David Steigerwald and Intellectuals in American Life
If there has been some kind of revival of U.S. intellectual history as a subfield, David Steigerwald has been a major reason for that revival. His work on wide variety of intellectuals and the America they tried to understand has often shifted the tone of various areas of U.S. historiography. His first book, Wilsonian Idealism in America, wrestled a debate over the role of enlightened self-interest away from the confines of diplomatic history and political theory to which it had drifted. For example, Steigerwald complicated how historians considered the thought of Walter Lippmann, moving the debate well beyond seeing this crucial, vital intellectual as either an antidote to cold war chauvinists or an early version of a neo-conservatism. In later books, including The Sixties and the End of Modern America, Debating the Sixties, and Culture’s Vanities, Steigerwald engaged the legacy of a decade that so often seems polarized by the people who write about it as well as by the people who lived through it. And like his first book on Wilsonianism, Steigerwald repositioned thinkers from the tropes, schools, and paradigms to which scholars had consigned them. Through conscientious consideration of intellectuals from Herbert Marcuse to Susan Sontag to Cornell West, Steigerwald’s work on 1960s demonstrated that, as he wrote in The Sixties and the End of Modern America, “United States culture in the sixties did not mark the conquest over ‘tradition’ but, instead, it constituted the realm where the shift from modern to post modern society was clearest.”
Steigerwald is Professor of History at Ohio State University and teaches twentieth century American history at the Marion and Columbus campuses. Professor Steigerwald has twice been honored by OSU’s Phi Alpha Theta with the Clio Award for Outstanding Teaching in history and is a recipient of the university’s highest recognition for teaching excellence, the Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award. He is also director of the History Department’s World War II Study Abroad program. Steigerwald is close to completing a significant study of American thought in the Age of Affluence, that will appear, he states, as “Lost in the Land of Plenty: Affluence and Alienation in American Thought, 1945-2001.” To get a sense of the intellectual breadth and depth of this project, see essays such as “Where have you gone, Holden Caulfield? Why We Aren’t ‘Alienated’ Anymore,” “Did the Protestant Ethic Disappear: American Values on the Cusp of Affluence,” Enterprise and Society (Fall 2008), “Walter Reuther, the UAW, and the Dilemmas of Automation,” (Summer 2010), which was recognized as the year’s best essay in American labor history by the journal Labor History, and “David Riesman on the Frontiers of Consumption,” an essay found in a volume he co-edited with David Blanke, The Destiny of Choice: New Directions in Consumer History (Lanham, MD, 2013).