U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Gerald Horne, Cedric Johnson, and the Week in American Intellectual History

Over at the African American Intellectual History Society’s Black Perspectives page, a roundtable on the writings and legacy of historian Gerald Horne has had me fascinated for the last week. I joked before the roundtable began that the Horne roundtable was going to be the highlight of my birthday week. All humor aside, though, the roundtable has proven to be a critically important read—perhaps the most important online writing from a group of historians in 2017 so far. This is not meant as hyperbole, because Gerald Horne deserves a much, much larger reading audience.

Having written over thirty deeply researched monographs, Horne has redefined the contours of African American and American history. His mastery of a wide range of historical fields—from twentieth century American history to seventeenth century Atlantic history, and many points in between—is remarkable. At the same time, Horne reminds us that it’s great when historians spread their reading and writing wings, and are not afraid of dabbling in a wide range of sub-genres. His effortless connections of the African American freedom struggle in the United States with American foreign policy, and vice versa, merits a close reading of much of his work. The roundtable is as good a place as any to start.

Speaking of African American intellectual history, the good folks at the “Dead Pundits Society” podcast have an interview with Cedric Johnson worth listening to, especially if you’re interested in twentieth century American or African American history. Johnson, best known for his book Revolutionaries to Race Leaders¸ has in recent years become a frequent contributor to Jacobin magazine. His critique of the legacy of the Black Power movement in this podcast episode is one to listen to, especially as it also intersects with current debates about the future of the Black Lives Matter movement. As historians, the interview with Johnson gives proper historical context to the entangled debates about racism in modern American society.

Context is key! This is the mantra of every historian, and both the Johnson interview and the Horne roundtable work as excellent introductions to two historians who strive to give context to our modern problems. After all, what is “modern” often has a history of which most people are simply not knowledgeable.

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