|Historically, we don’t amount to much apparently!|
This being the last week of the year, I figured it would be a good time to have a conversation about 2010 in U.S. intellectual history….which of course means at least two things*:
1. The most significant works in U.S. intellectual history.
2. The most significant developments in U.S. thought.
That second meaning, I think, will likely be somewhat elusive at this point. After all, one of the reasons we do intellectual history is that ideas take a while to work their significance out (if that’s not dreadfully old-fashioned to say). Though some very important things have been thought in 2010, we’re likely not to know what they are at this point. I took a glance at both Scientific American’s list of World Changing Ideas 2010 (behind a paywall, unfortunately) and the New York Times’ Year in Ideas and they are both heavily dominated by technological innovations rather than ideas per se.
(There are, however, some technological innovations of direct interest to intellectual historians, like crowd-sourced manuscript transcription and Google’s Ngram, which generated the little chart at the top of this post. The latter, in particular, is worthy of further discussion, I think)
As for the first meaning, a lot of interesting and significant works of intellectual history have been published this year, including one by USIH’s own David Sehat: The Myth of American Religious Freedom.
The New York Times list of 100 Notable Books of 2010 includes at least six works that might qualify as U.S. intellectual history (you might count even more among them): Lewis Hyde’s Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership; Eric Foner’s The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery; Oren Harman’s The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness; Alan Brinkley’s The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century; Pauline Maier’s Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 (which David Sehat reviewed for this blog); and Justin Spring’s Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade.
Though a number of these books are on my to-read list, I haven’t read any of them yet. Among the works of US intellectual history published this year that I have read, George Cotkin’s Morality’s Muddy Waters stands out as one of the year’s best.
What do you think has defined–and will define–2010 in US intellectual history?
* A third possible meaning would involve the year for USIH (i.e. this blog/organization). It’s been a good year, but I don’t think that’s necessarily worth a post.