U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Great Finds

Over the next week, one of my more pleasant tasks will be to tweak and fine-tune the syllabus for my U.S. history survey course.

In the process of selecting the primary source readings for the class, I have come across a few resources and documents that might be of interest to our readers, including one of the more peculiar newspaper editorials I have seen lately.

But before I get to that quirky document, I wanted to take a moment to plug a book review in the most recent Journal of American History (June 2013).

Edward J. Blum, one of our guest contributors, has written a review (JAH June 2013, pp. 240-241) of Natalie J. Ring’s important new study, The Problem South: Region, Empire, and the New Liberal State, 1880-1930.

Blum writes: “The Problem South is a breath of fresh air in the discussions of how to incorporate the South into Gilded Age and Progressive Era histories.  When it comes to the South, scholars of the past few decades seem to be writing past one another” (JAH, June 2013, 240). Blum then goes on to divvy up the recent historiography into groups that I think one could safely dub “the reunionist school” and “the regional distinctive school.”  Blum argues that “Ring does more than bring those scholarly trajectories together: she shows the way they miss how the problems of the ‘problem South’ paved the way for” economic expansion, domestic and international imperialism, and conceptions of government as “a positive force” in improving citizens’ lives (241).

Blum’s review concludes with a strong endorsement:  “The Problem South should change how we teach the Gilded Age, American empire, and the Progressive Era” (241).

I am very pleased to say that Natalie Ring’s book will not change how I teach the Gilded Age, the Progressive Era, and American empire, for Ring’s approach is my starting place.  It has been my privilege and pleasure to study with Prof. Ring in my PhD program, taking courses in Gilded Age and Progressive Era history and an interdisciplinary course in  “The Global South.”  So I am looking forward to introducing my students to this via media between the South as a separate and peculiar region and the South as integral to the nationalist and internationalist project of “strong-state-liberalism.”

Speaking of strong-state liberalism…

One of the resources I am using to present primary source material is a batch of newspaper reproductions that I picked up from a retired history teacher.  These were printed by a company called “Yesterday’s Headline,” but I have not been able to find out whether the company is still in business.  I suppose in the age of digitized everything, reproducing a full edition of an old newspaper would seem unnecessary.  However, my classroom is equipped with a document display projector, so I will be able to lay the newspaper on the desk and show my students how “the news” was reported and presented.

Among the reproduction issues I have is a facsimile of the “final late edition” of Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph of June 6, 1944. The front page is devoted to coverage of the D-Day invasion, with a map of the “Invasion Coast” and bulletins and dispatches from London.  I will no doubt spend some time discussing this Big Story with my class — including the fact that people who wanted to keep up with the news would have had to buy or borrow the various editions of the newspaper as they were printed that day.

But I am also going to spend some time on this paper’s editorial page.  The Sun-Telegraph was a Hearst paper, and I gather that the Hearst papers weren’t thrilled with FDR’s planned fourth term.  The cartoon on the editorial page is a hideous ethnic caricature of a turbaned man, “Bureaucracy,” standing atop a minaret shaped like the number 4, and issuing a “call to prayer” that is a pun on “all the time.”  So there’s that.

And right next to that cartoon, there’s this:

charivari

“Grand Charivari of New Deal Reds and Fourth-Term Jobbers-for-Life,” by Benjamin Decasseres.  (If you click on the photo, that will open in a separate window, and you can use your browser’s magnifying tool to zoom in and read the “marching order.”)

This “editorial” on the FDR administration and the New Deal was written by Benjamin De Casseres.  He was a poet, literary and cultural critic, and freelance writer for newspapers and periodicals.  He wrote and published several “art” books, and he was a correspondent of Edgar Lee Masters and a sometime collaborator with Eugene O’Neill. (I learned all of this by piecing together his oeuvre through a WorldCat search.)

There have been a couple of M.A. theses written about De Casseres, whose published output was extensive if not particularly stellar (there is some Very Earnest, Very Bad Poetry available via Google Books, if you’re interested).  Perhaps one of the most interesting things about De Casseres for readers of this blog is his apparent life-long devotion to Nietzsche.  Among his writings is a study examining the trope of the “Superman” in American literature and culture (1929), as well as an anthology of excerpted passages from Nietzsche’s writings addressing the subject of “Germans, Jews, and France” (1935).  De Casseres, who also wrote on Spinoza, was Jewish.

It’s very likely that none of this information will make its way into my lecture on American life and culture during World War II.  What will be interesting, though, is a discussion of the dissent and discontent with FDR playing out right alongside the reports of major Allied military victories.  And James T. Sparrow’s Warfare State: World War II Americans and the Age of Big Government will inform how I frame that contrast.

In the meantime, I would be interested in our readers’ take on this anti-FDR editorial.

3 Thoughts on this Post

  1. That editorial is very fascinating, and a tool I’d like to use for my own students in the future. You’re right, students would be well-served to be taught that, while we see WWII as “the good war”, there was plenty of dissent in the United States about the course America was on. Not just from the Right, of course; there was plenty of dissent from African Americans about what we were fighting for, and how we were going about it (the Jim Crow armed forces, soldiers having to endure racism in training camps in the South, etc.). But this editorial also shows that the debates we’re having today, about America’s place in the world, and the role of the federal government, are by no means new debates. There’s a different flavor to those debates during World War II, though, due to having the Soviet Union as a key ally during the conflict.

    As for “The Problem South” I’ve had that book on my radar for a while. Guess it’s time to move it up in the reading queue, heh.

  2. Nice document find. It’ll be good for your students to see that over-the-top editorializing isn’t strictly a product of 21st century politics and culture wars. …Love the tidbit about De Casseres being a Nietzsche devotee.

  3. Thanks Tim. I don’t know enough about De Casseres to decide exactly where his screed is coming from, but I think he thinks it’s coming from the perspective of the hawk. I don’t think there was anything “Right” about him — maybe just an aspiration to the “aggrieved patrician” class? So a salvo from the lofty Left, maybe.

    Another happy find I made today, with the help of my school’s magnificent reference librarian: HarpWeek, the full-text searchable database for Harper’s Weekly through pretty much its entire run. Best thing about it: you can view the TOC / articles via html, but you can also choose to view a full facsimile of each issue, page by page. It’s fantastic — fabulous for Civil War, Reconstruction, industrialization, Gilded Age, Progressive Era, etc etc etc.

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