In the chapter I’m working on now, I’m situating the history of Stanford’s undergraduate curriculum from the 1890s to the 1980s alongside (or within) the history of American liberalism. Alas, no one has (yet) published The Big Book of American Liberalism, so there is no conveniently periodized master-narrative upon which I can draw to trace out the career(s) of liberal thought in American life throughout the 20th century. Rather, I need to put together a relay team of historians to help me carry the baton of my argument.
For my take on the history of liberalism, here’s the team I have assembled so far:
Leslie Butler, Critical Americans: Victorian Intellectuals and Transatlantic Liberal Reform
James T. Kloppenberg, Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870-1920
Andrew Jewett, Science, Democracy and the American University: From the Civil War to the Cold War
Richard H. Pells, Radical Visions & American Dreams: Culture and Social Thought in the Depression Years
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., The Vital Center: The Politics of Freedom
Angus Burgin, The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression
Daniel T. Rodgers, Age of Fracture
In terms of the history of Stanford’s undergraduate curriculum in particular, my main secondary sources are these:
Julie A. Reuben, The Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality
Rebecca S. Lowen, Creating the Cold War University: The Transformation of Stanford
Certainly these aren’t the only scholars upon whose work I am relying in this chapter, nor are they the only sources I’m using who have something to say about liberalism in general, or about liberalism and higher education in particular. But in terms of chronological and thematic coverage, I can pretty much situate my reading of primary sources (course catalogs, university bulletins, annual reports, commissioned studies, etc.), informed by the insights of Reuben and Lowen, within the compass of a larger narrative arc that stretches from Butler to Rodgers.
That’s my plan, anyhow.
Right now I’m trying to get from a discussion of laissez-faire liberalism as manifested in the free elective system to an exploration of the connection between the ascendancy of bureaucratic liberalism and the implementation of general education requirements after World War I. It’s a nice argument in theory, but it’s not working out so well on paper now. I find myself relying in places on the impersonal organicist causality of Robert Wiebe – lots of ideas or institutional structures “emerging” and “developing,” “conflicting” with and sometimes “yielding to” other notions, other structures. This is all right to some extent, but too much impersonal agency in my explanatory scheme might be a sign that I’m not digging deep enough as I try to make these turns in my argument.
Anyhow, I picked my History of Liberalism relay team with an eye to the particular angle I am trying to take in subsequent chapters of my dissertation. (I’m keeping the precise trajectory of that angle to myself, but as you can tell from my inclusion of Burgin, I’m particularly interested in the relationship of liberalism and neoliberalism and how they intersect in this 1980s curricular debate). So this is not meant to be a syllabus, an exhaustive list, a comprehensive roster – it’s a pragmatic grouping of monographs from which I can draw for my “longue durée” background chapter.
That said, I’d like to know: if you were putting together your own relay team of historical works to carry your version of the story of liberalism from the Gilded Age to the 1980s, which texts would you pick?