U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Lacy’s Open Thread: 8/11/2011 Edition

It’s been three weeks since trying this for the first time, so let’s give it another go. Here are a few conversation starters:

1. No one else has introduced her name here, so I might as well be the first: I’m intrigued by Ryan Lizza’s recent ‘Pseudo-(anti?-)Intellectual History of Michele Bachmann’. It’s a fascinating and depressing account of Bachmann’s intellectual influences. Here’s a piece tracking responses to Lizza’s narrative. I’m intrigued by the second Francis Schaeffer reference I’ve read this week…segue…

2. Every history graduate student—and every historian for that matter—should be required to read chapter four of John Fea’s recent book, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction. The chapter’s title is “History for the Faithful: The Contemporary Defenders of Christian America.” Fea lays out his view of five themes covered in recent popular books by those who want to prove—and among those who want to believe—the thesis that America is a Christian nation.

3. Here’s another survey text covering the last 40 years of American history: Jeff Madrick’s Age of Greed. Color me green with intrigue. It’s amazing to me how the Sixties serve as an impregnable analytical wall—a wall that forces historians to write about it directly, aim for it, or launch from it. Few who narrate broadly seem to write through it.

But hey, these are just my ideas for discussion. I’m open to anything else you want cover. – TL

5 Thoughts on this Post

  1. I listened to the New Yorker podcast about that Bachmann piece last night. I’m still mulling, but I found it fascinating! Hope we can get a discussion going.

  2. Hey TL, thanks for these conversation starters.

    I could go on and on about my distaste for Bachman and everything she stands for, but that would take me decidedly out of the striving-to-be-objective mode and into the passionately-partisan mode; I’ll save the rant for later.

    I’d like to comment briefly about #3, from the perspective of an historian of the 20th century urban environment of North America.

    There are two big conceptual breaks in 20th century urban environmental history. The first is at WWII, and the second is at Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring (1962). In this field, Progressivism tends to shade into New Dealism, and then there’s the Big War, and then things get hazy for about 20 years, and then there’s Carson & the Environmental Movement (+ Nixon-era legislation, i.e., NEPA, Clean Water Act, etc.).

    A great many environmental historians go up to WWII, or begin in the 1960s; relatively few try to explain the continuities and discontinuities from the 1930s through the 1970s. Of course, the reason I’m so attuned to this is that I’m in the process of book that covers an environmental issue that spans this era. However, even more broadly, I’m definitely interested in the ways that we historians delineate the time periods of our subjects. In the case of environmental history, there certainly often is an “a [self-imposed] wall that forces historians to write about it directly, aim for it, or launch from it.”

  3. Understood about Rachel Carson and the events of the “Long Sixties”: Clean Air Act, Burning of the Cuyahoga, Earth Day, the creation of the EPA, and the Clean Water Act, etc. These things make it look like the Sixties are the end-all-be-all.

    I hope you received a contract for that book? – TL

  4. Tim: Indeed, I did get a contract for the book (my first), with Oregon State University Press. Thanks for asking!

    Regarding the issue of periodization in the field of history, this is one of the many ways that I see intellectual history and environmental history (and, perhaps, all history, for that matter) sharing common ground: to what extent do our fairly arbitrary chunks of temporal analysis gradually become reified? Maybe a positive outcome of this reification (besides serving as convenient chapter markers) is that it provides the next generation a framework to deconstruct?

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