U.S. Intellectual History Blog

A Reading List for the Long Nineteenth Century

I’ve been thinking about our discussion of an intellectual history canon in more practical terms lately, because I have been coming up with a graduate reading list in nineteenth century history for my students. I thought I would share that list, in order to renew the discussion. It might also bear on our earlier discussion about the definition of intellectual history.

Let me say a few things about the list. I referred to the books that we came up with in earlier posts, my own reading lists from Rice and UNC, and other reading that I have done in the interim. Rather than a collection of books that were exemplary but only loosely related, I wanted the list to provide students with a coherent narrative. At the same time, I want to introduce students to the major problems. So I’ve grouped the books in a loosely chronological order that produce a semi-coherent narrative. As I see it, the nineteenth century involved the decline of deference (or client/dependency relationships) and the rise of democracy. This rise was tied to the expansion of the market and the beginning of the urban-industrial transformation. Democratic capitalism proved a difficult new form of political economy that required intellectual and cultural transformations, culminating in new kinds of social solidarity centered around the city and new modes of conceptualizing self and society (rights, responsibilities, etc). Given this framework, I’ve left some worthy books off the list. I did not include theoretical works at all (though I read a lot of theory and think it is important). I also did not include books on American constitutionalism (Bailyn, Wood, Rakove, etc), because I decided they were too far outside the list’s temporal frame.

I’m curious what you think I should have put on the list but did not. Or what I did put on the list but should not have. I’d like to hear from you in the comments section to that effect. To keep it fair, if you suggest a book to add, please let me know a book that I should remove (and vice-versa). I’d also like to know why.

So without further ado, here’s the list.

Nineteenth Century Graduate Reading List (Intellectual and Cultural History)

David Sehat

Deference and Equality, 1750-1830

Gordon Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1992)

David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution (new edition 1999).

Joyce Appleby, Liberalism and Republicanism in the Historical Imagination (1992)

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835/1838; I like the Mansfield/Winthrop translation published by Chicago in 2000).

Garry Wills, Inventing America: Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence (2002)

Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (2005)

Harry Watson, Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian Democracy, Second ed. (2006)

Early 19th Century Individualism and Laissez-fair Liberalism

Charles Sellers, The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846 (1991)

Paul Johnson, Shopkeeper’s Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 1815-1837 (2004)

Thomas L. Haskell and Richard F. Teichgraeber III, eds. Culture of the Market: Historical Essays (1993)

Daniel Walker Howe, What God Hath Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (2007)

Eric Foner, Free Labor, Free Soil, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War, Second Ed. (1995)

John William Ward, Red, White, and Blue: Men, Books, and Ideas (1969)

The Urban-Industrial Transformation

John Kasson, Civilizing the Machine: Technology and Republican Values in America, 1776-1900 (1999)

George R. Taylor, The Transportation Revolution 1815-1860 (1958)

Glenn Porter, The Rise of Big Business, 1860-1910 (1992)

Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877 (1989)

Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation (1944)

Allen Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age (2007)

William Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (1991)

Robert Wiebe, The Search for Order, 187-1920 (1966)

Nineteenth-Century Society and Culture


Leo Marx, Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (1964)

Jane Tomkins, Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860 (1985)

Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture (1998)


Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women in the Old South (1988)

Eugene Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (1972)

Ira Berlin, Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves (2003)

Laurence Levine, Black Culture, Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom (1977)

Eugene Genovese, Consuming Fire (1998)

Edward J. Blum, Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion, and American Nationalism, 1865-1898 (2005)

Nancy F. Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood: Woman’s Sphere in New England, 1780-1835, Second ed. (1997)

Linda K. Kerber, Toward and Intellectual History of Women (1997)

Ellen Carol DuBois, Women’s Suffrage and Women’s Rights (1998)

John Kasson, Rudeness and Civility: Manner’s in Nineteenth-Century Urban America (1990)

Karen Haltunnen, Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-Class Culture in America, 1830-1870 (1982)

Burton Bledstein, Culture of Professionalism: The Middle Class and the Development of Higher Education in America (1978)

Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1966)


Jon Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (1990)

Roger Finke and Rodney Starke, The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy (2005)

Christine Leigh Heyrman, Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt (1998).

Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (1989)

Robert Azbug, Cosmos Crumbling: American Reform and the Religious Imagination (1994)

William R. Hutchison, Religious Pluralism in America: The Contentious History of a Founding Ideal (2003)


Rogers Smith, Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. History (1997)

William J. Novak, The People’s Welfare: Law and Regulation in Nineteenth-Century America (1996)

Linda K. Kerber, No Constitutional Right to be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship (1999).

Ken I. Kersch, Constructing Civil Liberties: Discontinuities in the Development of American Constitutional Law (2004)

Intellectual and Cultural Change at the Turn of the Century

Marshall Berman, All that is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity (1982)

John Kasson, Amusing the Millions: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century (1978)

Christopher Lasch, The New Radicalism in America 1889-1963: The Intellectual as Social Type (1997)

Henry May, The End of Innocence: A Study of the First Years of Our Own Time 1912-1917 (1994)

Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture (1994)

Ference Morton Szasz, The Divided Mind of Protestant America, 1880-1930 (2002)

Richard Fox and Jackson Lears, eds., The Culture of Consumption: Critical Essays in American History (1983)

Rosalind Rosenberg, Beyond Separate Spheres: Intellectual Roots of Modern Feminism (1983)

Wilfred McClay, The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America (1994)

David Rabban, Free Speech in Its Forgotten Years 1870-1920 (1997)

Daniel Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (2000)

Robert Westbrook, John Dewey and American Democracy (1991)

Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club (2001)

13 Thoughts on this Post

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  1. Hope you will forgive a lowly nontraditional student jumping in…make that former student. Can’t afford to finish, but I can afford to read. Thanks for a great reading list. I have made a copy for future reference. You don’t need to be in school to learn.

  2. As someone coming to the field of nineteenth-century American history/culture/society from contemporary art, this list should prove invaluable. Thank you.

  3. I really like this list. It manages to be coherent–reflecting very well the choice of themes that you mentioned–while including only books that are pretty significant. (It is my personal view, at least, that students reading an orals list generally shouldn’t delve too deeply into the literature of a field in which they do not have a particular interest.)

    I really don’t have any revisions to suggest. Whatever changes I would make would be quibbles, I think, merely substituting my own tastes or biography for David’s around the margins. A pretty good test for me personally was the fact that after a while I noticed two things: the first was that every time that I was outraged that some book or other wasn’t on the list, it turned out that I wasn’t reading closely enough because it was in there somewhere; and the second was I eventually noticed that one main thing in common among the books of whose merit I was less certain was that I had not read them.

    Hopefully someday I’ll have grad students of my own–when I’m drawing up such a list I’ll certainly use this one as a template.


  4. This list tilts toward the cultural side of its “Intellectual and Cultural History” aspiration. Because of that, I have some suggested additions—weighty ones (I believe)—that fall under either your last category or the “society and culture” section (which needs an education subset):

    1. Lewis Perry, Intellectual Life in America: A History (1984; 1989);

    2. Bruce Kuklick, A History of Philosophy in America, 1720-2000 (2000; 2003)

    3. Lawrence Cremin, American Education: The National Experience, 1783-1876 (1980)

    4. __________, American Education: The Metropolitan Experience,1876-1980 (1988)

    5. Laurence Veysey, Emergence of the American University, 1865-1910 (1965)

    Another random society and culture addition:

    6. John Higham, Strangers in the Land (various editions, first in 1955).

    I sense there are other books related to the history of philosophy and education that should be here, but I’m drawing a blank right now. And what of historiography? I would think there should be at least one comprehensive book here covering the history of the historical profession—perhaps Novick’s That Noble Dream (1988)? Of course if this list is being applied in a graduate setting, then that’ll be covered.

    That’s it for now. – TL

  5. Tim:

    It looks like you didn’t read David’s instructions! : ) If you want to add five or six books, you’ve got to suggest the same number that should be cut. (A good rule, I think, as it helps to focus and clarify one’s priorities.)


  6. On second reading, I have another comment. Though I still really like the list, I do question the consistency of excluding “constitutional” works on the basis of being outside the “temporal frame” of the list, while starting the list at 1750, and including several books about the revolutionary period.

    What this points to, in my view, is the somewhat troublesome category of the “long nineteenth century.” It seems like there’s plenty going on there without having to reach back to grab extra stuff from the eighteenth century, and the rather traditional grouping of revolutionary, constitutional and even early national thought and culture as part of a long (or, at least, late-blooming) eighteenth century makes more sense to me. Thematically as well, the first category strikes me as “not like the others” in a Sesame Street kind of way, and more similar to Bailyn, et al.

    Again, I think this is mostly a personal preference, but if it were my list, I would probably move Tocqueville, Wilentz and Watson to the next section (where they’d be more “comfortable,” I think, next to Sellers and Howe), and cut the first section, including the remaining titles with a separate list. And I think the list is plenty long as it is, so I wouldn’t replace that section with something new.


  7. Mike,

    Yes, I missed that last rule. Here’s what I would cut (with a “why” when I have one):

    1. Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis. I absolutely love this book, but it is, primarily, neither an intellectual nor cultural history, but rather social history.

    2. Gordon Wood’s Radicalism of the American Revolution. To me, using this books means you have to open the door to constitutionalism questions—in my opinion.

    3. de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Again, I love the book, but it’s a primary resource and cultural/sociological study, not a professional history. If you include one primary source, then you have to do others (perhaps the Hollinger reader?).

    4. Porter. This is not a cut suggestion, but replace Porter with Afred Chandler’s The Visible Hand. Chandler is a still relevant greatest hit.

    5. Chose only one of the three Genovese books. I might be tempted to go with one I haven’t read: The Mind of the Master Class.

    6. Cut Hutchison and Finke/Starke, and replace with one Mark Noll book, such as The Civil War as a Theological Crisis. I do this to get Noll on the list: another of his books might work better.

    7. Cut Kersch per the caveat about constitutionalism. The law is covered, in part, in Menand’s books as well.

    8. Cut Kasson’s Amusing the Millions. Kasson’s already on the list three times, and this book is more popular culture oriented and local/metropolis focused.


    But this is all me being compliant. I don’t ~have to~ abide by the rules: if the list is too short, it’s too short.

    – TL

  8. I noticed I also missed that this is an ~exclusively~ graduate list. With that and historiography in mind, well, you might want to get your greatest hits in anyway in case you find your program’s historiography course to be inadequate. So if Novick’s not read there… – TL

  9. Sharon and Brian Sholis: Welcome to the blog. I’m glad the list was useful.

    Mike: The long nineteenth century, I admit, is a problem. I think you are right to suggest moving Wilentz and Watson to the next section. I’ve also reconsidered: I would cut Howe. It is a 900 page summary in the midst of some already big (and probably more unique) books. I still think there is something to the whole idea of a long nineteenth century. How can we understand the rise of democracy, and the fears that it prompted among the elite, without understanding the system of deference that it replaced? So I might add a section, keeping Wood’s Radicalism book, but adding Bailyn, Wood’s Constitutionalism book, Rakove’s Beginning of National Politics and his Original Meanings Books, Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom (which again stretches the temporal categories, but i can’t help it), Charles Sydnor’s Gentleman Freeholders, and probably a book or two by Jack P. Greene (whose work I like a lot because he counteracts the whig tendencies of Wood and Bailyn).

    Tim: I like several of your suggestions for addition, in particular Cremin’s National History volume, Kucklick’s history of philosophy, Chandler’s Visible Hand (as a substitute), and Higham’s Stangers in the Land (an inexcusable omission). I also like the idea of adding the two volume Capper/Hollinger reader to the list. Another way to go might be to have a list of 50-60 books, and then list another 50 optional books, maybe instructing students to read at least half. But then that might muddy the waters.

    Anyhow, thanks to all.

  10. I am my comprehensive exam in this field in Fall 2008. I will post my list below. If anyone has any practice questions for me I would appreciate you posting them here as I will return to check this blog spot. All feedback appreciated.

    Appleby, Joyce Oldham. Liberalism and Republicanism in the Historical Imagination. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1992.

    Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1967.

    Bay, Mia. The White Image in the Black Mind: African-American Ideas About White People, 1830-1925. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    Bender, Thomas. New York Intellect: A History of Intellectual Life in New York City, from 1750 to the Beginnings of Our Own Time. New York: Knopf, 1987.

    Chappell, David L. A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

    Douglas, Ann. The Feminization of American Culture. New York: Knopf, 1977.

    Gunnell, John G. The Descent of Political Theory: The Genealogy of an American Vocation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

    Kloppenberg, James T. Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870-1920. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

    Larson, Edward J. Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion. New York: BasicBooks, 1997.

    Lears, T. J. Jackson. No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880-1920. New York: Pantheon Books, 1981.

    Menand, Louis. The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America. London: Flamingo, 2001.

    McCumber, John. Time in the Ditch: American Philosophy and the McCarthy Era. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press, 2001.

    Pateman, Carole. The Sexual Contract. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1988.

    Miller, Perry. The New England Mind: from Colony to Province. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1953.

    Nash, George H. The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America, Since 1945. New York: Basic Books, 1976.

    Novick, Peter. That Noble Dream: The “Objectivity Question” and the American Historical Profession. Ideas in context. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

    O’Brien, Michael. Conjectures of Order: Intellectual Life and the American South, 1810-1860. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. (both volumes)
    Purcell, Edward A. The Crisis of Democratic Theory; Scientific Naturalism & the Problem of Value. [Lexington]: University Press of Kentucky, 1973.

    Rodgers, Daniel T. Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998.

    Ross, Dorothy. The Origins of American Social Science. Ideas in context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

    Pells, Richard H. The Liberal Mind in a Conservative Age: American Intellectuals in the 1940s and 1950s. New York: Harper & Row, 1985.

    Polsgrove, Carol. Divided Minds: Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement. New York: Norton, 2001.

    West, Michael Rudolph. The Education of Booker T. Washington: American Democracy and the Idea of Race Relations. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

    Westbrook, Robert B. Democratic Hope: Pragmatism and the Politics of Truth. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2005.

  11. This most recent list does not strike me as one that would be appropriate for the “long 19th century”, unless we consider the mid-to-late 20th century Civil Rights movement part of the nineteenth century – or other post WWII events.

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