Last night I finally closed the books on the 2016-2017 academic year. I graded my last batch of finals and turned in grades for my last section at the community college. Spring semester started a week earlier at the university than at the community college, so I was “done” with school once already this month. But now I’m really done – and all but done in. So today’s blog post is going to be a grab-bag of links, questions, recommendations and provocations. (Come for the links, stay for the provocations!)
The S-USIH Best Book prize for books published in 2016 goes to Jan Stievermann’s Prophecy, Piety, and the Problem of Historicity. Interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures in Cotton Mather’s Biblia Americana.
Stievermann, who teaches at the University of Heidelberg, where he is professor of the history of Christianity in the Heidelberg Center for U. S. Studies, is among the tiny number of scholars on either side of the Atlantic who have explored the riches of the “Biblia Americana,” a commentary on the Bible that occupied Cotton Mather for much of his life. Mather was never able to persuade an English bookseller to undertake the “Biblia.” Only now, in the early twenty-first century, is the manuscript being published thanks to the efforts of Reiner Smolinksi (George State University) and others, including Stievermann.
Please see the full press release HERE.
In early March of this year, the AHA’s Sadie Bergen reached out to members of the S-USIH blog community for help understanding the history of history blogs. Bergen was working on an article for Perspectives. The original prompt focused on the work that goes into producing a collaborative blog, contributions from graduate students and early career historians, and “how blog writing fits into the work of being a historian today.” I don’t know how many of us replied to Bergen’s inquiry, but I did. In retrospect, my answers only helped with part of the prompt—which probably explains why only a brief quote from me made it into Bergen’s final piece (do read it!). That said, and to be fair with myself, Bergen’s more specific follow-up questions caused me to think more about the history of this blog and S-USIH generally. With Bergen’s permission, I’ve reproduced those questions and my answers below. Caveat: These are my answers alone. Other long-time S-USIH members will most certainly provide other perspectives. – TL
Bergen: What led you to start the USIH blog? What was the experience like getting it off the ground? For instance, how did you recruit contributors? [Also,] where were you in your career when you began the blog and how did you fit your work for it into your other professional responsibilities?
We are pleased to announce that the winner of the 2017 Dorothy Ross Award for best article published by an emerging scholar goes to Nick Witham for his article, “Popular History, Postwar Liberalism, and the Role of the Public Intellectual in Richard Hofstadter’s The American Political Tradition,” which appeared in The Historical Journal in 2016. In a competitive year, the article stood out for contextualizing Hofstadter’s breakthrough book and enriching our understanding of the postwar intellectual scene. The full citation from the prize committee appears below.
The Dorothy Ross Prize, first given in 2016, is awarded annually to the best article published the previous year by an emerging scholar, defined as a scholar within 5 years of receiving their PhD. The prize comes with a $500 cash award and is awarded at the annual conference, held this year Oct. 26-29 in Dallas, Texas. The Society would like to thank for their dedicated service this year’s award committee, James Kloppenberg (chair), Kimberly Hamlin, and Andrew Preston.
From the Prize Committee:
In this outstanding essay, Witham argues that Hofstadter’s American Political Tradition has been misinterpreted. Although Hofstadter is often placed in the company of “consensus historians,” Witham shows that rather than celebrating the American political tradition, Hofstadter was instead critical of Americans’ excessive individualism and focus on property accumulation. Witham’s essay pays close attention to the New York literary scene as well as developments within historical scholarship. It is contextual as well as textual: Witham examines the conditions of production of the book, including Hofstadter’s political formation in the New Deal era and Knopf’s decision to sponsor the fellowship that Hofstadter was awarded to write a popular history. Witham traces the rise of mass publishing made possible by the “paperback revolution” and the challenge of meeting Dwight Macdonald’s critique of “masscult and midcult.” He shows how Hofstadter worked to meet that challenge by crafting a narrative accessible to a wide range of readers. The American Political Tradition provides a complex and nuanced analysis, laced with irony and tragedy rather than the nostalgia and hero worship characteristic of much popular history. Making excellent use of the correspondence between Hofstadter, his editor, and his publisher, and also examining the reception and distribution of the book, Witham explains why the book was a commercial as well as critical success. This is intellectual history as it should be done. Witham’s article is based on exhaustive research, offers incisive analysis of multiple texts in multiple contexts, and is written with elegance and flair.
I’m writing a paper on rage in African American women’s prison writing this semester (I am very very excited). I had been searching for a copy of Wall Tappings: An International Anthology of Women’s Prison Writings from 200 to the Present, edited by Judith Scheffler, one of the only anthologies of women’s prison writing, ever (which seems ridiculous to me). The volume’s contents are diverse (ranging from Ancient Rome to Apartheid South Africa to Iran) and incredibly useful, in a world in which published women’s prison writing is rare. The library didn’t have a copy, it’s out of print, and I didn’t want to spend 40 dollars on a used book (evidence of the broader lack of scholarship on women’s prison writing, but that’s a rant for another time). I finally found a copy on amazon for 20 and bit the bullet (I love buying books, but I am so firm about spending no more than 15 dollars for them). When I opened the package with the book, I found out that my copy of Wall Tappings had been deaccessioned from the Tennessee Prison for Women’s Library. The Tennessee Prison for Women was opened in 1966 and is a maximum security prison for women in Nashville Tennessee. The Prison also houses death row for female inmates for the state of Tennessee.
The prison has been shrouded in controversy lately, as the top three Warden’s were recently under investigation by the Tennessee Department of Corrections, after medications were not being administered to incarcerated women and essential positions remained vacant. I searched for information on the prison’s library, but I couldn’t find any. That doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist, but after the 1994 crime bill and the elimination of pell grants for the incarcerated, prison libraries and education programs for the incarcerated aren’t as common as they once were.
As we watch your proposals for the 2017 conference of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History roll in (keep ‘em coming!), we’re pleased to announce our Friday plenary session, “Toward Democracy as Faith or Doubt.” We have assembled a panel of outstanding scholars who will be interrogating and at times no doubt challenging James Kloppenberg’s argument in his most recent, remarkable book: Toward Democracy: The Struggle for Self-Rule in European and American Thought (OUP, 2016).
Christopher Cameron of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte will chair the discussion. Joining him will be W. Caleb McDaniel of Rice University, Amanda Porterfield of Florida State University, Manisha Sinha of the University of Connecticut, and Daniel Wickberg of the University of Texas at Dallas. James Kloppenberg will also join the conversation, responding to his readers’ comments and questions and perhaps posing some questions of his own.
We are delighted to be able to bring this group of scholars together for what promises to be a lively and substantive discussion, and we are sure that this panel will spark many more conversations at the conference and afterwards.
We hope you will join us in Dallas this October.
Marking nearly a decade of gathering diverse scholars in dialogue, program plans for the 2017 Society for U.S. Intellectual History’s annual meeting in Dallas are well underway. (A friendly reminder: There’s still time to send in your proposals, due by 15 April). Given our conference theme of “Histories of Memory, Memories of History,” we hope to bring more librarians, museum professionals, and archivists into the discussion. With that in mind, we’re delighted to announce that we’ll kick off the proceedings on Thursday, Oct. 26th, with an opening plenary session on “Public History and the Future of the Past.” Continue reading
She met Queen Victoria, helped to build the Brooklyn Bridge, wrote up last Tsar Nicholas II’s coronation, and lectured a “stunned” roomful of New York lawyers on women’s property rights. Is she on your syllabus, or listed on your museum wall? Meet Emily Warren Roebling (1843-1903), another of the many “hidden figures” who have powered the American fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). As a Brooklyn native, Roebling’s work looms large in history and memory for me. (If a similar hometown monument sparks your professional imagination, send a proposal by 15 April for our 2017 conference, details here). My blog series pivots next to exploring the dense lives of American women scientists, Puritans to Progressives, who invented, innovated, and laid down the prologue for today’s women in STEM. Continue reading
Some ideas are pretty rare outside of certain circles. [Insert joke about favorite idiosyncratic sub-subculture here.] Others pop up all over the place. The latter phenomenon particularly perks my interest when a political idea displays this versatility; if conservatives, liberals, and leftists all dabble, at least occasionally, in the same predilection, you know something is up.
Ever since the election, such a case has been catching my attention. Trying to make sense of the epic and entirely unpredicted horror show of a Trump victory, conservatives, liberals, and some leftists have all flocked to different versions of an underlying explanation: one way or the other, white people got their feels hurt and exacted revenge at the polls.
This population of white people sometimes appears un-classed, as in the case of Mark Lilla’s historically inept and astoundingly arrogant op-ed attributing Clinton’s loss to her unhealthy and offensive obsession with diversity/identity politics. It makes sense for a liberal to make this move; while they might constantly council drawing attention to issues that impact all Americans, actually doing so would entail criticizing capitalism a lot more harshly than most Democrats, if not most liberals, are (still!) inclined to do. It’s hard to tell the white working class, after all, that they’re being screwed over by the rich when you’re pretty invested in protecting said wealthy elites. So, the offended group in question often just becomes “white, rural people” in general.
For leftists, the focus falls on the white working class, and instead of counseling a postracial politics of entirely fictional American unity, a class consciousness fit for the revolution is recommended. The failures of the Democrats loom even larger here, as would be expected; constitutionally incapable of speaking to the constituency they consistently exploit, the center-of-center party is worse than useless. Nonetheless, sometimes a confident argument remains that the wayward whites are simply not being spoken to correctly – as can be seen in this thread, Jacobin recently raised the heckles of many non-Marxist leftists by arguing that ultimately, of course, it comes down to class.
[Today’s post comes Coline Ferrant, a student in the Dual PhD in Sociology between Northwestern University & Sciences Po (Center for Studies in Social Change). Ferrant is also an Associate Fellow with the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (Food and Social Sciences). This post outlines ambiguities in Lewis Henry Morgan’s Ancient Society, particularly its handling of the ideal and the material. Ferrant relays that Ancient Society traces a grand human evolution from the material to the ideal by developing a materialist analytical framework. Morgan’s work purports to theorize about all humanity by generalizing practical findings about particular human groups. Its lofty intellectual endeavor includes emotional considerations about the endangered Iroquois’s concrete existence. The author would like to thank Robert Launay for commenting and Maggie Monahan for copyediting. – TL]
Western thought has historically conceptualized human life through overlapping dichotomies: ideal and material, theory and practice, abstract and concrete, subject and object, intellect and emotions, mind and body, and the like (Wuthnow, 1987). In this post, I draw attention to the ambiguities surrounding these binary oppositions in one canonical source: Ancient Society, published in 1877 by American anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan (Morgan, 1985 ). I develop my argument using selected extracts from this source, and referring to its later scholarly reception. Continue reading