U.S. Intellectual History Blog

The U.S. Intellectual History Book-of-the-Month Club*

As we are all filling in our fall calendars with task lists, deadlines, meeting dates, travel plans, committee agendas, office hours, etc., etc., I wanted to apprise our readers of one more thing you can add:  a U.S. intellectual history reading group.

Our first book will be Francesca Bordogna’s marvelous study, William James at the Boundaries: Philosophy, Science, and the Geography of Knowledge (University of Chicago Press, 2008).

Now, this is not an official enterprise of the S-USIH or of this blog.  This is yours truly and two grad school colleagues at UT Dallas who have decided that we would like to meet once a month to discuss a book of our choosing.  Local readers who have the time and would like to do the reading are welcome to join us in person for our monthly discussions.  But we want to offer readers of this blog the opportunity to participate in a kind of ad hoc virtual roundtable focused upon the text under consideration.

Our first meeting will take place on Wednesday, September 18, from 1 to 3 pm. We’ll be meeting on campus at UT Dallas, in The Pub (north end of the Student Union).   If you will be in the area, and you want to add an ad hoc intellectual history seminar to your social calendar, come on down!  But even if you can’t join us in person, you can participate in an online discussion of the book.  On the Saturday after our reading group meets, I will put up a post summarizing some aspect of our reading and throwing out some questions for discussion.  And then we’ll see what happens.

Of course, this is in many ways no different from what we already do at the blog.  One of us will write a post on a book s/he has recently read or is currently reading, and blog readers who are familiar with the book will discuss the text in the comments.  This serendipitous format works very well, and I don’t propose to change it.  However, I think it will be fun to add some planned spontaneity to the mix.

We have also selected our October title, if anyone wants to get a head start on that:  Michel de Certeau, The Writing of History, translated by Tom Conley (Columbia University Press, 1988).

Our reading selections will reflect our own intellectual interests, research needs, and individual quirks and whimsies — as well as our sense of what kind of reading burden we are willing to inflict upon one another.  But we’re certainly open to suggestions, and we would welcome the local or virtual participation of S-USIH blog readers.  Maybe you have a group of similarly nerdy friends and colleagues who can make time to meet up during the same week to discuss the same book we’ll be talking about in our group and on the blog.  Give it a go, and let’s see how it works out.

If you have questions, suggestions, or armchair critiques, please feel free to add them in the comments below.


*Not an official enterprise of the S-USIH, and not in any way affiliated with the Book-of-the-Month Club. The title is my grateful nod to the marvels of middlebrow culture.  Dwight Macdonald can go suck eggs.

3 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Definitely excited to join this! It’s not quite intellectual history, but I think it would be great to take a look at Ira Katznelson’s “Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time”. I may write about the book at some point, but I’m surprised I haven’t seen more about the book on this website (unless I missed any analysis, which is entirely possible).

  2. Great, Robert!

    I think another way this madcap scheme could work would be for people to form local reading groups and then post to the blog or a discussion forum or something what that group will be reading for the next month. That way blog readers could select from a variety of possible texts, read along, and participate in an online discussion. We could do that via blog posts for the time being, and perhaps eventually set up some discussion boards.

    So you (and everyone else) should feel free to participate in discussions for this group and/or start your own reading group within your local network of colleagues/friends, and let the blog readership know what books you’ll be reading.

    After I linked to Book-of-the-Month Club in the post, I decided to browse around their site. Kaztnelson’s book on the New Deal is one of the introductory selections they offer in history. I don’t know what their current promotional gift is now — probably not the 2-volume compact OED any more, but you never know!

    Okay, now back to reading Joan Shelley Rubin…

  3. Heh excellent. I’ve already got an American History Reading Group going here at USC, but I may try to add a reading component to it as time goes on. Or just set up a separate reading group. Either way this is a great way to reach more people and spark some lively discussion.

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