U.S. Intellectual History Blog

"U.S. intellectual historiography," or "secondary sources in U.S. intellectual history"

In my home department of American Studies, U.S. intellectual history is basically a primary source kind of affair. My orals list in the field has such chestnuts as Ben Franklin’s Autobiography, essays from Emerson and Thoreau, The Souls of Black Folk, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and even Charles Murray’s Losing Ground. But I admit to being rather ignorant of works that are about U.S. intellectual history. I know a lot of that early republican stuff and am aware of the work of a few figures such as Hollinger and Kucklick. And of course biographies of intellectuals always count as intellectual history. But there must be more than that, no?

So what are the major secondary sources in the field? I’ll ask interested parties to submit comments listing, say, 5-10 of the most important such books (or articles). If we come up with disagreements later, that might be interesting, but for now I’m interested in more consensual picks, if such things exist.



9 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Okay. I hope no one takes this as the gospel truth, but I’ll hazard a few guesses.

    “Some Top Books On U.S. Intellectual History
    (Ordered by Authors Last Name)”:

    – Bender, Thomas. “New York Intellectuals.”
    – Higham, John, ed. “New Directions In American Intellectual History.”
    – Hofstadter, Richard. “Anti-Intellectualism In American Life.”
    – Hollinger, David. “In The American Province.”
    – Jacoby, Russell. “The Last Intellectuals.”
    – Kuklick, Bruce. “The History of Philosophy In America, 1720-2000.”
    – Lears, T.J. Jackson. “No Place of Grace.”
    – Menand, Louis. “The Metaphysical Club.”
    – Miller, Perry. “New England Mind.”
    – Noll, Mark. “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.”
    – Pells, Richard. “The Liberal Mind in a Conservative Age.”
    – Perry, Lewis. “Intellectual Life In America: A History.”

    These seem to have passed some modicum of the proverbial “test of time.”

    I must at once admit that I have not read them all. I’ve included some based on reputation and repeated citations in other in other works. I can’t say anything about the new works of the Genoveses and Michael O’Brien due to the lack of time (less than a year) for critical evaluation.

    Although I could think of women, as well as men and women of color for primary sources (i.e. DuBois), none came immediately to mind as historians self-consciously writing as intellectual historians. Depending on how one defines “intellectual history” with regard to its boundaries with cultural history, I might include Joan Shelley Rubin’s “Making of Middlebrow Culture” on this list. I’m not sure, however, if she herself conceived of that book as a work of intellectual history. – TL

  2. You posit an interesting challenge…submit a nomination for the most important all time historiographic secondary overviews of the field of American Intellectual History.

    With the caveat you provide (i.e. dropping scholarly biography, works by the intellectuals themselves, and primary sources), in other words, you are asking about synthetic works ABOUT American Intellectuals, my top five nomination would have to include the following eight:

    Bernard Bailyn’s _Ideological Origins of the American Revolution_
    Geographically relevant parts of Terry Eagleton’s _Literary Theory: An Introduction_
    Most of the essays collected in Charles A. Beard’s _Whither Mankind: A Panorama…
    The Intro and Bibliograph in Mary R. Beard’s _America Through Women’s Eyes_
    Richard Hofsteadter’s _The Progressive Historians_
    Ed. M. Murray’s _A Jacques Barzun Reader_
    John Higham’s _History: Professional Scholarship in America
    Vernon L. Parrington’s _Main Currents in American Thought_
    The literature reviews throughout Suzan Langer’s _Philosophy in a New Key_

    I look forward to hearing other’s top list.


    Joe Petrulionis

  3. All,

    This is a potentially exciting thread.

    Joe: The only book on your list that I considered was the one by Bailyn. It’s great to see such differences of opinion.

    – TL

  4. James Tully, ed., Meaning and Context: Quentin Skinner and His Critics

    Thomas L. Haskell, Objectivity is Not Neutrality

    Thomas Bender, editor, The Antislavery Debate: Essays by Ashworth, Davis, & Haskell

    I have also found Peter Novick’s _That Noble Dream_ and Georg Iggers’ _Historiography in the Twentieth Century_ to be useful.

  5. -Rites of Assent, Sacvan Bercovitch
    -New England Mind, Miller
    -The Enlightenment in America, Henry May
    -Metaphysical Club, Menand
    -Liberalism and Republcanism in the Historical Imagination, Appleby
    -Ideological Origins, Bailyn
    -Anti-Intellectualism and The American Political Tradition, Hofstadter
    -The Virtues of Liberalism, James Kloppenberg
    -Puritans and Pragmatists, Conkin
    -In the American Province, Hollinger

  6. Kloppenberg, Uncertain Victory
    Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings
    Ross, Origins of American Social Science

  7. I find The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817-1914, George M. Frederickson,
    (NY: Harper and Row, 1971) to be a seminal volume for any scholar beginning work on any American project.

  8. I actually had been meaning to suggest another Frederickson book, The Inner Civil War. I found it be to the most personally affecting commentary on intellectuals themselves that I have ever read.

  9. Glad I am not the only person who has found Frederickson to have been a transformational experience!
    I have used his guide in also exploring the contradictary image of “the Jew” in Christian eyes.
    As a Southern scholar, GF along with Charles Joyner changed me in toto.

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