As most of the contributors and key editors of the blog are conferencing in the City of the Big Shoulders, I thought I would hijack the blog for a bit of shameless self-promotion, namely announcing the publication of The New Era: American Thought and Culture in the 1920s, a book no library should be without.
On a less self-interested note, I read with interest “When Ideas Had Consequences–Or, Whatever Happened to Intellectual History?” by Drew Maciag, author of a forthcoming book on “The Americanization of Edmund Burke,” which appeared in the December 2011 issue of Reviews in American History (available through Project Muse). Maciag makes the excellent point that the halcyon days of American intellectual history in the mid-twentieth century were rooted in the particular predilections of modernist intellectualism, specifically the conviction that ideas impelled human action and thus explained historical change, the tendency to reify cultural discourses as the American or modern “mind,” the privileging of elites over the masses, and a faith in the power of reason to guide social and political development.
Maciag’s reflections touch on one of the key preoccupations of this blog–the “crisis” of our subfield–although he offers cold comfort. He is a declinist, likening the “plight” of intellectual history to that of poetry. Signs of revitalization in poetry (more readings, creative writing programs, published poets) are deceiving, not having arrested poetry’s “relative decline as a component of broader American culture.” “So too, the appearance of a new journal, blog, or conference on intellectual history is no accurate indicator of the weight it carries outside its own circle.” (Ouch)