For those unfortunate souls who missed the fourth annual USIH conference–the best yet–I’ll kick off the blog discussion of the conference, which figures to be intense, by posting my prepared introduction of Pauline Maier’s keynote address. Maier’s talk was simply wonderful.
November 18, 2011
Welcome everyone! It is my great honor to introduce this year’s keynote speaker. This is the first conference hosted by the brand new Society for U.S. Intellectual History, about which I am extremely proud. However, this is the Fourth Annual U.S. History Conference.
I’d like to give a very brief history of our keynotes. At the first, held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, we did not have a keynote speaker. That would have been presumptuous, even for us.
At the second, held here at the Graduate Center, James Livingston gave our first keynote address. It was a fascinating talk on how recent directions in intellectual history were foreshadowed by developments in popular culture, including cartoons. One of the more memorable moments came during the Q&A, when Eric Alterman shouted at Livingston from the back of the room, accusing him of badly misinterpreting the film Hurt Locker. Alterman then used his regular column in The Nation to further hammer home his point about Livingston’s supposed fanciful interpretations. (Note: As those in attendance know, this moment during the introduction was memorable–and embarrassing for me–since Alterman walked into the room just as I mentioned his name. Thanks to Ben Alpers for pointing out his presence!)
At last year’s conference, also hosted here at the Graduate Center, James Kloppenberg gave our keynote. It was a rousing overview of his book Reading Obama. The talk was featured in a New York Times article by Patricia Cohen, in which I was quoted as saying that the audience found the talk so fascinating because Obama’s education—his introduction to traditions of American thought, such as pragmatism and republicanism—seemed very similar to our own. The right-wing blogosphere used that article as evidence that Obama is an elitist and that academics are a bunch of sycophants. We couldn’t have scripted it any better.
It thus seems that giving our keynote is a great occasion to become the subject of a minor controversy. Since any publicity is good publicity, and since we don’t yet have any money, we found our selling point!
On that note, it is my great pleasure to introduce this year’s keynote, Dr. Pauline Maier, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of American History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Maier received her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1968 and has since published several important books about America’s revolutionary era. These include: From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776; The Old Revolutionaries: Political Lives in the Age of Samuel Adams; and American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. Her latest book, published last year by Simon and Shuster, is Ratification. The People Debate the Constitution. 1787-1788.
In a recent review of Ratification in the American Historical Review, Frank Cogliano writes that: “Maier deploys narrative as a methodology in order to recreate the major debates over the Constitution and to chart the ebb and flow of the ratification struggle.” It would thus seem that this year’s conference committee, Ray Haberski, Ben Alpers, and our chair, Mike O’Connor, did a brilliant job of matching the keynote to the conference theme of “Narratives.” Well done! Please help me welcome Pauline Maier.