I would like to say a few words in memory of the late Joyce Appleby, a giant in our field of United States intellectual history. One of the great masters of the essay format, Appleby was at her best articulating compelling and pithy interventions in the historiography. What other scholars needed a book for, she could deliver in a tightly written, yet subtly argued, essay. Most famously, she pushed back against the republican synthesis historians (sometimes also known as neo-whig historians) and reclaimed a place for liberalism in the intellectual history of early America. Thus, Appleby’s work is indispensable to the way we currently view the composite ideologies of the revolutionary and early republic periods. In some ways Appleby’s polemic was so convincing and integrative that we no longer know what to argue about in early American intellectual history.
Appleby was the best kind of scholar one can hope for. She knew well her own agenda and was transparent about it, though her research often turned against itself, as any faithful historical account should—at least to some degree. In this regard the introduction to her collection of essays Liberalism and Republicanism in the Historical Imagination (1992) stands out as a superb piece of historiographical polemic.(1) In it she provides some of the most incisive critique of liberalism in American thought, even as she ekes out a place for its resurgence both in the historiography and in contemporary American life. Though I regard myself as a leftist, and do not fully agree with Appleby’s faith in liberalism as a way forward, I know of no better attempt to rescue it from its own shackles. In our field, liberalism has had few, if any, better advocates—and critics.
On a more personal note, Appleby first fully unravelled for me what I still regard as the most fundamental insight about the intellectual history of early America: its peculiar counter-intuitive irony. Especially her collection of essays Capitalism and a New Social Order: The Republican Vision of the 1790s (1984) remains for me the best piece of writing on early American political economy. This is where I go to when I want to remind myself how Americans of the period grappled with such ideas as freedom, nature, commerce, and more. Appleby had her fingers on the very pulse of American thought, and perhaps better than anyone else understood the contradictions at the heart of the brand of capitalism that developed in the early United States. She deftly captured the irony of a society whose attempts to avoid a reliance on the market economy conversely ended up drawing it deeper into the market’s grasp than any other society until then in history.
Furthermore, as intellectual historians we owe a special debt to Appleby as a pioneer for women historians in perhaps the most mansplaining field in our discipline: the intellectual history of the founding of the United States. As a white man—and all-too-often a mansplainer myself—I have had glimpses of how poorly the historiography would have fared without the path paved by women of her generation. Appleby’s passing is a reminder of how a generation of women historians offered us pathbreaking historical interpretations and in the process transformed our understanding of the past.
 It is also one of the best historiographical essays you will find on early American intellectual history.