U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Per our recent discussions on Public History and Public Intellectuals

I just noticed that The Hemmingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon Reed is this month’s selection for the New Yorker‘s Book Club (See my previous post here). David Remnick, the editor explains why. I consider this book as interesting as Menand’s The Metaphysical Club. It also uses a small group of individuals to pick apart complicated themes in American history, in a way so remarkably written that it is attracting the attention of the wider body of American thinkers/professionals that follow periodicals like the New Yorker or the New York Times. They both, too, won the Pulitzer. Has anyone else read it? What do those of you who commented on the Menand post by Andrew think of Reed’s book? Is there anything to be learned by the fact that both authors were trained outside the historical profession, one in law and one in literature?

Also interesting is the New Yorker‘s portfolio of images and videos of Civil Rights Leaders. I was listening to the New Yorker Outloud podcast yesterday and was astounded to hear Remnick discuss the Civil Rights Movement with a clear understanding of recent (last 10-20 years) literature that emphasizes the local aspects of the movement and de-emphasizes the idea that it was just King’s movement. This is beyond a common perspective among African Americanists, but had not yet seemed to filter into the wider literate society (perhaps because Martin Luther King Jr. day brings us back to him and his “I Have a Dream” speech every year). Nikhil Pal Singh discussed this in Black is a Country. I know every year around this time, African Americans emphasize other aspects of the movement. Perhaps what surprised me was to hear the white editor of the New Yorker have fully synthesized current historiography.

This makes me wonder, too, if you all are aware of Ta-Nahisi Coates, who writes and blogs for the Atlantic? I find his blog one of the most interesting commentaries on the web with regards to race and many other topics. He opens the floor to his commenters every day at noon. They tend to be literate, honest, and surprisingly civil. Talk about a future project for an intellectual historian!

2 Thoughts on this Post

  1. I get all excited about things and then post them before thoroughly looking through them. Most of the pictures on the New Yorker are of the major “change-makers” in the Civil Rights Movement rather than people without famous names. So perhaps a popular understanding of the CRM historiography has grown beyond Martin Luther King, Jr., but has not become as large as it is in the scholarship.

  2. Lauren: I haven’t read Reed’s book. I wish I could get more fired up about early American history, let alone the Hemmings-Jefferson “business.” I consider it a personal failing. But I’m encouraged by your community-of-discourse characterization of Reed’s story. Is Reed trained in the law? …I’m going now to check out Ta-Nahisi Coates. Your prompt is my first time hearing the name. …BTW: On the topics of race and intellectual history, I’ll soon be posting on my reading of Reed and Warren’s Renewing Black Intellectual History. I’m on the second-to-last chapter. – TL

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