U.S. Intellectual History Blog


For my first post as a USIH blogger, I thought I should formally introduce myself to our readers.

My name is Lora Burnett, and I am an American intellectual and cultural historian (in training). I earned my undergraduate degree in English from Stanford University and my M.A. in the Humanities from the University of Texas at Dallas. I am now a PhD student in the Humanities/History of Ideas at UTD — I still have another two semesters of coursework ahead of me, then reading for exams, then the proposal, then the dissertation (on which I have already begun to do some work). Then — joy of joys — the abysmal academic job market.

My exam fields are American intellectual and cultural history (soup to nuts), American literature (Early Republic to the 1940s), and Transatlantic history in the long 19th century (as long as I can possibly stretch it — so, 1789 to 1918). As you can see, I am partial to chronological range. In fact, one of my goals as a blogger here is to broaden the chronological scope of our posts. As I have noted in the past, the USIH blog skews very heavily towards examining the last four decades of the twentieth century. So I will do what I can to contribute to the diachronic diversity of the blog.

My predilection for wanting to take the long view (“long” to us Americanists anyhow, since we tend to periodize the history we do into something like fifteen-year chunks) has shaped my research interests and my dissertation topic. My dissertation will examine the long career of the song “Home, Sweet Home” — once the most popular song among (white) Americans of all classes, now all but forgotten except for the oft-invoked phrase “there’s no place like home” — in order to frame and periodize changing conceptions of the idea of “home” from the Early Republic to the mid-20th century.

I am interested in exploring how this changing sense of what “home” meant/means connects to broader and more basic epistemic shifts in American thought. And, as I have said before in comments on this blog, thought and ideas are evident everywhere, in all sorts of texts, in all kinds of historical documents — not just in those texts and documents produced by, for and among “intellectuals.” So, regarding the sources upon which I draw for my work, I am just as interested in understanding the thought behind what people were singing in the saloons as I am in understanding the thought behind what they were saying in the salons. Both types of utterances alike instantiate ideas. And ideas are what I’m after, because — in history and life alike — ideas matter.

Aside from my dissertation research, I have a few other irons in the fire. I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about epistemology, mortality, ideas of personhood and conceptions of the self, the philosophy of history, history and memory, academic life as both vocation and profession, class issues in academe, the academy annexed to the marketplace, the idea of the university (see, for example, the CFP for a panel I am proposing for the 2013 OAH meeting), and other meta-questions related to life, and especially to life in and around the ivory tower. Oh, yeah, and — lately — gender.

So, that’s me: “Lora Burnett” to my colleagues and profs, “L.D. Burnett” in print, and plain old “LD” on the USIH blog.


Just wanted to leave a note here, for posterity and Google, to let readers know that my dissertation topic has changed.  I’ll be posting about it on the blog after our conference in November 2012.

10 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Welcome aboard—again! I like your dissertation topic. I see all kinds of opportunities. Have you seen Perry Duis’s book on Chicago’s saloons? I sometimes think that saloons and adult beverages are to thoughtful (19th cent) Americans what coffee houses were to the French in the same period.

    Also, I assume you’ve read/seen McClay’s edited collection, *Figures in the Carpet*? I’m only just now reading it—after having it on my to-do list for about 3 years. – TL

  2. Thanks again, Tim. I have a copy of *Figures in the Carpet,* and have read one of the essays. I’ll be reading the rest of them over the next few weeks.

    I know what you mean about saloons, but wish I had been more clear on what I meant. It’s not that texts like bawdy songs, jokes, pulp novels, religious tracts, etc, reveal some kind of thought “behind” them. It’s that they themselves are expressions of thought, remnants of a past conceptual world. If we read these texts with care, in context with other texts, we can begin to recover/reconstruct that conceptual world.

  3. “So, that’s me: ‘Lora Burnett’ to my colleagues and profs, ‘L.D. Burnett’ in print, and plain old ‘LD’ on the USIH blog.”

    Since you “spend a lot of time thinking and writing about . . . ideas of personhood and conceptions of the self,” I have to ask: are those three persons or one? That’s not meant as a theological question.

  4. LD: Again, welcome, officially, to the blog. I really like your dissertation topic. The idea of tracking a set of ideas across time is attractive to me. I hope to do something similar with my next major research project (after I finish the culture wars).

  5. Andrew, thanks. As you know, I am big on “following the idea.”

    In that connection, I attended a fantastic panel at the AHA, “What’s the Big Idea? Challenges and Prospects of Long-Range Intellectual History.” I heard the presentations of Armitage, Kloppenberg, and McMahon, but I had to step out before Rosenfeld’s paper (on a topic that we have discussed frequently on this blog!). I’m frustrated that I missed her work and all of the discussion.

    Nevertheless, I plan to blog next week about what I did hear, and hopefully someone who was there for the whole panel can add another perspective.

    For many reasons, I would be thrilled if it fell to you to write the last word on the culture wars.

  6. LD: I’m sorry I missed that panel! I wonder if Rosenfeld’s paper was on new material or a rehash of her recent book on common sense. I read a lot in that book last summer. – TL

  7. Hi Lora:

    It is now good to welcome you virtually to the blog after meeting you in Chicago. I am very happy you will lengthen the chronological scope of this blog while you broaden its intellectual scope. I will be very interested in the diversity of sources you will bring to your dissertation. Can you give us a preview in an upcoming post?


  8. Ray, what I plan to do, or would like to do, and what I end up doing are probably going to be two different things. The results of all my grand plans might be underwhelming. (Besides, I can’t resist a good Culture Wars / Daniel Rodgers discussion now and then.)

    As to my sources — won’t that be interesting for both of us! I’m still casting about for those, believe me. But yes, I will describe some of my preliminary finds in a future post.

    However, I’m still iffy on how much writing to do about the nuts and bolts of my dissertation while I’m actually putting together the nuts and bolts of my dissertation — will have to figure that out as I go along. The danger for me is always talking about writing v. writing.

  9. Since I write about the major disaster in which Texans lost their homes, I think your idea of “home” is a very rich one. One of the few universals left in an increasingly fragmented world….

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