U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Reading List: U.S. Intellectual and Cultural History

As I mentioned before, I am in the process of putting together my reading lists for qualifying exams.  My three fields are American Intellectual and Cultural History, American Literature, and Transatlantic History in the Long Nineteenth Century.  I am still working on my lists for the latter two fields, but my reading list for U.S. intellectual/cultural history is settled. 

I thought it might be helpful for our blog readers who may be planning a field in U.S. intellectual history to see what my exam list looks like.  So I am posting it below.  First, though, I wanted to make a few prefatory remarks on the logic of the list.

My exam list is pragmatic, not canonical.  The 100 volumes on this list are not meant to represent, encompass, or constitute “the canon” of U.S. intellectual history.  This is not meant to be a comprehensive list. It does not represent all that one should read in the field; it does not represent all that I should read in the field.  It is a practical list whose purpose is to adequately prepare me to “think in the field” and have some overall sense of its contours.

Some books are on the list because they are established, classic works of scholarship that have been influential in defining questions in the field.  Others are included because they represent current trends in scholarship, and still others because they address the need for “coverage” of a particular body of thought.

By the same token, some texts that might customarily appear on a U.S. intellectual history list do not appear here because they will be on an exam list for one of my other fields.  So, for example, I will read Thoreau’s Walden for my American Literature exam; Kloppenberg’s Uncertain Victory will be on my Transatlantic History list.

Thus, while this list is designed to provide me with a broad, basic foundation for teaching and scholarship in U.S. intellectual history, it is constructed in dialog with my other fields.  Furthermore, this list is also inflected to address my specific research interests; I am preparing for my qualifying exams with my future dissertation firmly in mind.  For that reason, I’m heartily glad that I decided to change my dissertation topic before I started putting together my exam lists.  (What’s my new dissertation topic?  A really good one.  Seriously.  But that’s a post for another day.)

For heuristic purposes, I have divided the list below into three sections:  primary sources, secondary sources, and historiography/theory.  The primary sources are listed in the order of their publication.  The secondary sources are divided into a broad scheme of periodization.  Within these divisions, I’ve listed the works in (rough) historical order.  So, for example, within their section Amy Dru Stanley’s From Bondage to Contract is listed before Jackson Lears’s No Place of Grace.  The official version of this list — the one I will hand in to my school with all the requisite signatures on all the requisite forms from my committee — will be divided simply into primary and secondary sources.  Within those divisions, texts will be listed in alphabetical order by author’s last name, with full bibliographic information.

So, without further ado, here’s my reading list for my qualifying exam in U.S. Intellectual and Cultural History.


Reference sources for American thought:

The Bible
The Portable Enlightenment Reader, edited and with an introduction by Isaac Kramnick (1995)


David Hollinger and Charles Capper, editors, The American Intellectual Tradition, Volume I: 1630-1865, sixth edition (2011)
______, The American Intellectual Tradition, Volume II: 1865 to the Present, sixth edition (2011).                                       
Individual Authors / Texts:

Jonathan Edwards, Treatise on the Religious Affections (1746)
Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography (1784-88)
Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1787)
James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay, The Federalist Papers (1788)
Benjamin Rush, Essays: Literary, Moral, and Philosophical (1798)
Horace Bushnell, Views of Christian Nurture, and of Subjects Adjacent Thereto (1847)
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays (1836 – 1844)
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845)
William James, Writings: 1878-1899
    Psychology, briefer course; The Will to Believe; Talks to Teachers and Students (Library of     America anthology)
William James, Writings: 1902-1910
    The Varieties of Religious Experience; Pragmatism; Essays (Library of America anthology)
W.E.B. DuBois, Souls of Black Folk (1903)
Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull House (1910)
Thorstein Veblen, The Higher Learning in America (1918)
John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems (1927)
Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932)
Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture (1934)
Robert Maynard Hutchins, The Higher Learning in America (1936)
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., The Vital Center (1949)
Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination (1950)
William F. Buckley, Jr., God and Man at Yale (1951)
Students for a Democratic Society, “The Port Huron Statement” (1962)
Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962)
Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (1963)
Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (1976)
Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (1987)
E.D. Hirsch, Jr., Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know (1987)
Linda Nicholson, editor, The Second Wave: A Reader in Feminist Theory (1997)   

Colonial era to Constitution (more or less)

Perry Miller, The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (1939)
Perry Miller, Errand into the Wilderness (1956)
Henry May, The Enlightenment in America (1976)
Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (1998)
Eric Slauter, The State as a Work of Art: The Cultural Origins of the Constitution (2011)
Lawrence Cremin, American Education: The Colonial Experience, 1607-1783 (1972)

Early Republic to Civil War (more or less)

David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770-1823 (1975, 1999)
Linda Kerber, Toward an Intellectual History of Women: Essays (1997)
Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese, The Mind of the Master Class (2005)
Walter Johnson, Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market (1999)
John L. Thomas, “Romantic Reform in America, 1815-1865,” American Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Winter, 1965), pp. 656-681.
Robert H. Abzug, Cosmos Crumbling: American Reform and the Religious Imagination (1994)
Daniel Walker Howe, Political Culture of the American Whigs (1984)
Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War (1995)
Lawrence Cremin, American Education: The National Experience, 1783-1876 (1982)

Reconstruction to Interwar Years (more or less)

Amy Dru Stanley, From Bondage to Contract: Wage Labor, Marriage, and the Market in the Age of Slave Emancipation (1998)
Robert Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877-1920 (1966)
David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (2002)
Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club (2001)
Dorothy Ross, The Origins of American Social Science (1992)
Jackson Lears, No Place of Grace: Antimodernism and the Transformation of American Culture, 1880 – 1920 (1994)
Jackson Lears, Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920 (2010)
Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan (2007)
James Livingston, Pragmatism and the Political Economy of Cultural Revolution, 1850-1940     (1994)
John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925 (1955)
Francesca Bordogna, William James at the Boundaries: Philosophy, Science and the Geography of Knowledge (2008)
Daniel Borus, Twentieth-Century Multiplicity (2012)
Rosalind Rosenberg, Beyond Separate Spheres: Intellectual Roots of Modern Feminism (1983)
Julie Reuben, The Making of the Modern University (1996)
Brian M. Ingrassia, The Rise of Gridiron University: Higher Education’s Uneasy Alliance with Big-Time Football (2012)
Lawrence Cremin, American Education: The Metropolitan Experience, 1876-1980 (1990)
Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform (1954)
Morton Gabriel White, Social Thought in America: The Revolt Against Formalism (1949)

Interwar years (more or less) to 1990s

Richard Pells, Radical Visions and American Dreams: Culture and Social Thought in the     Depression Years (2004)
Sarah Igo, The Averaged American: Surveys, Citizens, and the Making of a Mass Public (2008)
Warren Susman, Culture as History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century (2003)
Richard Pells, The Liberal Mind in a Conservative Age: American Intellectuals in the 1940s and     1950s (1989)
Jason Stevens, God Fearing and Free: A Spiritual History of America’s Cold War (2010)
George Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 (2nd. Ed. 2006)
George Cotkin, Existential America (2005)
Robert Genter, Late Modernism: Art, Culture and Politics in Cold War America (2010)
Richard King, Race, Culture, and the Intellectuals, 1940 – 1970 (2004)
Nikhil Singh, Black is a Country: Race and the Unfinished Struggle for Democracy (2005)
Daniel T. Rodgers, Age of Fracture (2011)
James Livingston, The World Turned Inside Out: American Thought and Culture at the End of the 20th Century (2009)
Mary Jo Buhle, Feminism and Its Discontents:  A Century of Struggle with Psychoanalysis (2000)
James Kloppenberg, Reading Obama (2011)   

Longer-term studies / collections

John Higham, Hanging Together: Unity and Diversity in American Culture (2001)
Caroline Winterer, The Culture of Classicism: Ancient Greece and Rome in American Intellectual Life, 1780-1910 (2004)
Caroline Winterer, The Mirror of Antiquity: American Women and the Classical Tradition, 1750-1900 (2009)
Paul Gutjahr, An American Bible: A History of the Good Book in the United States, 1777-1880 (2001)
George Fredrickson, The Black image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817-1914 (1987)
Wilfred McClay, The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America (1994)
Jeffrey Sklansky, The Soul’s Economy: Market Society and Selfhood in American Thought, 1820-1920 (2001)
Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas (2011)
Christopher Lasch, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics (1991)
James Turner, Without God, Without Creed: The Origins of Unbelief in America (1986)

Arthur O. Lovejoy, Chapter 1, “Introduction: The Study of the History of  Ideas,” The Great Chain of Being (1936)
R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (1946)
Louis O. Mink, “The Autonomy of Historical Understanding,” History and Theory, Vol. 5, No. 1 (1966),     pp. 24-47
Fritz Stern, editor, The Varieties of History: From Voltaire to the Present (1973)
John Higham and Paul Conkin, eds., New Directions in American Intellectual History (1980)
Joan W. Scott, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 91, No. 5 (Dec., 1986), pp. 1053-1075.
Hayden White, The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (1987)
Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The ‘Objectivity Question’ and the American Historical Profession (1988)
Thomas Haskell, Objectivity is Not Neutrality: Explanatory Schemes in History (2000)
Allan Megill, Historical Knowledge, Historical Error: A Contemporary Guide to Practice (2007)
Daniel Wickberg, “What Is the History of Sensibilities? On Cultural Histories, Old and New,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 112, No. 3 (June 2007), pp. 661-684
Kerwin Lee Klein, From History to Theory (2011)

6 Thoughts on this Post

  1. In an attempt to promote works covering early America, may I suggest the following:

    Max Edling, A Revolution in Favor of Government

    Seth Cotlar, Tom Paine’s America:The Rise and Fall of Transatlantic Radicalism in the Early Republic

    Drew R. McCoy, The Elusive Republic:Political Economy in Jeffersonian America

    None of these books are very long. The page count for all three is proably less than Creation of the American Republic by Wood.

    Have fun, and good luck.

  2. I would add Sarah Knott’s Sensibility in the American Revolution, Bryan Waterman’s Republic of Intellect, and Catherine Kaplan’s Men of Letters in the Early Republic to your early list, and I would have thought that Pocock’s Political Thought and History, Skinner’s Meaning and Context (Tully, ed.), Koselleck’s Practice of Conceptual History, and Mark Bevir’s Logic of the History of Ideas would be essential for the last section. Also, there’s a forum on American intellectual history in a recent volume of MIH- might be very helpful if you have not looked at it already.

  3. Thanks to all for the input and the reading suggestions. I’m very interested to have this perspective — keep it coming, folks.

    Brian, the Tom Paine book might find its way on to my Transatlantic history list. But that list is already somewhat weighted to the Revolutionary era and the early Republic — I am going to need to propose some more titles to help with coverage of the second half of my “long nineteenth century.” I might crowdsource that in a bleg.

    Matthew, I probably won’t add anything to my early periodization on this list for the same reason I mentioned above — and because my American Lit list (still under construction) is also attentive to the literary cultures of late 18th-early 19th century. This is what I really like the most about the fields I have chosen — I get chronological coverage, but because of their chronological overlap, I also get depth, looking at the same periods and problems from three different angles.

    I should have mentioned the “rules of the game” on this list I posted — for anything I add, something has to go. I appreciate your attention to page count, Brian. Fortunately or unfortunately, page count did not enter into the calculus in compiling this list. The Genoveses, with their 750+ pages chronicling in minute detail the mind of the master class, stand alongside Johnson, with his stunning, focused and manageably sustained study of the New Orleans slave market. So if I make changes, I have to swap title for title — no three-for-one specials!

    As to my last section — if I could add titles without penalty anywhere, I’d add them there. Matthew, you’ve used the word “essential” to describe your suggestions. Coming at the problem pragmatically, I would ask, “essential for what purpose?”

    I have indeed read the MIH forum. It was very helpful in giving a sense of how “the field” (or part of it) understands itself. A few weeks ago the USIH blog ran Daniel Wickberg’s response to/critique of the forum here:

    The Present and Future of American Intellectual History

  4. L.D.: As a fellow Ph.D. student currently in the process of getting final approval for their oral examination lists (3/5 approved!), I am loath to suggest more reading for you BUT I am going to do so anyway.

    I would suggest reading/skimming Michael O’Brien’s two volume “Conjectures of Order” – especially since you are reading the Genoveses’ door-stopper. I find O’Brien to be extremely useful, much less idiosyncratic than the Genoveses, and more representative of where the historiography is headed.

    Take that suggestion or leave it. Either way, good luck with your examination!

  5. Roy, thanks for the suggestion. I just skimmed over the amazon.com description of O’Brien’s book. In terms of historiography, you are probably right — definitely part of the “transnational turn.”

    The Genoveses are important for a few reasons, most of which you know, I’m sure. For one thing, _Mind of the Master Class_ represents a significant moment/development in the historiography of the field. Also, the problem/question that gives shape to their inquiry is important — the work models historical inquiry as an effort to enter sympathetically into an unsavory worldview. At least, it requires that effort of me as a reader.

    This brings me to perhaps the most important pragmatic consideration for having the Genoveses on my list: I have already read the text once. This doesn’t make the thought of plunging in again any more appealing, but it does make it less daunting.

    But thank you for the suggestion on O’Brien. I’ll save him for a summer beach read. 😉

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