U.S. Intellectual History Blog

primary sources in U.S. intellectual history

Coming from an American Studies program, my experience of U.S. intellectual history appears to be a bit different than that of the historians who make up the majority of this hardy band of bloggers.  Specifically, to the extent that anyone in American Studies thinks about intellectual history at all, the subject tends to be understood as one that trucks in primary sources.  After reading, in the other post below, about a potential canon of secondary sources, I was curious as to whether the notion of a canon of primary sources even makes sense to those in the history department and, if so, what works would be included in it.

So I again prepared a list of 25 books, on the assumption that I was preparing an orals list for a Ph.D. student.  (A lot more wound up on the cutting room floor than did for my secondary source list, which is available in the comments section of the above-mentioned post.)  One caveat, however, is that I did not include any works of fiction in this list.  I would think that somewhere between five and ten novels might belong, but there was no way to keep the list under 25 under those conditions.  So I cheated, and perhaps will post another list of fiction and film that might belong on a third list for my increasingly beleaguered hypothetical student.

The list will be posted in the comments section below.


3 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Here is my list of 25 “canonical” U.S. intellectual history primary source texts.


    Adams, Henry; The Education of Henry Adams

    Addams, Jane; Twenty Years at Hull House

    Baldwin, James; The Fire Next Time

    Bell, Daniel; The End of Ideology

    Bloom, Allan; The Closing of the American Mind

    Chambers, Whittaker; Witness

    Constitution of the United States of America

    Dewey, John, “The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology”
    The Public and Its Problems

    Douglass, Frederick; Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

    DuBois, W.E.B.; The Souls of Black Folk

    Edwards, Jonathan; “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”

    Emerson, Ralph Waldo; “The American Scholar”
    “Divinity School Address”

    Franklin, Benjamin; Autobiography

    Friedan, Betty; The Feminine Mystique

    Gilman, Charlotte Perkins; Women and Economics

    James, William; Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking

    Jefferson, Thomas; Declaration of Independence

    MacDonald, Dwight; “Masscult and Midcult”

    Madison, James, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, The Federalist Papers

    Malcolm X; Autobiography

    Murray, Charles; Losing Ground

    Paine, Common Sense

    Peirce, Charles, “How to Make Our Ideas Clear”

    Rawls, John; A Theory of Justice

    Stanton, Elizabeth Cady and Lucretia Mott; “Declaration of Sentiments”

    Students for a Democratic Society, “Port Huron Statement”

    Supreme Court Decisions: Marbury v. Madison, Scott v. Sandford, Plessy v. Ferguson, Lochner v. New York (Holmes dissent); Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade

    Thoreau, Henry David; Walden
    “Civil Disobedience”

    Tocqueville, Alexis de, Democracy in America

    Washington, Booker T.; Up From Slavery

    Winthrop, John; “A Modell of Christian Charity”

  2. I am, of course, familiar with that work. But it does not do exactly the same thing as a comps list which, rightly or wrongly, I have adopted as my model for this project. Intended primarily for use in undergrad courses, Hollinger and Capper is overinclusive, so that teachers can pick and choose what to give their students. (Just eyeballing it, I’d say there’s well over a hundred different writers represented.) Works are also often excerpted; again, this is great for exposing students to a variety of voices, but doesn’t serve the same function as a “canon.” Finally, I cannot help but notice that several of my selections are not included in that two-volume work. To me, that’s a good enough reason to put up my own list! : )


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