U.S. Intellectual History Blog

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  1. Great question Mike. I’m surprised nobody has responded yet. I don’t teach an explicit US intellectual history course (yet), but I am due to teach a methods/historiography course for our MA students in the fall. These type of courses, if done well, often have the feel of intellectual history. Here is the list of books I am assigning. This is an experiment.

    E. H. Carr, What is History?

    Gerald Graff, Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind

    Jon Wiener, Historians in Trouble: Plagiarism, Fraud, and Politics in the Ivory Tower

    Gary Nash, Charlotte Crabtree, and Ross Dunn, History on Trial: Culture Wars and the Teaching of the Past

    Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks

    Terry Eagelton, After Theory

    Joan Scott, Gender and the Politics of History

    Mike Davis, Buda’s Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb

    Perry Anderson, Spectrum: From Right to Left in the World of Ideas

    Robin D. G. Kelley, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

    Gabriel Kolko, Anatomy of a War: Vietnam, the United States, and the Modern Historical Experience

    Ilan Pappe, A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples

    E. J. Hobbsbawm, Interesting Times: A Twentieth Century Life

  2. Mike,

    I apologize for my delay in replying.

    As a junior scholar presently operating outside the tenure-track, I haven’t taught an upper-level undergraduate or graduate course directly on intellectual history. I am, however, presently teaching an adult education seminar on U.S. intellectual history through Chicago’s Newberry Library. It’s called “American Intellects.”

    First things first, I proposed the course on a whim, and was pleased when the Newberry’s administration accepted my idea. Next I was pleasantly surprised when 8 adults signed up for the course – a solid number for a new seminar running in a winter session (fall sessions get the highest turnout).

    These seminars are meant to mimic graduate courses (reading and discussion intensive), but with no writing or research – and over a shorter period of time. My course meets five times over ten weeks. I chose that spread to allow for more reading time.

    With that, we’re reading Bruce Kuklick’s A History of Philosophy in America, Lewis Perry’s Intellectual Life in America, and Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club.

    I perhaps mistakenly led off with Kuklick’s book. The participants found it challenging. In planning I aspired to give them a sense of the complexity and weight of intellectual history. That went just okay, so I probably should’ve led off with Perry. Perry’s book is deceptively easier to read, and delves into a more diverse range of characters and social issues. I say I should’ve led off with Perry, but they’re finding that book a “break,” I believe, while re-energizing for Menand. Most of the members had already read Menand’s book, but wanted to do it in the seminar with the built-in advantage of a discussion group.

    Anyway, the discussions have been great. Despite with weight of Kuklick’s book, seminar participants expressed an overall enjoyment in encountering big, complex ideas and substantial figures. I tried to keep the discussion away from the nitty gritty (i.e. singular differences between figures), focusing instead on broad movements and the sense action/reaction in ideas (i.e. idealism to realism to pragmatism to realism). I also encouraged participants to think about connections to their lives today, to moments when they’ve had to develop (or ignore) the deeper implications of philosophy.

    That’s it for now. I’m sure I’ll have more impressions after the course ends in late April.

    – TL

  3. From a somewhat different approach… I have taught an undergrad course on “American Cultural & Intellectual History to 1865” as a lecture course with all readings in primary sources.
    I assigned:
    Capper and Hollinger, _The American Intellectual Tradition, Volume 1, 1630-1865_.
    Kornfeld, _Creating an American Culture, 1775-1800_.
    Tocqueville, _Democracy in America_.
    Hawthorne, _The Scarlet Letter_.
    Stowe, _Uncle Tom’s Cabin_.
    Whitman, _Song of Myself_.

    T. Wayne
    California

  4. I teach a “history of american ideas” course to juniors and seniors that uses:

    Hollinger/Capper v. 2
    Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk
    Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa (apparently to punish them I pair this with Clifford’s “On Ethnographic Authority”)
    Lasch, Culture of Narcissism.

    I also add:

    Emma Goldman “What Anarchism Is”(paired with the chapter on free speech from Stansell, American Moderns)
    Vine Deloria, Jr.’s “the Red and the Black” from _Custer Died For Your Sins_
    Adorno and Horkheimer, “The Culture Industry”
    The afterword from Drake and Cayton’s “Black Metropolis”
    and I substitute sections on the totalitarian movement from _Origins of Totalitarianism_

    I’ve shown different movies, but my favorite is “Gentlemen’s Agreement” because it was a)popular b)won the Oscar for best picture c)does a fascinatingly cheesy job modeling ethnography and d)also lays out the Myrdalian view of race. Also, there’s Gregory Peck. Easy on the eyes.

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