U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Tim’s Odds And Ends

No, this is not a new menu item at my fictional BBQ shack—or some kind of new junk book store. Rather, I’m using today’s post as a dumping ground for intellectual history items that don’t fit my usual, ironically titled “Light Reading” series—though these items truly are light USIH reading.

1. If my schedule were free February 2-3, 2012, and I happened to be on the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara, I’d attend this gathering in a heartbeat: “The Port Huron Statement at 50.”

I confess that I had never really done the obvious in thinking about the Port Huron Statement as an object of intellectual history until I read Cotkin’s Existential America (pp. 241-249—even Howard Brick only gives it a few mentions in his better-than-survey assessment of the decade’s thought). Indeed, I hadn’t thought of Tom Hayden as an actor in America’s intellectual history until I pondered, courtesy of George, Hayden’s relationship with Camus. There’s a whole post I “chould” (should and could) write about the Port Huron Statement, Hayden, and the Occupy movement. But I need to work on my own project for a while (even if I get an extension on the last–fingers crossed).

2. Like Ben, I intend on putting page updates here for the near term to hold myself accountable and get motivated. Here goes: I only wrote about 50 words this past week as I cleared my desk of the task of creating my spring term syllabi. But after I put up this post, my day is clear for writing.

3. Happy 48th birthday to our current “FLOTUS.” I predict that someday she’ll be the object of an intellectual historian’s work.

4. I appreciated the following passages from Jennifer Howard’s post-AHA interview with Anthony Grafton, appearing in the Jan. 9 Chronicle (bolds mine):

The Chronicle sat down with Mr. Grafton in Chicago to talk about his presidential year, scholarly directions in the field, the push to rethink graduate education and history careers, and the work that remains to be done.

“The association only matters insofar as it’s vital to the profession and to the discipline—two separate things,” he says. “Nobody’s sure the annual meetings have much of a future.” He would like to see the group become more of a communication hub for members, “a place of virtual discussion and dialogue.”

In a back-and-forth about new directions in scholarship, Mr. Grafton mentioned intellectual history as a trend “which really delights my soul.”

Intellectual history was counted out in the 1970s in favor of cultural history, but it now is clearly a very strong presence, he said.

As some examples, he mentioned recent work on the history of intellectual networks done by scholars like Daniela Bleichmar, an assistant professor of art history and history at the University of Southern California, and Harold J. Cook, a professor of history at Brown University.

Such approaches are “not the way we did intellectual history in the past,” he said. “It’s not intellectual history in its traditional sense, but it’s informed by it, and it’s in dialogue with it. It’s intellectual history plus a social history of ideas. … All of these are fields that are transformed by digital-humanities methods and digital archives.”

…I’d say that some of that “strong presence” is a direct reflection of the work we’ve done creating the USIH conference and S-USIH. …Pat yourselves on the back.

5. Check out the returns on this 1963 survey conducted by a 16-year old San Diego high school student named Bruce McAllister. Here are the opening three paragraphs of McAllister’s story as told recently in the Paris Review:

In 1963, a sixteen-year-old San Diego high school student named Bruce McAllister sent a four-question mimeographed survey to 150 well-known authors of literary, commercial, and science fiction. Did they consciously plant symbols in their work? he asked. Who noticed symbols appearing from their subconscious, and who saw them arrive in their text, unbidden, created in the minds of their readers? When this happened, did the authors mind?

McAllister had just published his first story, “The Faces Outside,” in both IF magazine and Simon and Schuster’s 1964 roundup of the best science fiction of the year. Confident, if not downright cocky, he thought the surveys could settle a conflict with his English teacher by proving that symbols weren’t lying beneath the texts they read like buried treasure awaiting discovery.

His project involved substantial labor—this before the Internet, before e-mail—but was not impossible: many authors and their representatives were listed in the Twentieth-Century American Literature series found in the local library. More impressive is that seventy-five writers replied—most of them, in earnest. Sixty-five of those responses survive (McAllister lost ten to “a kleptomaniacal friend”). Answers ranged from the secretarial blow off to a thick packet of single-spaced typescript in reply.

Read the rest here.

6. What’s on your mind? If nothing above excites your imagination, leave your topic of choice in the comments. – TL

13 Thoughts on this Post

  1. On my radar screen:

    The most recent (and my very first) issue of _Reviews in American History_ carried a review of USIH blogger Amy Wood’s monograph, Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890-1940.

    Also appearing in this issue (Vol. 39, No. 4, December 2011) is USIH blogger Paul Murphy’s review of Justin Vaïsse’s Neoconservatism: The Biography of a Movement.

  2. Congrats to Paul on the RAH review—and to Amy for getting reviewed. Good stuff. And this explains how Paul knew so quickly about the Maciag piece! – TL

  3. It’s Blogger’s new interface. Note that the little icon appearing by Tim’s name appears to be a stylus/pen/pencil, indicating that he is the author of the post. Looks like comments are full justified, and the font is smaller.

  4. I was wondering what that dohicky was. And yeah, smaller font, justified margins. I don’t mind latter, but my eyes probably will mind the former.

  5. I am wondering about Drew Maciag’s reflections on intellectual history – if it was the mid-20th c high point of American modernism that accounts for the confidence and prestige of the field at that juncture, what accounts for what we perceive as its renewal today in a quite different [?] milleu?

    I am wondering when the discussion of Corey Robin’s book will take place on the blog.

  6. Did you find Maciag’s characterization of the field in the mid-20th century essentially correct? Methodologically, he described an approach that I’m not altogether sure its purported practitioners would recognize. “Ah, intellectual history just ain’t what it used to be” is an easier claim to make if it wasn’t much like that in the first place.

  7. Bill: A review of Robin (by a non-USIH regular) is in the works–expect it by the end of the month.

    I finally read the Maciag piece last night. It might be the focus of my next post. Stay tuned.

  8. To LD – Actually, wouldn’t it be an easier claim to make if it was as he describes?! I haven’t had a chance to think it through, but at first glance it seems his characterization was a big too pat, too global, too holistic regarding not only the period but intellectual history. But, taking his claim as a starting point – just for fun – I was wondering how people might contextualize the current [if indeed…] revitalization of intellectual history in the light of his piece.

    To Andrew – I’ll be watching for the robin, I mean Robin. And you’re bound to have interesting things to say about the Maciag piece … and I’m likely to take issue with it.

  9. Bill, I hadn’t thought of looking at it that way, but that’s an equally (or more) correct way to understand the implications of all these unsubstantiated claims about the philosophical/methodological commitments of intellectual history.

    I found the whole essay somewhat problematic. I know it’s just a “Reflections” piece, so more informal in style and tone, with probably less rigorous expectations in terms of original research, etc, than would be the case for one of the peer-reviewed journal articles. Still, the historiography struck me as a pat, almost cliched caricature of “old-style intellectual history,” appealing to no particular example or evidence beyond what apparently “everybody knows” about how things used to be or how they are.

    Further, while I understand why the author may be drawing a distinction between “ideas” and “beliefs” (perhaps he is insisting on a distinction that he thinks would have made sense to the practitioners of old-style intellectual history?) it’s not a helpful distinction — not even helpful for the argument he is trying to make.

    But these are first impressions at a first pass. I will be interested in reading Andrew’s assessment of the article.

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