This summer promises to be an exciting one for anyone who reads intellectual history. As book review editor I try to stay abreast of the field as it develops, and the summer of 2016 offers plenty of fascinating books to look forward to. They cover a variety of topics and subfields within American history. The following is just a short list—please add more in the comments section. While by no means meant to be a comprehensive list, I hope the following works match the diversity of interests held by members of S-USIH.
Toward Democracy—James Kloppenberg’s newest work promises to be the talk of intellectual historians this summer and fall. Toward Democracy presents an Atlantic history of the concept of democracy from the seventeenth until the nineteenth centuries. Kloppenberg’s previous works, such as Uncertain Victory, The Virtues of Liberalism, and Reading Obama all show him to be one of the foremost thinkers on the idea of democracy and liberalism.
Track Changes—Matthew G. Kirschenbaum’s work on writing during the digital age looks like an intriguing and long-overdue monograph on the recent history of writing. The way in which knowledge is produced and reproduced—whether through letters, books, pamphlets, or websites—is as important as the knowledge itself. As with some of the best of the field known as the history of the book, Track Changes will make historians of the recent past consider many new questions about our sources, how they are produced, and the way word processors and other digital tools influence the production of knowledge.
Just Around Midnight—although not being released until September, this book by Jack Hamilton will over a new take on race and rock n’ roll in the middle of the twentieth century. I mention the book here due to the interest many S-USIH members have in race, popular culture, and twentieth century American history. Hamilton, an Assistant Professor of American Studies and Media Studies at Virginia, will bring several methodological tools to this project that should also be useful to intellectual historians.
Writing Reconstruction—Sharon D. Kennedy-Nolle’s work on Reconstruction era literature shows how much remains to be done with the Reconstruction era by historians. Focused on the relationship between Reconstruction era writers and their reading publics (often publics based in the North), Writing Reconstruction also considers how both race and gender were written in these books.
Charleston Syllabus—based off the work done by Chad Williams, Kidada E. Williams, and Keisha N. Blain last year to assemble sources to explain the tragic attack on the Emanuel AME church, Charleston Syllabus will be a go-to resource on race and American history. For intellectual historians the book provides an example of scholarship done by historians as a public good and an urgently needed resource.
Homegoing—finally, an unorthodox selection. Homegoing is a novel by Yaa Gyasi which covers the history of two families of West Africans: one whose descendants live in what becomes Ghana, and the others who is sold into slavery, and whose family lives and dies in the United States. With a boom in books and movies about both the African American experience and the African Diaspora (think of the popularity of Chimamanda Adichie and the remake of Roots coming out later this month), Homegoing will be of interest to anyone interested in the Black experience across centuries. Plus, we should never lose sight of the importance of novels to modern culture as conduits of history, storytelling, and political and cultural thought.