and Facebook and from friends studying the period. Here is what they have come up with.
The most suggested reading was Foner’s Short History of Reconstruction. Maybe this shouldn’t surprise me, but it did. Not that it’s a bad book – it’s a book I have very much enjoyed. But it is also a bit dated at this point and I was surprised to hear that it is still very much the standard for the period – at least for undergraduate study,. At the same time, Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction, often cited as the first non-Lost Cause analysis of the period, was only referenced once. I’m wondering if it’s because of age, because of the density of prose, or something else? I am still thinking about assigning a few chapters from it. Continue reading
In 2007, Andrew Sullivan wrote a cover essay for The Atlantic in which he argued that the rise of Barack Obama to the national stage meant an end to the divisive cultural politics that defined American politics since 1968. Sullivan argued at the time, “he could take America—finally—past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us.” Reflecting on the events of the last eight years, it now seems this assumption about Obama’s rise was naïve and misplaced. Now, as we transition from an “Age of Obama” to an “Age of Trump” everyone has spilled much ink—both real and digital—trying to explain how we got here.
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.
Building off of LD Burnett’s fascinating piece from yesterday about writing and thinking through historical topics, I am using today’s blog post to think about the importance of reading to that process. In my case, I cannot help but think about certain texts that propelled me to pursue a career as a historian. Such texts have not only fueled my intellectual journey, but have also provided examples of the kind of work I wish to do. No doubt historians all have certain texts that mean something special to them. These are just a few of those for me.
This summer promises to be an exciting one for anyone who reads intellectual history. As book review editor I try to stay abreast of the field as it develops, and the summer of 2016 offers plenty of fascinating books to look forward to. They cover a variety of topics and subfields within American history. The following is just a short list—please add more in the comments section. While by no means meant to be a comprehensive list, I hope the following works match the diversity of interests held by members of S-USIH.
Last week the city of Columbia hosted a symposium on the Reconstruction era. Headlined by a talk by Eric Foner at a local church Thursday night, the symposium attempted to both present current trends in Reconstruction historiography and also show how these trends affect the public history of the Reconstruction period. The symposium was a melding of academic and public histories of Reconstruction. The history of the Reconstruction era in South Carolina has undergone a dramatic public re-interpretation in recent years, following up on decades of changing academic scholarship on the Reconstruction period. Today’s post is a reflection on where Reconstruction historiography is going, with special care paid to what intellectual historians, in particular, can contribute to this still-vibrant field.
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s recent comments on the Reconstruction era have, to say the least, raised the eyebrows of historians who study the time period. Where she argues that the era could have used “a little less rancor,” historians of the period see an American South filled both with a radical democratic promise and a region gripped by reactionary violence. Rancor and political incivility, while part of the history of Reconstruction in the South, were not the center of that story. Clinton’s comments are seen as an extension of the old “Dunning School” of thought on Reconstruction. Named after Columbia historian William Dunning, the “Dunning School” has become synonymous with a viewpoint of the Reconstruction period as a disaster for the South and the nation due to “black rule” in the region by recently freed Black Americans, seemingly unfit for politics and democracy.
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of four biweekly guest posts by Sara Georgini. — Ben Alpers
Two men sat down on the June grass in Virginia, 1865, to talk about the war. The younger of the two, Union Army doctor Algernon Coolidge, had nearly declined the trip. Algernon still mourned the death of his twin brother (Philip) Sidney, a promising scientist and Union major lost at Chickamauga two years earlier. After enduring three years of constant combat and dismal hospital work, Algernon—a great-grandson of President Thomas Jefferson—now wondered what sort of welcome he faced in the south. Continue reading
Today’s post will be a bit of a short one—my apologies in advance for that. Preparations for the 2014 Society of US Intellectuals Conference, along with a growing list of items that need to be checked off for my personal graduate school experience, have robbed me of some of the time I’d otherwise devote to researching this post. Of course, that’s something we’re all experiencing these days, so it is not meant as a complaint. In fact, it’s an opportunity, as it offers me a chance to direct you to some interesting books and blogs about the topic of Reconstruction and intellectual history. Continue reading