U.S. Intellectual History Blog

“Mrs. Hofstadter” and the Myth of the Heroic Lone Scholar

Beatrice and Richard Hofstadter, circa 1958-59 (picture from SUNY-Buffalo Archives, via this story: http://www.buffalo.edu/atbuffalo/article-page-winter-2017.host.html/content/shared/www/atbuffalo/articles/Winter-2017/features/american-forecaster.detail.html

I understand if reader interest has waned in relation to the ongoing debates on whether or not Richard Hofstadter should still matter as an exemplar for historians today. If you’re not invested in whether or not he was elitist generally, or in his philosophy of education, I get it. And, finally, I understand if you don’t care how much Hofstadter’s thinking was influenced by Marx, directly or indirectly (i.e. if RH was a kind of Critical Theorist). Multi-entry blog debates with lots of minutiae are wearisome.

With that, today I am bringing something different to the conversation. The passage below—from a 1974 essay authored by Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick—provides new food for thought on Hofstadter’s work. Given what they say, I think we might agree that Hofstadter’s spouse Beatrice (Hofstadter White) probably deserves more credit for a key point of praise about Hofstadter’s work: its superb sense of style.[1] The passage in question occurs in an easy-to-overlook footnote (my apologies for the blurring in the upper half of the picture below/right):

Beatrice Hofstadter nee Kevitt receives only passing mention in David S. Brown’s 2006 biography of Hofstadter. Brown notes that she was a WWII widow, had planned to study journalism at Columbia, and worked for *Parents* magazine in Manhattan. Brown says that Hofstadter wanted to remarry (he himself was a widower) to bring his son to New York.[2] And this all we get—despite the pregnant note above from Elkins and McKitrick. Brown includes the The Hofstadter Aegis as a source in his bibliographic essay, but the single paragraph on Beatrice, in the main text, doesn’t cite it or mention the passage above. Brown chose to spend the chapter, and the one before it, on Hofstadter’s family, first wife (Felice Hoftstadter nee Swados), his first book (Social Darwinism in American Thought, 1860-1915), and his first job (at the University of Maryland). Those are sensible choices for an intellectual biography, but Beatrice represents a missed opportunity.

I suppose this is simply another kind of “neglected spouse” story in the history of academia, and the life of the mind generally.  It’s an all-too-common genre, where the female is really a hidden thought partner, contributing in heretofore unknown and unappreciated ways. Alice Howe Gibbens famously supported William James through al

l kinds of trials, serving also as his amanuensis. Mary Shelley also did the same for Percy Bysshe Shelley. Hofstadter, for his part, provides hints about Beatrice’s practical help and intellectual importance. She is mentioned in the acknowledgments of both The Age of Reform (1955) and Anti-intellectualism in American Life (1963). The former contains two sentences about her, and the latter one. In the first he cites her prominently, thanking her “above all” for her “indispensable” advice and gifts as a “textual critic.”  He notes that she possesses “a major gift for asking the right questions.” In the latter, Hofstadter writes that she provided him “textual and substantive criticism of incalculable value.” [3] In both, she’s not the last person mentioned—the traditional place of honor for key players, or for those one wishes to honor in a special way. Rather she heads paragraphs wherein people are acknowledged. The importance of “Mrs. Hofstadter” cannot be missed.

What does this mean? First, I’ve not read every appreciation or biographical sketch of Hofstadter, but it seems clear that no scholars have substantially underscored the importance of Beatrice to Richard’s work. Brown made nothing of it. Perhaps the archival record contains no evidence of Beatrice’s emendations, notations, or comments. Hofstadter himself, despite the acknowledgments, chose not to underscore or highlight her particular contributions. Perhaps his effusive acknowledgment statements merely humored a spouse who tired of his writing life? If so, the is no record of marriage discord over his time spent writing and on his extensive scholarly pursuits.

The footnote in Aegis, however, cries out for more exploration. What if the genius of Richard Hofstadter is really, at heart, something more in line with the kind of credit given to Mary and Charles Beard? Even if the Hofstadter partnership was less extensive, these kinds of stories need to be fleshed for the history community, and academia at large. There is virtue in bringing hidden academic labor to light.

The myth of the heroic lone scholar, idolized for his/her singular and exceptional output, is an academic mainstay. It supports a celebrity hiring model in higher education that has fed faculty inequalities and undermined the notion of scholarly communities. And it may, returning to the topic of exemplars, further undermine the case for making Richard Hofstadter’s work, and output, a model for aspiring scholars. – TL


[1] Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, “Richard Hofstadter: A Progress,” in The Hofstadter Aegis: A Memorial, eds. Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974), p. 308.  I discovered this passage while reading further into Hofstadter’s oeuvre to see if I had missed something regarding his philosophy of education. As of today, I stand by what I said at the end of this post, published at my personal blog.

[2] David S. Brown, Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 49.

[3] Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R. (New York: Vintage, 1955), 329; Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Vintage, 1963), 434.

77 Thoughts on this Post

S-USIH Comment Policy

We ask that those who participate in the discussions generated in the Comments section do so with the same decorum as they would in any other academic setting or context. Since the USIH bloggers write under our real names, we would prefer that our commenters also identify themselves by their real name. As our primary goal is to stimulate and engage in fruitful and productive discussion, ad hominem attacks (personal or professional), unnecessary insults, and/or mean-spiritedness have no place in the USIH Blog’s Comments section. Therefore, we reserve the right to remove any comments that contain any of the above and/or are not intended to further the discussion of the topic of the post. We welcome suggestions for corrections to any of our posts. As the official blog of the Society of US Intellectual History, we hope to foster a diverse community of scholars and readers who engage with one another in discussions of US intellectual history, broadly understood.

  1. Follow the link I inserted above (on Beatrice’s first mention, here again) to read more about her extraordinary life as an editor and(!) American history instructor. There can be no doubt about her skills and influence. – TL

    • Two long but relevant excerpts:

      1. White worked closely with Hofstadter on “Great Issues In American History, From Reconstruction to the Present Day,” which is used in classrooms. After his death in 1970 at age 54, she added a new section covering 1970 to 1981.

      White edited three books by C. Wright Mills, “New Men of Power,” “The Puerto Rican Journey” and “White Collar,” and then edited four books for Pulitzer Prize-winning author Theodore H. White, whom she married in 1974.

      [Sarah] Hosfstadter called her mother the “writer behind the throne”…

      2. White was born Beatrice Kevitt in Buffalo, N.Y., on June 6, 1922. She graduated from Cornell University and received a master’s degree from Columbia University.

      She taught American history at Brooklyn College in the 1960s, providing rigorous coursework to academically high-performing students as part of a distinguished group of history professors, Ann Burton, her friend and former colleague, said Monday.

      “She was an extraordinary woman,” said Burton, who became chairman of Brooklyn College’s history department and then dean at New York University.

      “She was an unpublished scholar, but she was of immense importance to Dick Hofstadter and Teddy White,” she said.

      “She had an intensely inquiring mind and the most rigorous standards. You couldn’t get away with anything, and she couldn’t either,” Burton said.

      “She had an analytical mind. It was not an ideological mind. She certainly had the capacity to think historically. I think she was a natural historian.”

      My observations:

      (1) I think I may have accidentally underplayed Beatrice’s potential role in RH’s two Pulitzer-winning books;
      (2) BH deserves significantly more exploration for her own historical work;
      (3) I wonder if papers about her are in a Brooklyn College archives (in History Dept files, if that archive and those files exists), or in the archive papers of Theodore White?
      (4) How has this partnership not been more widely recognized? …I think I know the answer to this one. – TL

      • The book was edited and published posthumously by Marc Bloch’s friend Lucien LeFebvre. The dedication (it’s at the office, so I’m doing this from memory) is something like “Had he lived, he certainly would have dedicated this work to this most important person in his life, Mrs. Marc Bloch.”
        I’m sure if I had the French language facility, I could find out more about her, like her name, but it hasn’t been that high a priority.
        I have however, recently learned that there’s a newer edition of the book in French, published in the 1990s, and I’m a little bitter that there isn’t an English translation.

      • Thanks Jonathan. I knew of the title, from my graduate school days. There are so many works about the historian’s craft, and the Annales School is a standard unit, but I never had a reason to familiarize myself with this book—or its introduction and acknowledgments. …Typical Americanist, I guess. 🙂

      • I’ve found it, and it’s actually more relevant than I remembered:
        There was a person to whom Marc Bloch, before departing, would have dedicated one of the great works that we still expected from him. Those of us who knew and loved Marc Bloch were aware of the single-hearted tenderness with which she enveloped him and his children – and of that abnegation with which she had served him as secretary and helped in his labors. I feel it as an obligation which nothing can prevent me from meeting – not even that sense of sentimental reserve which was so strong with Marc Bloch – I feel it as a duty to set down here the name of Madame Marc Bloch, who died in the same cause as her husband and in the same French faith. (xviii)
        Res ipsa loquotor, as they say.

  2. And here I thought we were going to argue about populism. I’m afraid I don’t understand what is at stake in elevating Beatrice Hofstadter to the status of co-author, to the standing of Mary Beard–which seems to be the implicit project here. She clearly helped Richard in many ways, but The Age of Reform (1955) is not, by any reading, a stylistically better book than The American Political Tradition (1948). RH hit his stride with the latter book, his second; the former has plenty of strange infelicities, particularly a resort to the passive voice when he’s itching to criticize something (e.g., anti-trust law, and even the Populists).

    What more do you want than the acknowledgments RH provided in two books, one his best and the other his worst? Every scholar gets help from somewhere. In the 1950s and 60s, when the discipline was populated almost exclusively by men who were mostly married, the unpaid and unacknowledged labor of wives was surely a commonplace. The exploitation of graduate students was equally apparent–or invisible?–of course, because those were the days when your dissertation topic was decided by your adviser, who had already lifted the research from your seminar papers for his latest book.

    My guess is that you want to prove RH was an elitist, not an exemplar, and that this tack is another way of making the case. By your telling, he personified the “myth of the heroic lone scholar” who, as a synthesizer rather than an archive rat, was actually standing on the shoulders of other scholars as well as his wife’s (William Appleman Williams criticized RH on the same grounds). So he enabled the “celebrity hiring model” that disfigures academia unto our time, meanwhile destroying scholar communities and feeding faculty inequities.

    That’s a pretty heavy load to bear, especially when all you’ve got, by your own accounting, are hints of Beatrice’s editorial collaboration. If you want to prove your point, why don’t you just stick with his fear of Populism? Isn’t that enough to convict him of elitism? Or, alternatively, why not do a close reading of the posthumously published work, which Beatrice shepherded through production–see if there’s anything anomalous in the tone, the syntax (which was quite convoluted in RH’s prose), the diction more generally?

    You conclude by suggesting that this supposed “myth of the heroic lone scholar” which RH embodies–for you, anyway–may “further undermine the case for making RH’s work, and output, a model for aspiring scholars.” I confess, Tim, I just don’t get why you’d want to. What, exactly, is the point of saying, ‘Do not follow this path’?

    What path is that? Don’t criticize the Populists? Check, no worries there anymore, not after Goodwyn. (But then what do you do about Williams, the Marxist, the intellectual godfather of the New Left, who agreed with Hofstadter?) Don’t make fun of janitors? Check. Don’t exploit your spouse? Check. Don’t work hard, don’t write well, don’t try to see the big picture? Check.

    In my boundary 2 essay on RH, I say that he’s the most important historian of his generation, which includes Williams, Genovese, Woodward, Susman, not to mention Joan Wallach Scott. I stand by that assessment. He wasn’t a Marxist–neither was C. Wright Mills, but, like Mills, he brought Marxist methods and insights to the study of American history. So did most historians after 1970.

    Now, a final, diagnostic question. Does Hofstadter represent for you the moral equivalent of, say, William H. Dunning or Ulrich B. Phillips, historians whose candid racism–a different register of elitism–regulated the study of Civil War and Reconstruction for three generations? If so, I understand your urge to debunk and demote him. If not, I still don’t get it.

    • I understand that you and Tim have been having some disagreements about Hofstadter, but I think you should acknowledge the ways in which your “so, what?” about his wife’s labor as profoundly sexist. Much of what I do here at the blog is attempt to underscore the invisible labor and intellectual work of women, people of color, and other erased populations. Beatrice is important not because she made his work or prose better (though it is likely she did), but because she was significantly engaged in his thinking and the development of his work. Shouldn’t she be seen as a co-author?

      Why do you insist so dramatically that there is no “so what?” in excavating the role of women in intellectual history? You say “What more do you want than the acknowledgments RH provided in two books, one his best and the other his worst? Every scholar gets help from somewhere. In the 1950s and 60s, when the discipline was populated almost exclusively by men who were mostly married, the unpaid and unacknowledged labor of wives was surely a commonplace” but doesn’t the commonality of this occurrence make it worth studying in itself?

      Anyway, just felt the need to wade in here.

      • Thank you, Holly, for wading in. Your comment is spot-on in every respect.

        As to Tim’s project of “debunking” Hofstadter or otherwise rendering him a suspect source/authority to invoke in contemporary historical arguments — that’s not a project I share. I don’t have any great animus toward Hofstadter nor any great fondness for him either — beyond that generally admiring but occasionally irritated response to his Mid-Century Magisterial Male prose style. The more I think about the ways that that supremely self-confident, effortlessly authoritative style for Hofstadter’s whole cohort likely depended on the obfuscated intellectual and emotional labor of the women in those great men’s lives, the more irksome my encounters with the Great Man become. But (or so) he was a crackerjack of a writer, and however many hands or minds went into the shaping of his arguments, the prose on the page bears reading decades later.

        Whether all the arguments bear up under the weight of current questions is another question entirely.

      • I’m okay with the fact that others don’t share my debunking/anti-exemplar project. I haven’t presented all my evidence here. And that project is centered,really, on one book (AIAL). But I find these other avenues of critique, of Hofstadter, interesting.

        And I believe this topic, or question, regarding the degree of Beatrice’s contributions to RH’s work to be interesting in its own right. I mean, I find Beatrice herself interesting, apart from her relationship with RH. – TL

  3. Well obviously Jim, Tim’s sole purpose in writing this piece is to eviscerate whatever argument you made in this essay you keep referring us to.

    Or, it could be that his purpose in this post is to follow up on some discoveries he made that connected to a conversation that he and I engaged in after my post of last week about prose style and gender.

    • Well, gee, L. D., I never thought Tim was trying to eviscerate my boundary 2 essay. But that essay is, in fact, the occasion for our exchanges on RH. I won’t restate its arguments because I have some faith in readers here, who can decide for themselves whether Tim misrepresented me and/or RH.

      But look, if we want to talk about gender and prose style, let’s do the necessary close reading. A footnote about Beatrice is interesting, and the obit is fascinating, but the texts themselves remain unexamined–at least in the terms you and Tim have posited.

      By my reading, the stylistic differences between 1948 and `1955 are negligible, or do not make The Age of Reform a better book. What then? Where’s Beatrice?

      Of course Hofstadter was insanely ambitious. What is the point of writing anything if you don’t think it’ll be the best thing ever, and will change people’s minds, and maybe even make you famous? I don’t think that’s a gendered perspective. I think we, all of us, write to be remembered.

      • >>What is the point of writing anything if you don’t think it’ll be the best thing ever, and will change people’s minds, and maybe even make you famous?

        To get paid. Sometimes it’s a job, just like any other job, but it’s easier to fantasize about greatness when you have a primary income that isn’t dependent on it.

      • Do we all write to be remembered? Or expect/desire the product to be the best thing EVER? …Or do some of us write because we are compelled, internally, to do so, and hope that our work will just be read, or just appreciated. I don’t think all have “ambition” in the way that you describe it, Jim. – TL

  4. I confess to both, but today’s post was more in relation to Lora’s point about style, voice, and gender. I think this entry stands on its own as a topic of interest, per my first paragraph. Labor help in any form must be underscored in relation to the full package of what it means to be a successful, star professor in the post-WWII university world.

    As for the project of diminishing the stature of RH, well, yes—though that grew specifically and secondarily from my attempt to asterisk the legacy of a specific book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. That’s where all of this started, two years ago. From that project I determined that RH’s views of K-12 education—in terms of its practitioners and philosophers—were elitist. As for RH’s work on populism, that interests purely as a side point.

    The overall project of diminishment has grown organically, from several seeds. But yes, it was prompted, Jim, by your questions of me and the overall project—as I read it—of the boundary2 essay. I’m pushing criticism of RH as a corrective to any push for him as an exemplar. He can only be an exemplar if several giant caveats are always at the front of one’s mind. – TL

  5. I spent some time in the Hofstadter oral history collection, and here’s another piece of news: there was another Mrs. Hofstadter! He divorced the first Mrs. Hofstadter early on — one consensus view of the divorce was that she was a “difficult” woman, and perhaps emotionally disabled. But I believe that is was Alfred Kazin who had another back story — they had become involved in CP activities in the 1930s, which RH later sought to hide, and being married to her was a nasty piece of evidence to the contrary.

    RE. Jim’s question above — and the story I just told should be looked up in the primary sources prior to citing it, because it is memory only — what I did get from the oral history project was that Hofstadter was one of the most ambitious men alive, and that the CP past, the volatile wife and his Jewishness were, he felt, aspects of the package that needed to be erased or de-emphasized. Frank Freidel recalled in his oral history that every time a new issue of the Partisan Review came out, and Hofstadter remained unpublished in it, Freidel would have to go over to Hofstadter’s apartment where the great (young) man was lying despondent on the couch with the shades pulled down and talk him out of his depression.

    I don’t think this makes Hofstadter different from his peers, but ambition among historians has never been properly studied, and it should be — and having the right wife was not only an intellectual asset, it was a social asset too.

    • What a great anecdote (plus), Claire. Ambition. Wow. Both an asset and a liability, for most. How to balance ambition and drive with a sense of balance. And what of charity, or benevolence? Weren’t most of his “students” only so indirectly. He never directly supervised another thesis, right? If I’m remembering that properly, well, that work would detract from one’s ambitious scholarly writing goals. And how do ambition and ‘elitism’ interact? – TL

      • Both Carroll Smith and Charles Rosenberg were his students at Columbia, if I remember correctly, but it seems unlikely that he would have supervised theses in Early American history and the history of medicine — I should ask them. Carroll did once tell me that the essays in The American Political Tradition were originally drafted by Hofstadter’s students as seminar papers, which he then re-wrote for an essay collection. This was a not uncommon form of academic serfdom in the twentieth century — and another form of hidden labor.

        Ferreting out and documenting these things would be a great essay collection. And btw, since I don’t see it cited above, Bonnie Smith did a great book on the hidden history of women’s labor in the historical profession.

      • Hofstadter was Linda Kerber’s dissertation supervisor, I believe. She wrote about him with both fondness and frustration in either the preface or the intro to Toward an Intellectual History of Women. It’s a very moving section of her writing, and it prompted one of the first blog posts I ever wrote, back when I was just LD, at my now-defunct old blog. I am not seeing the book on my shelves right now — it’s probably right in front of me — but if I recall, she wrote that she had not even realized Hofstadter was Jewish until his funeral, and she mentioned in particular how moved she was to hear the cantor’s Kol Nidre. She also talked in that intro about the “invisible academy,” which is I think what my post was about. I’m not even sure I have the login to that blog any more, but I’ll try to find it.

        I guess from the beginning of my studies I’ve been interested in making visible what has been overlooked or hidden away — the invisible academy, the backchannel, and so forth. “To hear with eyes…” — that’s the hard part.

  6. Jim, I don’t think Tim or I claimed that the evidence for Beatrice Hofstadter’s assistance would show up mostly as a superficial difference of prose style. Indeed, it could lie in the shape of the text itself. He said in his acknowledgments that she asked the right questions. She may well have also suggested some right answers.

    In any case, I’m not sure what is to be gained or defended or preserved by insisting on not just the singular but more particularly the solitary genius of Richard Hofstadter, or why it should so rankle a loud and proud Marxist like yourself that some of us would like to pay more attention to the means of Hofstadter’s scholarly production or to the role of “invisible” feminine labor in the overlapping prestige economies of the mid-century academics and public intellectuals.

    Is there some particular reason that Hofstadter’s ideas and their expression in those books must be reckoned as the singular work of Hofstadter alone?

  7. LD has zeroed in on the precise passage from RH’s acknowledgments that caught my attention—the part that resonated: Beatrice had “a major gift for asking the right questions.”

    That can mean many things. Shaping the style, sentence content, chapter structure, selection and emphasis, etc. But it definitely means something more, to me, than mere proofreading and word niggling. – TL

  8. Well, I’m more mystified than ever. When it comes to debating Hofstadter, the prose style is anything but a superficial issue–it’s what he is most celebrated for, partly because he was an academic who created a constituency outside of, and larger than, his colleagues among professional historians.

    I thought one of the issues, or complaints, was that Beatrice obviously shaped Richard’s writing. But if he maintained that mid-century magisterial male prose style through all the books and essays of the 1960s–and had developed it by 1948–how. exactly, did Beatrice make her mark?

    Look, people–Tim, LD, Holly–I’m simply claiming that Hofstadter was not the caricature you want him to be, the lone heroic intellectual unbound by obligation to anyone. Of course he exploited his wife, as did every other husband in history. Of course he stole from Freidel and Stampp and Woodward and every other monographic historian of his acquaintance–just as Williams said he did. Again, as I have said on this site too many times, Hofstadter was a synthesizer. He stood on a lot of shoulders, and he knew it.

    The pragmatic test is this. What changes, Tim, if your hunch is verified, that Beatrice was a whole lot more important than we now know? What changes, LD, if we detect significant differences in the prose style of this magisterial mid-century male?

    We’re stuck. You seem to think that I want to deny any input of unpaid, invisible female labor in Hofstadter’s corpus. I’d have to be stupid to sustain such a denial. I won’t cite Benjamin to make the point about the artifacts of civilization and barbarism. But I still wonder about the derivation of the animus.

    Put it this way. Why do you want us to avoid or debunk Hofstadter? You haven’t answered that question yet. And what if we apply the Beatrice test to every male magisterial historian at mid-20th century? What’s left as a model of scholarly ambition and comportment?

    The best thing that ever happened to the Rutgers History department came when it rolled the dice and gambled on the future of the history of women. This was mid-70s. The bet paid off and then some. But the additive principle of early women’s history (comparable to Af-Am history)–women were there, at that event, too–seems now to be reanimated in this dustup over Hofstadter.

    I don’t think he deserves this treatment. And neither does Beatrice. The obit tells us she wasn’t a passive figure, a clerk or an amanuensis, She wasn’t anybody’s fool. But that’s all it tells us.

    I hereby demand–OK, just suggest–that USIH links to my 2007 essay on Hofstadter from boundary 2. That would clarify a lot.

    • “Mid-Century Magisterial Male” is a generational prose style reflecting a particular relationship of the author to both the subject matter and the community of experts, and it is a style that has been gendered as male (partly through the suppression/obfuscation of women’s participation in its creation). But it’s not a biologically sexed style. You don’t think a savvy editor and sensitive stylist can shape her prose (or edit someone else’s) in such a voice? You don’t think a smart woman can pull off the trick (intentionally or otherwise) of “writing like a man”? Then you’ve never read a woman’s pseudonymous prose and assumed, based on the style, that it was written by a man. Most longtime regular readers of this blog can’t say the same.

      The point of my post was to respond to Tim’s question about whether or not the Hofstadter education anthology would give him much insight into RH’s thinking about education. I argued no, but for reasons different than one might expect — I argued that what the anthology reveals instead is the collective judgment of a number of people who had a hand in shaping it, editing it, funding it. And I used that to reflect on the broader applicability of Foucault’s argument about the death of the author, about de-emphasizing “what Hofstadter thought” and emphasizing what was the mindset / sensibility / “climate of opinion” of his cohort and his time.

      Whatever the mindset, the prose style of all the so-called “consensus historians,” with minor variations, can all be characterized quite comfortably as MCMM. And the “magisterial” part comes from the author’s inhabiting the identity/adopting the voice of the singular/preeminent/unquestioned and unquestioning Authority — again, something that very much has to do with construing “masterful” historical writing as the intellectual extension of an almost exclusively masculine space.

      Why does this reading bother you?

      • And — Lord have mercy! — did you really suggest that examining how writing as labor is gendered, how women’s labor in writing is obscured, and seeking to understand how that unacknowledged and understudied labor has shaped the very thoughts many of us are studying as well as those thoughts we are using to interrogate other subjects — did you really suggest that this kind of thoughtful attention to the articulation of ideas and to a more complete understanding of the textual world they both create and inhabit amounts to “the additive principle of early women’s history” which, in your telling, was content to make the simple claim that “women were there too”? And on top of that, you tossed in African-American history as a comparison?

        This is a deep, deep hole you are digging, Dr. Livingston.

      • Incidentally, the thing you’re saying here about women being able to write in the male authorial voice, and helping create it, rings true to me. During FDR’s presidency, everybody who wrote to FDR (some 15 million letters!) got a personalized response from FDR…and virtually all of them were written by women. Gabrielle Forbush, the White House mail secretary, developed the form letters and the authorial style by reading FDR’s speeches and personal correspondence, and she supervised a team of twenty-seven other women who wrote the individual responses. Her advice to them? “Always remember that he is a man and you are a woman.” She took pride in her work and lovingly collected responses she received from voters to the replies she herself had ghostwritten. These letters indicate that some correspondents thought the replies were by FDR himself, and some realized they were from a secretary, but virtually none of them realized they were from a FEMALE secretary.

      • I see the stakes are higher than I thought. I didn’t see the danger coming.

        I’m not digging a hole–by now I’m just wondering what bothers you, L.D., and Tim so much about what I’ve written. I have no objection to close readings of the textual world, whatever they prove. But that’s not what is happening here. Instead, my advocacy of Hofstadter’s writing, the form and the content, is taken as ignorance or denigration of his wife’s invisible labor. I don’t see the connection both of you assume.

        Playing the gender card, and then doubling down with the race card, L.D., these are not ways of convincing me or anybody else of your righteousness, Lord have mercy. When I use the phrase “additive principle,” I mean–and you know I mean–that once upon a time in the evolution of American historiography, we, us historians, added great and accomplished women to the grand narrative, to prove that women’s history was a legitimate dimension of History, the curriculum, as then conceived.

        Things changed when women’s history became gender history. That’s when we could begin to see how sexual differences and hierarchies saturated everything, especially but not only language (prose styles). Even absent causative or great women, the history we could write changed accordingly, not just to include females and sexuality, but to make them central to the grandest of narratives.

        The same goes for the evolution of African-American history. Additive principle–take notice, here are black folk who achieved great things–eventually becomes the history of race and “whiteness,” leading toward a complete rewrite of slavery, capitalism, and American history as such. Albert Murray’s notion of “omni-Americans” comes of age as we, us historians, realize that there is no plausible grand narrative that doesn’t place African-Americans at its very center.

        In the case at hand, though, the additive principle becomes subtractive, thereby diminishing our narrative choices rather than enlarging them. The formula, at least as you and Tim have presented it, goes like this. When we add Beatrice Hofstadter to the chemistry of mid-20th century historical consciousness, we are able to see that her husband was kind of a schmuck who exploited her talents without adequate acknowledgment.

        What follows? As far as I can tell, nothing except a reason, or an excuse, to ignore or evade Hofstadter’s work, because he was, after all, a schmuck. As Tim puts it, insofar as we understand that Hofstadter represents the myth of the heroic lone scholar, we are able to “undermine the case for making RH’s work, and output, a model for aspiring scholars.”

        To my mind, Hofstadter was a great historian, a genuine craftsman we can learn from. You all seem to think we don’t need to because Beatrice has gone unsung. That is what still mystifies me about this enterprise.

    • I know that this is something you and others have debated, but I am not at all invested in debunking RH or whatever you think we are doing here. I’m interested in a discussion of women’s intellectual labor.

      You say “et. And what if we apply the Beatrice test to every male magisterial historian at mid-20th century? What’s left as a model of scholarly ambition and comportment?”
      What’s left is the importance of women to intellectual history, which you seem to seem insignificant as you pursue a hagiographic image of RH.

      • I’m not trying to suppress the role of women in intellectual history, and I’m not trying to make RH a saint. I’m just wondering why and how this particular instance matters. I’m surprised by the anger, I must say.

    • You said “I’m not trying to suppress the role of women in intellectual history, and I’m not trying to make RH a saint. I’m just wondering why and how this particular instance matters. I’m surprised by the anger, I must say.”

      IT ALWAYS MATTERS, because this happens constantly. And regards of your opinions on RH, he should be thought of in the context of Beatrice’s work. I don’t understand how you can’t see that “wondering why and how this particular instance matters” is in fact, whether you want to believe it or not, “suppressing the role of women in intellectual history.” If you are not actively trying to bring out the contributions of women in intellectual history you are complicit in their erasure and the myth of great intellectual men like RH.

  9. Thanks to Tim’s excellent post and inspired by this fascinating dialogue, I went looking for Beatrice.

    I found her in 1961:
    “Refurbished domesticity–‘togetherness’–is once again a central value in American life…On the level of the popular novel, at least, we seem no nearer than we were a hundred years ago to finding a working answer for women’s opposing needs–fulfillment as women and as autonomous individuals.”–Beatrice K. Hofstadter, “Popular Culture and the Romantic Heroine,” The American Scholar 30 (1960-61):98-116.*

    “BEATRICE KEVITT HOFSTADTER lives in New York City with her husband and two children. This essay is taken from a book she is now writing, dealing with best-selling novels and their relation to American social history.”

    I found her in 1974:
    “Married. Theodore Harold White, 58, veteran journalist and author of the four bestselling Making of the President volumes; and Beatrice Kevitt Hofstadter, 50, historian and widow of Richard Hofstadter, one of the greatest American history scholars of his generation; he for the second time, she for the third; in Manhattan.”–TIME Magazine milestones, 8 April 1974

    For a new intellectual biography, let’s flip the story so that Beatrice Kevitt Hofstadter White runs lede. The “Mrs.” is part of her story, yes, but not all of it. Her long editorial career, her archival instincts, as well as her intellectual partnership with third husband Theodore White (“Making of the Presidency” series) all merit greater scholarly notice. I’ll have to look more for her byline, especially as we kick off a book salon here about women, public voices, and power. FYI, White’s Harvard archives hold more of Beatrice’s research notes for and comments on his drafts: http://oasis.lib.harvard.edu/oasis/deliver/~hua16004).

    Oh, and one more: I found Beatrice in 2009, cataloguing and donating RH’s photos, letters, and annotated manuscript drafts to his native SUNY Buffalo (yes, including ‘Anti-Intellectualism in American Life’): http://www.buffalo.edu/atbuffalo/article-page-winter-2017.host.html/content/shared/www/atbuffalo/articles/Winter-2017/features/american-forecaster.detail.html

    Archivists bring intellectual rigor to every collection they shape; understanding how Beatrice organized RH’s legacy for research is key.

    • Jacqui: Indeed. It’s sort of implied in the footnote pictured above. And another colleague suggested it in another thread outside the blog. Thanks, TL

  10. Jim, to be clear:

    • as far as I can tell from this thread, Tim, and Tim alone, is interested in diminishing Hofstadter’s appeal to contemporary historians.
    • You “played the gender card” and “doubled down with the race card” when you suggested that our interest in how Beatrice Hofstadter’s intellectual work shows up in RH’s writing amounts to no more than contributionist women’s history or African-American history.
    • No, we are not saying “look, women were there!” We don’t need to. Women have always been there. Some women have been more influential in scholarship than others. It seems likely that Beatrice Hofstadter may have been much more influential than has heretofore been noted
    • Beatrice Hofstadter’s intellectual work showing up in the pages of Richard Hofstadter’s books doesn’t make those books or the ideas in them any less insightful or brilliant. How could it? Her collaboration doesn’t change the words on the page as they stand now. What was published is still there. If the ideas were brilliant before people suggested Beatrice might have had a hand in them, they are still brilliant
    • Beatrice Hofstadter’s intellectual work showing up in the pages of Richard Hofstadter’s book changes only our understanding of the extent to which RH’s work was or was not solitary or singular. It changes our understanding, perhaps, of academic luminaries, of great writers — maybe of the labor and nature of writing itself.

      So why does that bother you? I don’t understand the anger.

    • To clarify, again, on LD’s first bullet: I am interested in attaching a major asterisk to RH’s book on anti-intellectualism. I also have an argument about elitism in RH’s views on K-12 education (and maybe w/r/t higher ed too). Courtesy of this post and the explorations behind it, I now have reservations about promoting RH as an exemplary scholar without acknowledging potential contributions from other sources. Finally, I also have reservations about RH’s high liberal view of right-wing populism as being a reason to think less of popular, direct democracy as an ideal and aspiration. That all of this seems to be a project of ad hominem diminishment is an accidental unifying view. I don’t think Hofstadter should be an exemplar for historians today, but it’s for impersonal reasons. And it doesn’t mean I see no, or only low, value in Hofstadter’s work. I think it worthwhile for intellectual wrestling. I’ve been doing that for several years now. It’s been important to me. But the process of wrestling has exposed, to me, serious faults in his work. – TL

      • Tim, thanks, I should have been more specific about your project here, as you have been specific in prior comments.

        As you have clarified above, this is really a standalone post about — or at least it started out as such. Fortunately, it has opened up some discussion about rather substantive issues related to intellectual work, writing, the professional prestige economy, how intellectual history has been gendered — big and important topics all. That our comments about these issues are being lumped together and dismissed by Jim as nothing more than ad hominem attacks on Richard Hofstadter, or nothing more than exempla of women’s history in its (implicitly, “naive” or “simplistic”) beginnings, is not a very thoughtful or well-considered response.

  11. Hey Tim,

    In terms of your interests in education, elitism, cosmopolitanism, magisterial writing, and under-appreciated female labour, I wonder if it would be useful to look at the late Tony Judt (1948-2010) as something of an analogue to Hofstadter. Judt was a brilliant prose stylist, magisterial style, etc. And had interesting and somewhat similar political commitments. As Judt’s friend, the NYU philosopher Thomas Nagel wrote of him:

    “Wary of group identity, [Judt] was an Englishman but exceptionally cosmopolitan, a Jew who became an outspoken critic of Zionism, and an egalitarian social democrat who was also an elitist and a defender of meritocracy” (Thomas Nagel, “Tony Judt: The Distinctions,” Feb. 10, 2011 NYRB).

    And Judt also married (his third marriage) his student and former ballerina Jennifer Homans, who edited a volume of his essays after his death.

    I think Judt’s article, “Meritocrats” (August 19, 2010 NYRB) will be very interesting to you. His NYRB essays were very personal and revealing, I don’t know if Hofstadter ever wrote things like that. Lots are interesting.

    Judt discusses Homans, among other things, in his essay “Girls! Girls! Girls!” (March 11, 2010, NYRB).

    • Thanks for pointing me toward Judt (who I enjoy reading), and for these suggestions generally. I think I’ve read the “Meritocrats” essay, but would need to refresh my memory. Otherwise, yes, Judt as analogue is good for me to consider. – TL

  12. Holly Genovese: “Much of what I do here at the blog is attempt to underscore the invisible labor and intellectual work of women, people of color, and other erased populations. Beatrice is important not because she made his work or prose better (though it is likely she did), but because she was significantly engaged in his thinking and the development of his work. Shouldn’t she be seen as a co-author?”

    Is there any scholarly work either published or in progress on this subject of “the invisible labor and intellectual work of women” in the academy, in particular? I’m thinking of something along the lines of Jeanne Boydston’s Home and Work: Housework, Wages, and the Ideology of Labor in the Early Republic – but specifically doing what Tim is talking about in this post and what is running throughout many of the comments on it. As L.D. points out, “Beatrice Hofstadter’s intellectual work showing up in the pages of Richard Hofstadter’s book changes only our understanding of the extent to which RH’s work was or was not solitary or singular. It changes our understanding, perhaps, of academic luminaries, of great writers — maybe of the labor and nature of writing itself.” That last point, at least to me, is what is most significant about this debate. Hofstadter the person, writer, and scholar is just one component of a much larger historical question: how do historians create history?

    I think that a project like this, if successful, would link together several strands of historiography: gender studies, labor history, historical knowledge creation (think of Anthony Grafton’s work on the history of the footnote).

    • I just want to clarify a point in my post above.

      I’m not suggesting that there is no work at all on this subject. See the comment I quoted from Holly: “Much of what I do here at the blog is attempt to underscore the invisible labor and intellectual work of women, people of color, and other erased populations.”

      I meant: is there any article- or book-length study that you are aware of that deals exclusively with the topic?

    • Thanks for these reminder links. I remember both posts (and even commented on the first), but I missed/forgot the reference of Smith’s book in them.

    • Thanks for these posts, L.D.! I’ll be reading them shortly.

      And I’ll second your dissertation proposal: “Also, to some beginning PhD student still searching about for a dissertation topic — how about Beatrice Hofstadter?”

  13. Hi Tim,

    I’m writing and thinking about many similar issues. The role of masculinity among the New York intellectual and how they helped gender the intellectual male in. To be taken intellectually seriously the women in the group performed male toughness in the public sphere and their prose. Think Diana Trilling. Gertrude Himmelfarb, Midge Decter. But many also labored invisibly as you and LD note behind their husbands, and were frustrated. Diana Trilling, Ann Birstein (Alfred Kazin’s long suffering wife), Pearl Bell (Kazin), to name just a few. I don’t usually wade into blog posts but we should talk. And many of these men were Jews.

  14. I object, your honor. I have “dismissed” nothing as ad hominem attacks on Hofstadter. I have been wondering why it’s so pressing to debunk and demote him in this manner. I don’t agree with everything he wrote, but I think he got American populism right, and I know he explained the discontinuity between the Progressive Era and the New Deal in a novel, useful way–as did William Appleman Williams in Contours.

    But I can now see the trap I’ve fallen into here. Either I’m a hagiographer or a sexist pig, good Lord, maybe even a racist, according to LD Burnett. Oops, sorry, the obvious answer is: all of the above. Not much of a multiple choice test. Next time, I won’t take the bait. But y’all carry on. And good luck in that archive.

  15. I’d like to make just a small point about prose and style. As L.D. and Tim have pointed out, RH credits Beatrice with “asking the right questions,” and that seems to point us towards a substantial albeit nebulous role as sounding board or interlocutor. That would in itself be enough to merit further research into her influence and contributions, but we also could perhaps be a bit more concrete about what this role might actually look like in practice–at least we can set some parameters for how to think about what wives like Beatrice might have done in the work of composition.

    First, let’s consider the issue that Jim raised–that there’s not a noticeable difference in prose style between the works RH wrote before he married Beatrice and those he wrote after. That may well be true, but that need not mean that she did not have a hand in further shaping and refining his prose. For one thing, gifted editors are often able to hone a writer’s style by teaching them to, in essence, imitate themselves, or rather to imitate the best parts of themselves. Famously, Gordon Lish is credited with helping Raymond Carver develop his “distinctive” voice, and Maxwell Perkins had the enormous flexibility to draw out the very different styles of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Wolfe. To treat style as a kind of native endowment rather than a product that often is created collaboratively is to retreat to an archaic and quite improbable concept of authorship, where “style” is a kind of trademark that proves the stamp of the author’s singular genius. Whether we discuss it in terms of corporate authorship or think more about particular relationships between editors and writers, there is little doubt that “style” is a very dubious kind of evidence for making the case for sole authorship–or in this case for asserting that Beatrice’s influence was negligible.

    Instead, it encourages us to look beneath the printed page and actually try to research the composition process of RH’s books. Obviously, this is not something one can do from one’s home computer, and it is, confessedly, a tedious and uncertain process. But we can certainly from this distance think creatively about where Beatrice’s hand might have entered the process. Did she type Richard’s handwritten drafts? If so, did she prune or rephrase here or there? Did she make suggestions for structural changes? Could she have queried particular lines that needed further or better explanation? Could she have made substantive comments–“what if you thought more about that in this way?” “Did you consider…?”

    It was precisely at the point of transfer between handwritten and typed manuscripts that–according to most of what I’ve read–the (uncredited) wife often entered, and that is a position that was ripe for a kind of editorial work that is probably very difficult to detect, but that could have had immense impact on the way a text took shape. There is, in fact, not a clear line demarcating what work is “editorial” in nature and what is “composition” or “revision–activities we usually think of as the “author’s” responsibilities. When does one cease being an editor and start being a coauthor?

    I have read a bit about certain husband and wife teams from around this time who were fairly open about their composition process: it was generally chaotic, with different versions of manuscripts shuffling between them in a way that left both husband and wife unsure who had written what. An example: After Middletown was published, Helen Merrell Lynd submitted certain selections that she claimed as the passages that she had contributed to the book as her dissertation. But really, she later said, she and Robert had no idea what was “hers” and what was “his” in the book–it was just a guess, and they only sliced the book up that way because her doctoral program wouldn’t accept a co-authored work as a student’s dissertation.

    The chaos that infused the composition process–especially before word processing–was a site of exploitation. Men could easily categorize women’s intellectual contributions as merely auxiliary–listening, typing, being a good sport. Probably most of this exploitation was done un-self-consciously, although I’m not sure that’s terribly pertinent.

    Jim asked the pragmatic question of what changes if we assume Beatrice’s influence on Richard’s books was greater than she has been publicly credited for. Perhaps the fact that we don’t know what *would* change if we find out more about her contributions is the truest answer–and the best reason why we should continue to push at these issues. We might have to rewrite everything, or some women may get more attention, or perhaps we downgrade some men’s “genius.” Who knows? But to me, “who knows” is terribly exciting.

    • Thanks for this, Andy. Makes me think some more about the whole dustup. Not that I will return to this fray, God forbid.

  16. Tim,

    One general question I am curious about, and would love to get your input on, is how Hofstadter deals with the various political reform movements of Populism, Progressivism, and New Deal liberalism in Age of Reform. I am wrestling with his periodization right now, because I think Hofstadter did say something particularly interesting about these movements– specifically, I think there is a good critique on how populism used the concept of “the people”– but to me it seems like he is arguing in that that book that there is a direct connection between New Deal liberalism and Populism, and that this connection is something of decline in possibility.

    Specifically, there is the argument that the Populists were largely reactionaries, that the Progressives were given to the problems of upper class Victorian thinking, and that the mass movements of protest in the 1930s combined these two problematic tendencies (with urban workers political movments) to create a problematically conceived social democratic state.

    Like I said, I would be curious to get your thoughts on this. Great series, though, on Hofstadter. This post is particularly fascinating and has given me much to think about as I write.

    • Also, I apologize for the duplicate response. I accidentally hit submit before I finished editing my comment, and only realized after having submitted the second response.

    • Wes,

      I used my blog editor powers to delete the first duplicate comment. On you questions, I’m not sure I have the best answers. It’s been years since I read Age of Reform, and at the time I read it quickly. Here are some of the notes I took while reading that are relevant to the issues you raise:

      – The book contained a lot the present (i.e. presentism), circa 1955, when it came to the New Deal. By this I mean that RH tried hard to understand the New Deal in relation to Progressivism, in order to critique the New Deal. I felt the book lost focus in the last chapter.
      – I felt the book was excellent on pre-WWI developments
      – C-4 felt key, wherein RH sets up the conversion from mugwumps to Progressivism and lays out various types of Progressivism.
      – Important passage (216): “The Progressive movement was the complaint of the marginalized against the consequences of organization.” But, (p.234), the “urgent fear of business” allowed Progressives to overcome the widespread fear of organization.”

      That’s all I have. – TL

  17. A few quick thoughts:

    1) Even though this is the U.S. Int. Hist. blog, an investigation of the invisible labor of male historians’ wives should probably, at least as a first cut, take a look beyond the U.S. One probably wouldn’t want to be putting the finishing touches on a journal article about this only to discover that, say (and this is hypothetical), Braudel’s wife played an important role in his magnum opus on the Mediterranean.

    2) Ronnie’s comment above ends by mentioning that a lot of the male mid-century New York intellectuals were Jewish. That’s true, but offhand I’m not sure how it’s relevant. I’d think the time period (40s, 50s, early ’60s) and the zeitgeist (don’t like that word much but can’t think of a better one) is what’s most relevant.

    3) Marion Cannon Schlesinger died not too long ago, at a very advanced age. Married to Arthur Schlesinger Jr. from [I forget the exact date] until around 1970, when they were divorced. The one capsule obit of her that I read did not say anything about her involvement with his books, but you never know, I suppose, until you look into it…

    • Louis is being modest. Paule Braudel is a very good example; see her account in “Les origines intellectuelles de Fernand Braudel: un temoignage,” Annales 47 (1992).

    • This is one of the strengths of Bonnie Smith’s The Gender of History. She looks at women in England, France, and the United States whose historical writing/labors have been devalued or dismissed or downright denied. I believe Mme Michelet comes in for an extended discussion. Really, the Bonnie Smith book, which I’ve blogged about here a couple of times, is a must-read for this discussion — as is Ellen Fitzpatrick’s History’s Memory, which I referenced in one of those Bonnie Smith posts.

    • In Ashkenazi Jewish tradition, the Talmudic scholar was the idealized Jewish male. Intellectual work was gendered male. Women could be breadwinners but not scholars. Ideas about Jewish masculinity, I think, have relevance to the shaping of mid-century American intellectual life.

  18. Maybe some of you will actually read this essay on Hofstadter, ten years old. Maybe Tim and LD will, too. Perhaps we can then clarify what is at stake in this “debate.” I am particularly interested in the source of the anger that has fueled it.

    Two contestants have claimed that I am suppressing the contribution of wives, and females more generally, to the mainstream of historiography in the 20th century. That is nonsense, of course, but there it is. There is the font of the anger.

    My aim here has been to rehabilitate Richard Hofstadter’s reputation, in the face of charges that he is a “consensus” historian–a convenient evasion of what he actually wrote–and an elitist uninterested in the amelioration or the “overthrow” of capitalism.

    Yes, he was ambitious. He probably had delusions of grandeur. And he exploited his wives. So what? How does that change the ways we can put his work to use? Karl Marx was, by all accounts, a complete asshole. So was the puritanical V. I. Lenin. And so were John Milton and Philip Roth. Do we stop reading them–putting them to use–because we know this about them?

    I’m sorry to sign off in this fashion, but you all have worn me out, even made me think that David Brown’s so-called intellectual biography of Hofstadter–a profoundly stupid book–has become the cutting edge of the field.


  19. Here is what I posted at LD Burnett’s Facebook page, where things are a little more, shall we say, animated. Like I said before, good luck to y’all.

    To my surprise, LD Burnett now seems to be the curator of comments from people who are willing to call me a “douchebag,” or say, “I hate him.” I am quoting Jacq Shi, and referencing Jeremy C. Young, who thinks I should be banned from these airwaves, apparently with LD’s approval.

    Now, it is one thing to disagree with me. That I’m used to. It is quite another to call me names, and expect me to stand still or stay silent.

    You, LD, have made this colloquy on Richard Hofstadter into a moralistic knife fight, against the wishes of Tim Lacy, who started it. I don’t know why—I don’t care to examine your motives—but I think you’d better ask yourself why the animus occurs, and remains.

    As I remember, this all started when Tim called Hofstadter an elitist and I objected. Now the controversy turns on whether his wife, Beatrice, was an unaccredited co-author of his prize-winning books, and how we might make historiographical amends for the omission.

    My strictly pragmatic question is: so what? How does designating Hofstadter an elitist change our appreciation of his work? How did Beatrice change his mind, his writing? Emile Durkheim was the worst misogynist on the planet, ca. 1912. Do we stop reading him for that reason?

  20. For the record — not that anyone asked — I have no opinion on whether Hofstadter was an elitist (in terms of his philosophy of education or anything else), because whatever Hofstadter I’ve read was so long ago (quite a lot of decades) that I don’t remember it at all well.

    Nor do I have an informed view on how much Beatrice H. might have contributed to her husband’s work or whether she changed his mind on anything. The evidence presented in this thread suggests that her contribution was more than negligible, but the specifics probably have to await someone’s research.

    In answer to Jim Livingston’s probably rhetorical question, no we shouldn’t stop reading authors because they are misogynists, but I’m not sure anyone in this discussion has taken that position.

    This blog’s comment threads are, I think, almost entirely devoid of name-calling, even when discussion gets heated. I’m not on Facebook, though I suppose I could change my mind about that at some point, and I don’t know much about what goes on there.

    • Louis, you are correct. None of us at the blog have suggested that no one should read Hofstadter. And, for the record, none of us on the blog staff suggested here or on Facebook that James Livingston be banned from commenting or contributing, nor have any of us seconded such a suggestion offered by someone else. It’s a shame to see such a marked decline in the quality and substance of his contributions to discussion here lately. I have published many outstanding guest posts from him in the past, as have many of my colleagues. What I’m seeing from him now in the way of discussion is disheartening and disappointing — but if this is how he wants to represent himself as a scholar and a conversation partner, that’s his business. He is free to make himself onerous to large segments of our readership if he wishes to do so. It’s his reputation that’s at stake, not anybody else’s.

      • L.D.,
        Since I don’t have ready access to Facebook threads, I esp. appreciate the statement/clarification in your third sentence above.

  21. Well, I’m glad that we’ve reached the point of absurdity, LD. You’re grading the trajectory of my career from your lofty perch? My guess is that something else is going on–something apart from the content of what I’ve said–but we’ll never figure that out. So I have to assume that all this unearned condescension is a reaction formation. You can look it up.

    • This last comment is not just hostile intellectual debate, but classic emotional manipulation and abuse focused solely on LD, when many others have been trying to engage you in pure intellectual debate. You have tried to make LD doubt her own position, mocked her, and shamed her: all classic signs of emotional abuse. At the same time, you refuse to meaningfully engage with other commenters on the site and refuse to see this as anything other than an attack. This is shameful, gendered, and abusive and I for one will no longer be engaging with you on this platform.

      • I’m amazed by this. In my view, LD was the one who became angry and abusive. I don’t know why, but I regret the rancor.

    • Okay. I apologize for the highly unusual measure of closing the comments. It was a prudential judgment, as I feared for the direction of things. So I forced a timeout, for a bit. The comments are now open again. They will remain open for as long as is needed to sort out everyone’s reactions to the post. – TL

  22. I read Tim’s post when it was first published, and appreciated the important questions it raised about the creation of the work of the first professional historian I ever read (in AP US history!) and who so impressed me that I very nerdily answered “Richard Hofstadter” to some version of the college application question, “Who would you want to be stranded with…? I was surprised to learn of the specific instance of Mme. Hofstadter’s apparently forgotten labors but wasn’t surprised at all that Tim, and it sounds like quite a few other readers, see it as important to call attention to such “forgetting” as of a piece with the dishonorable historical and contemporary tradition of making various forms of female labor invisible. I WAS surprised to return to the piece today after seeing a meta-conversation on Facebook, and to see how contentious the comment thread had become on a post that made conclusions I did not see as controversial at all! Without parsing the specific and surprisingly caustic remarks here, it does strike me that the blog and thread as a whole offer a kind of panoramic view of various time-specific (but also tragically timeless) ways of marginalizing women’s intellectual labor: in Hofstatder’s era it was making invisible the collaborator-wife , and today, at least in this thread, it’s the hypervisibility imposed on one female scholar who dared advance strong opinions on the topic. The issues Tim highlights in the post remain with us.

    • Natalia,

      Thanks for the comment. Rather than rehash how the discussion above went wrong, in certain points (so as to avoid casting blame), I’m intrigued by your remembrance of how Hofstadter inspired you. Was it the writing style? The topics he covered? RH’s analysis? Your thoughts on those questions might go toward the debate Jim and I have been having about how much, or whether, RH should and can be an exemplar for historians today. Maybe he can inspire us without also being an exemplar?


  23. Reading through this conversation makes me think I have made a trip along with Alice to Wonderland. Richard Hofstadter was my dissertation director (until he died), but beyond that Bede Hofstadter was my fellow graduate student at Columbia in the mid-1960s and my friend until her recent death. I’m sure she had closer friends, but nonetheless we were good buddies and talked a lot about her late husband, and the writing of history in general. I suspect if she were still alive she would have been astonished and appalled by what has been written about her here — especially the notion that she was some kind of co-author.

    She did read her husband’s work and commented on it to him, but so did a lot of other people, including especially his colleagues and grad students. Hofstadter employed the latter NOT to do research before he had written something, but rather afterward. The task he paid for was to have them go through his sources systematically — in effect replicating his research — in order to let him know if he had misrepresented or in some way failed to understand what an author had said. Based on their research (which again came AFTER he had already produced a fairly polished draft) he would talk through his essay or chapter with them and listen carefully to all their feedback. He would then revise substantially based on what he learned from that interaction. In a word, he was a glutton for other people’s criticism. That is one reason his work was so good.

    I’m sure Bede was an important part of this process and that he was particularly attentive to her editorial suggestions — he admired her tremendously and they were very close. She was a highly skillful editor — I know because I was the beneficiary of her skill on a couple of occasions — but there is a major difference between an author and an editor. He was the one who immersed himself in the sources and in the different responses he received from his pre-publication readers. He was thus the one who formulated the text in his mind. I feel confident that if she were reading this blog today she would put it pretty much the same way that I just did.

    For the record, Hofstadter did not divorce his first wife, Felicia Swados. Rather, she died of cancer while still quite young, leaving Hofstadter emotionally devastated. Anyone who reads through his correspondence in the mid-1940s would know how difficult her loss was for him.

    • Daniel,

      First things first, welcome to the blog and this discussion! For those who didn’t know Daniel, or who had seen his name without immediately recognizing his work (like me), here’s his faculty profile. In relation to the topic above, apart from his direct experience with RH, he has also written about him for the scholarly record: “Beyond Consensus: Richard Hofstadter and American Historiography.” American Historical Review, 89 (Octover, 1984): 976-1004. …I need to read that article.

      For my part, I want to make it very clear that I didn’t say, in any definitive way, that Beatrice was a coauthor. In my ignorance, with my critical imagination sparked by Elkins’ and McKitrick’s footnote, I posited coauthorship as a literal what-if, here: “What if the genius of Richard Hofstadter is really, at heart, something more in line with the kind of credit given to Mary and Charles Beard? Even if the Hofstadter partnership was less extensive, these kinds of stories need to be fleshed for the history community, and academia at large. There is virtue in bringing hidden academic labor to light.”

      My goal was to ask a speculative research question. I wasn’t sure whether my question could be answered empirically, with historical evidence. But, per Sara’s link to the Suny-Buffalo story—which tells us that Beatrice “Bede” Hofstadter White’s papers were gifted to the Suny-Buffalo archives—we may, in fact, be able to verify some part of her contributions. We can think about how, and to what extent, through independent means. The evidence can be analyzed, and a judgment rendered.

      It may very well be the case that an “objective” scholarly analysis correlates exactly with your memory, Daniel. Or maybe the record may show something more, or different. This is the beauty of archival research.

      That said, I really appreciate your observation about the method of RH’s work process. I love to hear about when historians are gluttons for the criticism and probing questions of others. I value careful readings of my own work, and love seeing it elsewhere. But I sometimes need encouragement with regard to *intense* criticism. It’s tremendously helpful to be reminded about the whole of a scholar’s processes—what they do themselves, independently, and what they do with others. We can’t reinforce those methods enough in our current climate of reaction, hot-takes, and “instanalysis.”

      On Beatrice’s particular contributions, I’m with you on their being an essential difference between an author and editor. That said, if an author reworked major portions of their work due to criticisms and suggestions, and if the editorial suggestions were intrusive and extensive (i.e. long alternate passages posed and used), then I could envision a scenario where coauthorship was/is warranted. I’m not saying this is what Beatrice did. Your remembrance indicates otherwise. I have no reason to *believe* the archival record would contradict you. But that was the scenario I imagined when I posited my what-if question above.

      Again, thanks so much for coming to this space. I value this contribution and memory.


      • Tim, I’m fine with leaving this as a “speculative research question” to be dealt with through archival research, although the tenor of the discussion I was picking up from the other blog posts seemed to suggest that some respondents were coming to regard it as a proved conclusion. At the moment it is pure speculation, with no empirical evidence to back it. My guess is that no such evidence will be found, but of course I could always be wrong.

        There’s an irony in comparing Bede Hofstadter to Mary Beard because Bede, in the last decades of her life, lived in a country house in Connecticut that was actually located on the grounds of the extensive dairy farm once owned (and inhabited) by the Beards. I recall that one time when I visited her there we drove around the area and she pointed out where the Beard’s house had been. That led to a discussion of the Beards and what they were like. It may or not be meaningful, but at no time during that conversation did she suggest that her role had been similar to that of Mary Beard.

        I’m a great admirer of SUSIH and it’s a pleasure to join you on your website.

Comments are closed.