Interchange: The Practice of History

With this issue, the JAH inaugurates “Interchange,” an annual section featuring edited conversations among historians. Over the past several years, readers have asked us to include more senior historians in our pages and to provide more commentary on the practice and profession of history. “Interchange” is one attempt to respond to those requests. For our first installment, we invited nine historians to participate in a broad-ranging, month-long, online discussion on recent changes in historical practice. We opened the conversation, which took place in October 2002, with some general questions: How has the practice of history—in your subfield or more generally—changed since the 1970s? In what ways have the changes enhanced the study of the past, and in what ways have they diminished it? And every week or so, we posed additional questions. We were not looking for informal chat, personal life histories, or magazine-style interviews. We hoped the online format would allow for dialogue with deliberation, and we also hoped it would encourage mutual brainstorming and spirited exchange. We are pleased to present the results below.

     We heartily thank the participants who gamely agreed to join us in our opening conversation:
      Drew Faust is dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and Lincoln Professor of History at Harvard University. Readers may contact Faust at < [email protected] > .
      Hendrik Hartog is Class of 1921 Bicentennial Professor of the History of American Law and Liberty at Princeton University. Readers may contact Hartog at < [email protected] >.
      David A. Hollinger is Preston Hotchkis Professor of American History at the University of California, Berkeley. Readers may contact Hollinger at < [email protected] >.
      Akira Iriye is Charles Warren Professor of American History and chair of the department of history at Harvard University. Readers may contact Iriye at < [email protected] >.
     Patricia Nelson Limerick is professor of history and environmental studies and faculty director of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado. Readers may contact Limerick at <[email protected]>.
     Nell Irvin Painter is Edwards Professor of American History at Princeton University. Readers may contact Painter at <[email protected]>.
     David Roediger is Kendrick C. Babcock Professor of History and Afro-American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Readers may contact Roediger at <[email protected]>.
     Mary Ryan is John Martin Vincent Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University. Readers may contact Ryan at <[email protected]>.
     Alan Taylor is professor of history at the University of California, Davis. Readers may contact Taylor at <[email protected]>.

Editors: How has the practice of history—in your subfield or more generally—changed since the 1970s? In what ways have the changes enhanced the study of the past, and in what ways have they diminished it?

Patricia Nelson Limerick: The change in western American history since the 1970s could make an observer dizzy. Not to brag, but our field may have been the most “retrograde” of all, in terms of its racial and gender exclusivity. Now young scholars are engaged in all kinds of boundary-blurring investigations, especially in terms of exposures of the fuzziness of the line between the categories of “natural” and “human” and of “Indian” and “white.” One of the unexpected advantages of western history may have been that the persistence of the old categories of historical exploration left all kinds of important questions open for the asking, and all sorts of sources neglected and ready for attention. The good news is that a nearly moribund field got a new lease on life. The not-so-good news is that we haven’t made anywhere near as much progress as I would have hoped for in engaging public audiences. In fact, some of the “progress” worked against us; the obscurity of the language of cultural history may have actually reduced our engagement with wider audiences. Ironically, one of the most interesting and fruitful territories for historical work in the American West is now the exploration of powerful white men in western history. In ways that were far more productive than injurious, attention to minorities and women pushed the activities of influential white men to the margins. But now my own interests are tending more and more to the role of scientists and engineers in the shaping of the West (a very white male cohort if there ever was one; women do not really emerge as visible players in the western engineering world until is time for the “cleanup” of abandoned mine sites and nuclear weapons production plants; I think this probably has more to do with the timing of the arrival of women as engineering professionals than with a cultural assumption that women take instinctively to housecleaning, but who knows?). If I am drawn back to the history of professionals in the Bureau of Reclamation, the Forest Service, and the National Park Service, this is surely one indication of this strange and unexpected return of attention to the wielders of power.

Alan Taylor: As in all fields of history, most of the changes in early American history in recent decades reflect the influence of cultural and linguistic studies. Although scholars have varied considerably in the degree to which they have embraced the imported terminology and conceptual framework, almost all have had to consider the “cultural turn” in framing their work. The new approaches have offered considerable gains: gender as a major category of analysis is now well established; race is understood as actively, daily constructed rather than as a universal given; and most scholars now recognize the importance of native people in all colonial regions. And because of the new attention to transnational and comparative histories and to post-colonial studies, there has also been a geographic broadening of our understanding of colonial America beyond the thirteen British colonies of the Atlantic seaboard. Indeed, we can understand those colonies better if seen in comparison with French Canada and Louisiana, as well as Hispanic Texas, California, and New Mexico. That geographic broadening has also been driven by the influence of the Atlantic approach, which emphasizes the powerful, ongoing exchanges of people, goods, and ideas between Africa and Europe and the various colonies of the Americas.
     But some babies have been thrown out with the bath water of old approaches. Social science models and statistical analysis, which were so promising during the 1970s, have largely fallen out of favor. There has been a general decline in quantitative literacy, especially at the level of graduate student training. And political history in general has suffered from neglect (except for “the Founding Fathers”). Some worthy problems merit a cultural approach; others would benefit from greater attention to social science methods.

Nell Irvin Painter: In no case is history cut off from the political economy or the personal interests and demographic characteristics of each historian. What goes on in our institutions, our polity, and our experience affects our thought. Who we are as people enters into what we see as important historically and whom we prize historiographically.
     I came to graduate work in history from an undergraduate degree in anthropology and a good deal of time spent abroad. So even back in the 1970s, I found myself athwart several fields of history. Nowadays, after rummaging around American history for many, many years, I’m even more spread out: across political, southern, race, women’s, and art histories, as well as cultural studies. Those subfields have evolved—in some cases devolved—at different rates and in various directions. To complicate matters further, each subfield contains factions at odds with each other.
     I would sum up the changes in historical practice as an opening up to new methodologies and new epistemologies. Others of my colleagues have turned productively to the law and to literature. In writing southern and women’s history, I (like many other colleagues in women’s but not in southern history) have found psychoanalysis and object-relations theory quite useful for formulating original questions.1
     The good thing is that history is richer: American history, burdened by the Cold War conceit of exceptionalism, definitely needed enrichment. The bad thing is that intellectually ambitious historians risk the neglect of what defines history: a strong grounding in archival and event history. Archival research and knowledge of events remain indispensable to the writing of sound history. But they no longer suffice.
     I’m lumping the “linguistic turn,” the French masters of postmodernism and post-structuralism, subaltern studies, and postcolonial studies together into cultural studies. To simplify terribly for the purposes of this discussion, let me say that the cultural studies field leads historians to ask not simply, what can we know about particular persons and events? but also, further, how do we know what we know? In general, women’s and race histories seem to have welcomed new methodologies more readily than southern history, which strikes me as a more stable field. Among southern historians, however, I know many exceptions to that generalization….

Mary Ryan: Like Nell I resist being confined to one field: at this moment I am stereophonic with one speaker transmitting gender and the other urban history; I hope thereby to amplify both fields. Because gender history is my longest-standing interest, I’ll respond to this question from my left speaker. The field of study that emerged around 1970 when historians began to focus on women grew with remarkable speed and followed many of the epistemological and methodical changes that others will describe in their fields: women’s history made its own cultural turn and multicultural expansion. But unlike other fields, women’s history reinvented itself along the way as it placed its own subject matter in a new conceptual frame, that of gender history.
     That new framework in turn has sparked considerable internal debate about what is a woman, what is a gender, how many genders there are, and whether woman or gender is a more useful way of locating historical analysis. (The way this field intersects with the history of sexuality creates yet further complications.) This self-consciousness and internal debate about the intellectual project of women’s/gender history can be traced in part to the interdisciplinary network in which women’s studies operates. It also creates a welcome heterogeneity in the field. In recent works I have been equally informed by old social history studies measuring women’s status (see Karin Wulf on women in revolutionary Philadelphia) and new cultural studies of the representation of gender difference (see Susan Glenn and John Kasson on gendered bodies early in the twentieth century).2
     The tension at the very core of this enterprise, between women as agents in history and gender as a social and cultural construction (or performance or practice or whatever), still makes the field bristle with intellectual excitement.

Hendrik Hartog: Practice is a big and fuzzy word and one that looms large and ominously in a legal historian’s lexicon (obsessed as we are with the multiplicities of legal practice). Which scholarly practices to focus on here? The one we all engage in as historians is reading. How has my reading changed since the 1970s?
     Here it is possible to make an unqualified observation. There is so much to read today, too much for any one set of eyes. There are so many more people doing legal history now than then, and they are doing it in so many different ways. Among others: historians of gender and sexuality and race and religion and immigration and the West and political thought, and…, and…, and … who have discovered the constitutive or evocative or symbolic power of law, or who have simply realized that legal sources are fun to mine; a bevy of constitutional law scholars grown tired of parsing the most recent case of the U.S. Supreme Court who have turned toward the mysterious powers of “republicanism” or of a “producers’ constitution”; anthropologists who, having finally discovered that their small, organic communities depended on a legal culture and existed in historic time, have now embraced the historical study of legal cultures; everyone who celebrates “the return of storytelling” as an opportunity to tell the story of a famous or infamous trial; and those few of us who were legal historians then (or legal historians in training pants) and who still self-identify as legal historians. There is more of everything today (except quantitative studies and economic-legal history), and I realized recently that my graduate syllabus in the literature of American legal history is now twice as long as it was ten years ago but covers only the nineteenth century in any depth, while once upon a time I thought I covered the literatures of colonial legal history and twentieth-century legal history as well.
     So, there is so much more than there was then. But as I reach that conclusion, I remember that there is also less. Modesty has become the rule in causal claims. Does law ever matter in real lives? What are the legal structures that underlie an economy, a polity, racial or gender hierarchies? What is/was a legal consciousness? Does it make sense to describe the United States as a distinctively legal society? Such questions seem almost quaint today, though they were the questions that drove some of us toward the subdiscipline. Once upon a time, I read to watch how others—my colleagues in the enterprise—worked with sources to gain access to moments when ideology and “experience” came together…. And alternatively I fantasized that studying court cases and judges gave one insight into those who served as the “commissars of capitalism,” into those who actually exercised power and into the content of governance in America. I confess that I have not entirely lost those ambitions, those yearnings. Yet I have learned to couch them in far less grandiose terms in my own work and to expect less from my reading.

David A. Hollinger: Intellectual historians since the 1970s have strikingly diminished the authority of “American exceptionalist” interpretations and have become increasingly engaged by international discourses created and sustained by thinkers based in a number of different societies, especially in the North Atlantic West. The widely cited, undoubtedly excellent book of 2001 by the literary scholar Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club, is a striking anomaly, as it presents an unreconstructed American exceptionalist interpretation of pragmatism reminiscent of the scholarship of the 1950s and 1960s. By contrast, James T. Kloppenberg’s treatment of much of the same material in a book of 1986, Uncertain Victory, established that the deeply Protestant culture of post–Civil War New England was but one of several sites in the industrialized world for the simultaneous development of a historicist sensitivity to uncertainty and a recognition of the instrumental character of concepts. 3 Most historians concerned with the intellectual history of the United States in any period are now more likely to begin their work with the understanding that their subject matter is comparable to that of historians of British or German or Russian thought in relation to the larger history of the North Atlantic West: each national culture has its own intellectual history, but that history is extensively the product of a set of dialectical exchanges with the work of thinkers in other national cultures with overlapping traditions and circumstances.
     Intellectual historians are not the only subgroup in the profession to turn away from styles of national historiography that now seem narrow. Much of the social history produced during the last three decades has made a similar turn. Indeed, as we look upon the enterprise of United States history as a whole, I hope it is accurate to generalize as follows.
     Since 1970 historians of the United States have been more skilled and accomplished in interpreting events for which the United States has been a site than those events of which it has been an agent and a result. The distinction can be overdrawn. Much of what happens “on site” affects, and is affected by, the United States. But the distinction can remind us that the United States is by definition a political entity authorized by a constitution. The actions carried out by or upon individuals, families, corporations, governments, churches, workers, writers, scientists, organizations of all kinds, and groups defined by descent, gender, sexual orientation, locale, age, occupation, or language become part of “American history,” strictly speaking, when those actions substantially contribute to or are substantially shaped by the United States. But for the most part since 1970 we have not been speaking strictly: we have been addressing an imposing multitude of actions that have happened in the United States involving entities of the sort listed above without putting too fine a point on just what these actions have to do with the United States, or while implying connections that we do not rigorously warrant. And a good thing too. Mostly.
     What has made it good is the strict speaking by previous generations of historians. They rendered “American history” so narrowly a history of politics that much of what happened on site was left out of it. This meant that these desiderata were either not studied at all (the history of women is a convenient example) or were studied in a mode that downplayed, or altogether ignored, the ways a national setting shaped various specific episodes in a story being enacted in arenas of larger scope (e.g., the history of science). Yet we have been celebrating for some years now this breakout from narrow political history. Since our profession is much given to self-congratulation on this particular score, I will cut short my recognition of how splendid it is that we now cover so much more history than we used to and turn to something else: Are there costs to our victory?
     I will cite only one example of such a cost, although what it exemplifies will be clear enough. Constitutional history is not accorded the importance it once was. Is this a problem? Yes. Constitutional history deals with events that not only happen on site, but constitute the site to begin with. Recent books by Linda Kerber (No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies) and Nancy Cott (Public Vows) have helped remind us how important the juridical aspects of power are even to some of those aspects of history that were long slighted by political historians. We don’t have to “go back to the fifties” (although I do wish our students knew their Kelly and Harbison better than they do) to find ways to engage events that constitute the history of the United States as well as take place within it.4

David Roediger: My graduate study began in African American history, and I then switched to labor history—egregiously producing a dissertation on the working day in the antebellum United States that wholly ignored slavery. I now hold a split appointment in African American studies and in history. Through the years my subfields have further varied, with the variation driven as much by the necessity to pose as qualified for jobs as by curiosity. All of this, plus chairing an American studies program, has called my claim to any particular specialization into question.
     Nonetheless, I will focus on labor history. In the 1970s the new labor history was actually new. (We often forget that the innovations we persist in calling new are of the vintage of bell-bottom jeans.) It insisted that the past of working people could be known, not only in their unions but in their whole lives. It held that their past was important to changing the whole story of U.S. history and to telling that story to working people. It sought to recover defeated as well as lost voices from that past and to emphasize that things might have turned out differently for workers.
     The subfield’s trajectory was a little like mine in graduate school. The inspiration for thinking that (extra)ordinary people could make history lay largely in the witnessing, not of union struggles, but rather of freedom struggles of people of color and women’s liberationists domestically and of colonized people globally. Such origins, plus the changes occurring in the demographics of the working class, opened at least the possibility of a new subfield radically open to the emerging disciplines of ethnic studies and women’s studies and to transnational approaches. Had things developed a little differently, the classic texts of the new labor history might have been Herbert Gutman’s work on slavery and David Montgomery’s on Radical Reconstruction and not so overwhelmingly their work on white male workers. The subfield’s founding documents included, after all, Gerda Lerner’s The Lady and the Mill Girl, George Rawick’s studies of slave life after dark, and Alexander Saxton’s dissection of labor and the anti-Chinese movement. Labor history’s potential not only to assert the importance of class but to assert that importance within a web of social experiences was real.5
     However, from the start there was a powerful tendency to frame labor history around the transformation of artisans (or, less often, peasants) into workers, an important story but one that tended to marginalize other dramas. The passion of labor historians for “synthesis” in the eighties and for a positive relationship with the new leadership of John J. Sweeney at the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations) in the nineties both produced impressive results, but ones that tended to make the small minority of workers in (often exclusionary) unions more and more of the story. (The recent “labor and war” issue of Labor’s Heritage marks a culmination of this tendency; although its positive attitude to U.S. interventions and union support for them will seem its most salient feature to many, the top-down approach it adopts is equally revealing.)6 My arguments with American studies students who have seen labor history as a “conservative” or irrelevant subfield suffered as the students opened the major journal in the field, Labor History, and noted that until very recently its editorial board looked not at all like the working class, nor even like academia, where race and gender are concerned.
     Nonetheless a framework seeing the new labor history’s trajectory as simply one of declension remains inadequate. Historians trained in working-class history produced remarkably transformative work. One thinks of George Chauncey on class and the making of a gay identity; of George Lipsitz, Robin Kelley, and Nan Enstad on popular culture and workers’ freedom dreams; of Alice Kessler-Harris and Liz Faue on what happens if we do not imagine labor (absent other adjectives) as male; of Julie Willett and Susan Porter Benson on service work and gender; of the brilliant transnational work of Gunther Peck, Catherine Ceniza Choy, Dana Frank, and Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker; and of the groundbreaking capturing of the “simultaneity” of race, gender, and class in the work of Venus Green, Vicki Ruiz, and Tera Hunter.7
     What has not been transformed is labor history itself. The decline of U.S. unions, of the labor Left in the overdeveloped world, and of the Soviet Union has produced little theoretical reflection on how we see class. The challenge of cultural studies has been met more with denunciation and a renewed commitment to empiricism than with engagement. Many of the masterworks noted above are without sufficient honor in their own subfields, and not a few of labor history’s freshest voices have moved on to other specializations.

Akira Iriye: I can comment on the changes that I perceive to have taken place in my field of specialization, U.S. foreign affairs, or more broadly, the international history of the United States. In 1978 I gave a presidential address to the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations subtitled “International Relations as Intercultural Relations.” And in 1988 I entitled my American Historical Association presidential address “The Internationalization of History.” It seems to me that these two themes, namely, intercultural relations and internationalization, have characterized an increasing body of scholarly literature in this field. Many students of U.S. foreign relations are interested in inquiring into the cultural dimension and into transnational cultural connections. Among the most recent examples would be such books as Kristin Hoganson’s Fighting for American Manhood, Tim Borstelmann’s The Cold War and the Color Line, and Marc Gallicchio’s The African American Encounter with Japan and China8
     At the same time, internationalization, that is, interactions and exchanges with scholars abroad, has intensified in the last couple of decades, no doubt reflecting the phenomenon known as globalization. Indeed, internationalization may be less adequate as a term than globalization. Historians of U.S. foreign relations are beginning to produce work that contributes to our understanding of global interconnections. Good examples are Mark Bradley’s Imagining Vietnam and America and Matthew Connelly’s A Diplomatic Revolution.9 In the meantime, the emerging scholarship on globalization, much of it being carried on in Europe and Asia, is beginning to make an impact on the study of U.S. foreign relations, so that it would be fair to say that today the traditional genre of the diplomatic history of the United States is in the process of being transformed into a global, transnational, cross-cultural history of the United States.

Drew Faust: My fields of southern and Civil War history have been revolutionized since the 1970s. In southern history, studies of slavery published in the 1970s made substantive changes in our understanding of the southern past, transforming it into a history in which both blacks and whites exercised agency and were recognized as historical actors. But slavery studies from the 1970s also introduced new methods—folklore, family reconstitution, comparative history, material culture, to name a few—that changed the practice, not just of southern history, but of all history. The now curiously anachronistic phrase “the history of the inarticulate” emerged from those approaches, altering our perceptions in such a way that now it seems almost unimaginable that we could have thought such groups as slaves, workers, and women inarticulate. We just didn’t know how to listen. From a new centrality in southern history, race has moved to a central place within all U.S. history over the past three decades. We have recognized that the issues of race, once confined in historical thinking to the South, characterized the entire national experience. Close on the heels of this shift in perspective came the inclusion of women in the southern story as well, and it has been in gender history that much of the very best work on the South has taken place—work like that of Glenda Gilmore, Stephanie McCurry, Nancy MacLean, and Jacquelyn Hall, for example. 10
     In the study of the Civil War, a subject that had been the almost exclusive domain of political and military historians has become one of enormous interest to social historians since the late 1980s. We not only have a new view of the home front, with explorations of experiences of women and slaves; our understanding of the battlefront has been transformed by work on common soldiers—black and white alike.

Painter: I want to take up from Mary Ryan and David Roediger regarding their own changing fields. Mary began in women’s history and helped that field grow into gender history. David studied African American history, then labor history (then both). I want to mention a controversial move in one of my fields that parallels their trajectories. It concerns African American history and whiteness….
     This move creates no epistemological problem. Logically, it makes a lot of sense. That is, it makes a lot of sense until one faces up to the demographics of the history profession and African American history’s roots in social reality. African American history carries within it all the struggles over segregation and discrimination, which are not yet at an end.
     Taking African American history into race in general and whiteness in particular decenters the history of people of African descent. Many believe that this history—this still so new history—isn’t yet ready to be moved off the center stage of its own field. Especially not for a study of white people. With our penchant to match the identity of teachers with the identity of the field, decentering black history risks sidelining black faculty. This is definitely a problem. It bears so much potential for mischief that many historians of African America are not willing to risk an opening into new areas of inquiry—at least not under the rubric of a race history that comes out of African American history.

Editors: In the 1980s and 1990s, U.S. historians repeatedly discussed and debated the perceived problems of fragmentation and synthesis. In contrast, several of you have identified different problems in current historical practice: obscure prose, a decline in quantitative analysis, a decline in archival research, a turning away from the histories that constitute the United States as a political entity, and a refusal to rethink older categories. Some of these perceived problems seem to be associated with the rise of cultural history or the reaction against it. Could you elaborate on those concerns? Is cultural history a key point of contention today? If so, how and why?

Roediger: At the least, the perception of a wholesale move toward cultural history, or even cultural studies, has mattered greatly in conditioning how U.S. historians see their field and its problems. The field’s “turn” is actually variously described, usually by detractors—toward the literary, toward the postmodern, toward the “mantra” of race, gender, and class, toward the linguistic, toward the subjective, as well as toward the cultural. Often a lament is registered also for what has been lost: the political, the economic, the solid. I have my doubts as to the empirical validity of such claims…. To the extent that political economy survives in U.S. historiography at all, it often does so in works that are fully alert to cultural history and theory.
     Nonetheless, those of us who embrace the changes conflated under the heading of cultural history have also to admit that we have much to learn from those working in other ways. The tremendous popularity of political and military biographies, of varying quality and originality, is instructive. While we should not want to limit ourselves to what works on television on the History Channel, neither can we simply ignore what appeals to broad audiences…. A turning away from epochal events and central figures can cede too much that is distinctive and fascinating about history. I find myself returning often to the closing poetic pages of W. E. B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction in these connections.11 There the call is to realize the drama (not simply the narrative) of the earthshaking steps taken by slaves who sang and struck, by legislators who deliberated, and by presidents who ordered.

Taylor: Graduate students naturally respond most enthusiastically to new approaches that seem especially promising and exciting. This produces a clustering effect. During the 1970s, many newer scholars felt drawn to the new social history with its social science models and quantitative methods. The pendulum subsequently swung in favor of cultural approaches, with very rich results. So I don’t think of “cultural history” as a “problem,” although there are some overtly theoretical approaches that, to my taste, erect some unnecessary rhetorical barriers between scholars and nonacademic readers. Historians are well poised to be translators between the public and theoretical approaches in the social sciences and humanities, but we don’t always seize those opportunities. Then again, by no means should historians fit just one mold. I was drawn to this field by its diversity of approaches, which I suspect is true of most of us.

Iriye: At least in my field, U.S. international relations, cultural history has made a positive impact, helping broaden the perimeters of the field to include gender, ideology, social relations, nongovernmental actors, etc. As perhaps best illustrated by Frank Ninkovich’s books, the awareness of the problématique and vocabulary of cultural history has enabled diplomatic historians to probe more deeply into the relationship between domestic cultural forces and foreign policy. At the same time, however, cultural history, if defined in a narrow national framework, may encourage intellectual parochialism. We need cultural history that transcends national boundaries, of the type exemplified by James Kloppenberg’s Uncertain Victory or Daniel Rodgers’s Atlantic Crossings12

Hartog: Cultural history approaches have enriched and enlivened recent writing in legal history (see, for example, the recent work on trials of whiteness by Ariela Gross and Walter Johnson), and, of course, many of the ur-texts of cultural history were constructed in engagement with trial documents. 13 So there is a kind of synergy at work. At the same time, the forms of constitutional-legal history, for which there is a relatively large public audience, remain relentlessly ignorant of and resistant to the openings that have characterized the writing of history that many of us posting here celebrate. I still sometimes fantasize that if I (we) only did it better, social histories of law and even cultural studies–inflected histories of law would find a broad nonacademic public. But how to make the fantasy a reality remains beyond my ken.

Faust: What I have found so compelling about cultural history during my three decades in the profession is its emphasis on how historical actors construe their experience—how they see, define, and respond to their world. Thus for me the lens of culture or meaning filters every other dimension of experience, and cultural history takes on a kind of natural historical imperialism: Whatever else might be happening—politics, economics, technological change—happens to people who use their cultural assumptions and predispositions to interpret it. So for me cultural history is inescapable. By the very definition of ourselves as historians we are stuck, all of us, with being cultural historians because we are looking at phenomena and their effects in other times and places—in contexts where different historical cultures mediated events and experiences.

Limerick: I join everyone in thinking that cultural history has brought wonderful new perspectives and approaches to both familiar topics and underexplored ones. I think of books such as Alexandra Harmon’s Indians in the Making and Mark Fiege’s Irrigated Eden as fine examples of the kind of work that could never have happened without the spread of cultural studies methods. 14 Still, I’ve expressed the concern publicly that cultural interpretations have blunted the edge of investigations of power and its exercise over people and landscapes, and I do worry about that—much attention to the rich cultural and expressive lives of the disadvantaged, comparably little attention to the folks and forces who brought them that disadvantage. And my current professional activities—directing the Center of the American West, a campus-based regional studies center that is very directly engaged with public audiences—give me plenty of occasions to feel impatient with and worried about the disadvantages of the jargon and complacency of quite a number of applications of cultural theory. When I think about the really quite substantial effort that one must go to, to “translate” scholarly work to wider audiences (and smart audiences at that), I wonder why so much effort must go into creating the initial obscurity that then occasions the need for translation. ( OK , I acknowledge that I have, over time, been a bit of a broken record on this subject, and my lamentations in these matters may have preceded the full descent of cultural studies hegemony!) But when I think about the miserable financial circumstances of university presses and the squeeze put on young scholars who must publish somehow and somewhere, I can really begin to panic, thinking that I am looking at the edge of the cliff that humanities scholarship may be approaching….

Hollinger: The domain of cultural history is widely dispersed because the phenomena we call culture are so various and so resistant to clarification. This domain stands to the profession rather in the same relation that a deterritorialized diasporic community stands in relation to the population of the globe. It impinges on the theory and practice of historians who are all over the profession, especially those who, whatever may be the chronological, ethnoracial, gender, or regional (or otherwise defined) segment of American history on which they primarily work, think of themselves as political historians, social historians, or intellectual historians. The study of “political culture” is often hailed as an advance, yet specialists in political history are frequently heard to complain that the rest of the profession seems to think that culture is all there is to politics. It is often said that cultural history is what social historians write when they take fuller account of the collective subjectivity of groups. No doubt there is something to this assertion, but as with political history, questions are sometimes raised as to what’s being left out. The situation in intellectual history is somewhat different, but there too one sees a concern with the ways colleagues, especially those in subfields other than one’s own, are defining “cultural history.”
     What makes intellectual history different is that intellectual historians have been studying culture all along. Intellectual historians have generally welcomed, with some methodological caveats, the innovations that go under the name of “cultural history” and have proved reluctant to put too fine a point on the distinction between intellectual and cultural history. These dispositions are extensively displayed in a symposium in which thirty-three of us discussed “Intellectual History in the Age of Cultural Studies” in a 1996 issue of Intellectual History Newsletter.15 Yet a problem sometimes arises when historians primarily identified with other subfields, in their enthusiasm for what they call “cultural history,” treat it as a successor field to an “intellectual history” that they construe rather narrowly. The implication is sometimes left that a single subfield is now moving from the study of William James and W. E. B. Du Bois and Margaret Mead and Thomas Kuhn to the study of the culture of boxing and of the supermarket, from the study of actual argumentation to the study of attitudes, and from the study of people who were good at arguing, and made their place in history by establishing their leadership through that activity (often called “elites”), to the study of the intellectual lives of other kinds of people. What might be seen as a coming together of intellectual and social and political historians to encourage and carry out the study of the subjectivity of social groups, if not that of the national community as a whole, can be mistakenly construed as a transition within one subfield, intellectual history….
     Many of the contentions of recent years about the merits and demerits of cultural history become most illuminating when particularized. It may seem that “cultural history” is at issue. But assertions to that effect often turn out to be opinions that so-and-so’s latest book or article indicates either (a) the great promise of cultural history to tell us things we did not know before and therefore justifies the reordering of the priorities of political, social, or intellectual historians or (b) how unwise it was of virtuous intellectual, political, or social historians to turn from their own rigorous pursuits to practice, promote, or tolerate the over theorized, politically pretentious, and poorly documented work characteristic of cultural history. Once the topic of conversation gets changed from “typical cultural history” to specific monographs, and when the book or article that has stimulated a given screed or encomium is compared with a number of other specific books and articles, what often happens (in my experience, at least) is that historians of almost all self-applied labels are capable of recognizing and appreciating quality and can be brought to concede that mediocrity, like merit, is quite widely distributed among the various subfields.
     I don’t want to overplay this point and thereby to deny that smart, learned, and fair-minded people can deeply disagree. Nor do I want to reinforce the sentimental idea that all historians are equally smart, learned, and fair-minded. I do want to remind us that the flaps over cultural history are routine episodes in the profession’s ongoing debates about its direction. The label “cultural history” is, like comparable labels, a practical device. Its ideal function is to identify families of inquiries that might not go forward in the absence of a shared sense that there did indeed exist a family of inquiries deserving of space in the profession. Not all of these devices become institutionalized as enduring subfields. Some do their heuristic work after a few years and are abandoned. Perhaps cultural history, with its vastly dispersed domain, will become one of these.

Painter: I want to pick up on a comment of Patty Limerick’s: her concern “that cultural interpretations have blunted the edge of investigations of power and its exercise.” I share her worry, but not in the way Eugene Genovese and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese phrased it in the 1980s in their jousts against Herbert Gutman. 16 I believe we do need to write at length about what nonpowerful people did and thought—what French historians sometimes trivialize as history in crumbs. But we need not let Michel Foucault carry us away in his networks of power. Yes, the powerless do exercise “agency,” and, yes, power does move through networks as well as from the top down. But that’s not all there is to power.
     Take physical violence. Yes, children and adults who are beaten retain some means of exercising influence over those who beat them (à la G. W. F. Hegel’s master and slave). The great example of Frederick Douglass and the slave driver Covey must not be forgotten.17 And, yes, he who beats suffers some damage as well as she who is beaten. Nor can we overlook the role of families and religion as salves to the abused. However, that’s not all there is to power relations.
     We need some Karl Marx alongside our Foucault: some means of rescuing material conditions from the pool of affect. Cultural history needs relations of material power, just as political history needs cultural meaning. Perhaps if Americans were more skillful in talking about class—class as income and wealth, not just as life-style choices—we would write tougher cultural history. And maybe more interesting political history.
     David Hollinger said: “What makes intellectual history different is that intellectual historians have been studying culture all along.”18 I think he’s also saying that intellectual history is a field, well established and permanent, while cultural history is a subfield, new and perhaps ephemeral….
     The quoted statement and David’s thoughtful remarks on this question in general cover a historiographical tension between the people whose culture gets covered in intellectual history and the people whose thought gets covered in cultural history. David mentioned the “culture of boxing and of the supermarket” as a nod toward popular culture.19 I’m not sure whether he identifies cultural history with popular culture or whether histories of popular culture incline him toward a seeming suspicion that cultural history is a fad bound to disappear with time. Let’s leave popular culture aside—for now, at least.
     Intellectual historians haven’t been studying everybody’s culture all along, if only because good cultural history needs abundant, written source material. Poor people, women of all races and ethnicities, and people of color are less likely to have their thoughts published or archived. Thus nearly by default, intellectual historiography concentrates on those who were highly literate and liable to have their thoughts published and their journals saved in air-conditioned repositories. When the source material is thin as, say, in oral history, we don’t call the result “intellectual history.” We call it “cultural history.” So there’s a class division between the two kinds of history, intellectual and cultural, sometimes exacerbated by race and/or gender.
     If we admit that intellectual history deals with the thought and culture of highly educated people and that cultural history deals with the thought and culture of less educated or less privileged people, it would seem that the two fields are more or less equal partners, each concentrating on a different part of the class spectrum. It would also seem that historians and readers will always need to read and write at both ends.

Hollinger: I’m glad to respond to Nell’s follow-up on the points I made about intellectual history and cultural history. When I said that intellectual historians have been studying culture all along, I did not mean that they had studied all the culture that there was to study. My point was modest: culture, so often ignored by other subfields, was something that intellectual historians were already studying. No wonder intellectual historians generally welcomed cultural history (as the thirty-three-participant symposium I cited demonstrates). The aspects of culture most studied by intellectual historians are the aspects created by literate people who were good at arguing, had opportunities to do it, took the lead in doing it, and were treated by their contemporaries or by later generations as having “made history” (which includes leaving traces of their thinking) by doing it. This seems to me entirely unproblematic. If we did not have a subfield that studied this, we should surely invent one that did it. And it should be emphasized that intellectual history as practiced in the United States today and for some years now decidedly does include the relevant activities of women and ethnoracial minorities. Anthologies, course syllabi, and the monographic literature leave no doubt about this. Much of cultural history, moreover, is not a study of the oppressed and the uneducated; rather, some of what we call cultural history turns out be a study of attitudes and values acted upon by middle-class white populations but not actually defended in argumentation nor developed as literary art. It is possible, I suppose, that cultural history will consolidate itself as a subfield devoted to the study of people who are not literate and otherwise lack the opportunity to participate in debates over the issues of their society. Should that happen, then, yes, the scenario Nell offers would be a reasonable one. But I do not see that happening at the moment. What gets called “cultural history,” at any rate, is considerably broader than that.

Editors: Does the recent call to write for a broader public undermine the legitimacy of scholarly discourse among historians? What is the place of scholarly histories that might not have broad public appeal?

Limerick: I’m grateful for the question, because I fear I sometimes give the impression that I think everyone must leave monographs and journal articles behind and rush to the op-ed pages and service club podiums of the world! On the contrary, there is plenty of room for very specialized and very focused inquiry and for spirited and even heated discussions for “historians only.” But there is also room for a great deal more work in synthesizing and translating the findings from that kind of inquiry. Three years ago, I added to my graduate readings seminar an exercise in which students select a monograph from the course reading and prepare two speeches (one for a friendly public audience, one for a hostile public audience) drawing on material from the monograph and applying it to add depth and understanding to some contemporary issue. This assignment has been a big hit, though it clearly runs counter to the training that the students are getting in their other courses. My goal isn’t to turn them all into public historians, but to add “effective communication with the public” to their repertoire as academic historians.

Painter: The last time I looked at history on television, it came in two types: first, long-ago history, i.e., what happened before 1980, and, second, what most nonhistorians think of as history, which concerns the 1980s and 1990s. Long-ago history is wars and is practically lily-white and male, unless the program purposefully focuses on white women (“women”) or people of color (men). What we historians think of as very recent history is nicely multicultural: biographies of movie stars and athletes.
     Writing for the great public thus contains a real problem of definition for professional historians. What the great public consumes as history is the very recent past and biographies of presidents and generals. But most of us don’t write books on the very recent past or biographies of presidents and generals.
     Another problem is time: research and writing take a lot of time. With promotion and tenure predicated upon original scholarly output, a young historian wanting to reach the great public would have to write twice as much. As a practical matter, therefore, writing for nonscholarly audiences has to await tenure. It becomes a choice only for senior scholars. That’s probably OK, though. Part of writing effectively for a general audience is drawing upon a deep well of knowledge that lends gravitas to one’s utterances. Most younger scholars haven’t had time to read enough to gain the assurance needed for the generalization nonscholars prefer.
     Then there’s the question of phrasing: how much nuance and how many details. Scholarly utterance demands careful limitation of one’s claims and footnoting of one’s authorities. We hedge our statements and love our footnotes. General readers resist footnotes—at least that’s what our editors claim about general readers. The kinds of qualifications scholarly writing demands also seem wishy-washy to general readers—at least that’s what our editors claim about general readers….
     As long as academia remains exceptional in American culture as the home of scholarship and book knowledge attracts only a small minority of adults, professional historians will need scholarly publishing. Scholarly publishing remains a very fine thing.

Hollinger: In dealing with these concerns, we need to distinguish between a community of warrant and a community of readers. The “call to write for a broader public” does not “undermine the legitimacy of scholarly discourse” unless we forget that the larger community of readers we call “the public” is less able than our trained, learned colleagues to evaluate the truth of what we write. 20 Degrees of knowledge are important, and we should be proud of the fact that our profession is a profession of experts, of people who know what they are talking about. What we write with the hope of reaching a larger community of readers will be more worthy of the time of that readership if we have in the back of our minds, as we write, what our colleagues will think of it.
     In this context, it saddened me that the late Stephen Ambrose spoke so bitterly about the profession, declaring, as quoted in his obituary in the New York Times, that anytime a historian reached more than a handful of readers, his professional colleagues looked down upon him or her. No doubt some professional historians have made cracks about Ambrose that follow from envy, but the objection most historians had to Ambrose was not that he reached a lot of people. Rather, scholars complained that Ambrose sometimes played to the public’s prejudices and to its inherited folklore rather than challenged the public with more fully warranted accounts of contested events. David Kennedy’s Freedom from Fear is an instructive counterpoint to Ambrose’s books on World War II because Kennedy, while reaching an impressive audience, presents a picture of the war that is quite different from the popular image reinforced by some of Ambrose’s writings. Kennedy’s book harvests a generation of monographic scholarship in order to present to a large community of readers an account consistent with the findings of a small community of warrant.21
     A historian whose work is deeply respected by most professionals yet who manages to reach a huge public is Garry Wills, who is not discussed very often in press stories about history and the public. Perhaps that is because Wills has never to my knowledge been accused of plagiarism, nor has he, so far as I know, ever made a disparaging crack about the rest of us for our failure to reach the audience he does. But the example of Wills is worth our attention because he, even though not a “guild historian” in the strictest sense, writes according to our rules, documents his arguments carefully, and generally treats the public with a special kind of respect: he assumes they want a book that could pass muster with the experts. And the experts are not afraid to say that Wills is terrific: one of his books in American history, some years back, was awarded the Organization of American Historians’ Merle Curti Prize for intellectual history. Moreover, Wills writes not only about war and presidents (topics I do not mean to disparage in the least) but also about a great range of ostensibly more obscure aspects of history, including religion.22
     But writing for a large community of readers, rather than merely for a small community of warrant, is too restrictive a goal to be imposed on all historians. Not every topic worthy of scholarly study will engage the public at any given time. If historians wrote only on issues for which a large readership was likely to be found, our knowledge of history would be dreadfully circumscribed. It is vital that we maintain our tradition of monographic scholarship addressed only to one another. Such specialized scholarship enables us to explore highly particular topics, to take for granted enormous amounts of information that we would otherwise have to summarize, and to make critical use of analytical vocabularies tailored to more technical inquiries. Too often nowadays historians are subject to “New York Review envy” and doubt the value of rigorous, monographic scholarship. American history may not be a science like molecular biology, but it is enough of a wissenschaft to justify the apparatus of scholarship that we have developed. One can have it both ways, up to the limits of one’s energy and skills: one can write both narrow monographs and books designed for a large audience.

Taylor: Nell Painter astutely notes the immense distance between our work, even at its most accessible, and the tastes of the mass market interested in celebrities present (athletes, movie and recording stars) and past (presidents, generals). I confess to a late-night fascination with low-brow celebrity biographies and the other night could not stop myself from watching the music video TV channel VH -1’s profile of David Lee Roth, formerly the lead singer of Van Halen and almost certainly the most egotistical and campy person on the planet. I noted with some mix of horror, amusement, and envy that his autobiography had sold 130,000 copies despite the universal admission, including his own, that it is absolutely incoherent. Despite my own hope to write accessibly, no work of mine will ever sell 130,000 copies. I don’t blame readers for their choices, for to read history that has some ambition requires overriding the steady bombardment of the celebrity culture produced by media corporations that prefer the status quo. So I think we have to be realistic about how much we can do in reaching the public in the short term and still remain true to our principles. If we set modest goals of steadily broadening the niche market of those who do want some intellectual content in their reading, then we’ll have accomplished something important. The defeatist danger is to focus on the chasm between us and the pop history/culture leviathans and to conclude that there’s no there out there to communicate to. As David (Hollinger, not Lee Roth) notes, there are some reassuring examples of the reach to that modest but still important market for serious history. Sometimes an author can draw readers in with the lure of Civil War generals and yet provide them with a lot of social and cultural history, for example, Jim McPherson in Battle Cry of Freedom23
     Serious history that reaches beyond the academy cannot be done without specialized scholarship with a more limited reach. So I don’t think of public history and scholarship as zero-sum choices, but as two functions that our discipline collectively must balance to thrive. Some scholars will make breakthroughs in specialized research; others will work to convey those findings more broadly; sometimes individuals will shift back and forth between these roles.

Painter: This conversation has been moving from a focus on historians to one on readers’ preferences. Alan Taylor rightly notes that specialized scholarship won’t lose its avant-garde role, even if professional historians write for general audiences. But here’s what I wonder: Will the great American public ever embrace (i.e., buy in vast quantities) historical work by nonwhite authors that reveals unflattering truths about the United States or focuses on nonwhite figures? Prize committees and the book-buying public seem much readier to swallow bitter pills when white historians administer them. But rare is the nonwhite historian (David Levering Lewis stands as the enormous exception) whose work on any subject garners wide praise….
     I’m doubting whether nonwhite historians who have dug up unpalatable facts—something historians working on race and ethnicity are bound to do—will ever be able to reach bestsellerdom à la Stephen Ambrose. The problem for many readers is the identity of nonwhite authors plus their subject matter, no matter how fetchingly the authors write. It seems to me that the great mass of American readers and even many of our colleagues simply cannot stand to hear about the unpleasant parts of the American past from people who are not white. I’ve seen many a prizewinning history book that overlooks the experience of nonwhites, but I can’t think of any prizewinners by nonwhite authors that are equally myopic toward whites. Maybe someone else can. I’d love to be shown my fears are baseless.

Faust: This discussion makes me want to move back one more step from either historians’ professional standards or readers’ choices to ask what it is we think history is for. Why do we as historians want to write it—and thus what do we think it should do—and why do readers actually buy history books and read them? My guess is that a lot of historians of my age entered the profession because we thought that in writing a different version of the past we could change the present. I think that in contrast most American readers want comfort, reassurance, not disruption and transformation, from the reading experience—thus the power of formula in popular literature generally. How do we deal with this reality as it affects our ambitions as historical writers? Do we change our understanding of our goals or the nature of our historical practice? We need in any case, I think, a clearer understanding of what it is we want to accomplish as writers and as historians and how that relates to the potential audiences available to us.

Iriye: Like many of my colleagues who have responded to this question, I see no inherent contradiction between writing for professional historians and for a wider audience. We have to seek and communicate the truth. As professional historians, we very often refer to each other’s work so as to make clear where our own original contributions lie, whereas when we speak to a lay audience we would usually not indulge in a historiographic discussion, which would bore them. Other than that, however, I believe specialists should always be willing to communicate their ideas to nonspecialists so as to widen the network of enlightened laymen. Above all, it seems to me to be very important for us to exchange ideas with schoolteachers and their students, not just in this country but elsewhere. I still go back to the spirit of the International Committee for Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations when I think of the obligations of an academic toward the human community.

Editors: A number of you have mentioned historians’ borrowings from other disciplinary traditions, such as literary criticism or psychoanalytic thought. What specific borrowed concepts, theories, or methods do you find especially promising today? Are these borrowings simply another phase in historians’ long-standing eclecticism, or do they represent the emergence of a peculiarly interdisciplinary moment?

Limerick: The current enthusiasm for interdisciplinary work among historians is part of a much larger (though also limited and contested) recognition that the borders dividing conventional departments and disciplines are arbitrary and, often enough, not very functional. I also think that the interdisciplinary reach of historians should go way beyond literature and anthropology. To use one immediate example: I am attending a meeting today in which faculty will come from mechanical and civil engineering, conservation biology, linguistics, ethnomusicology, law, and English. What on earth are we going to do together? We are all participants in a lecture series and, we hope, a collection of essays called “Healing the West,” on remediation, restoration, rehabilitation, etc. Topics range from dealing with acid mine drainage to restoring and “rejuvenating” Indian languages, but all of the presenters are wrestling with questions of the irreversibility of change, the rise of regret over certain outcomes of past action, definitions (and sometimes mystifications) of the desirable baseline that a project should be trying to restore…. One of the great satisfactions of a project like this is that every participant must commit herself to intelligibility; much of the work of improving our language, in a way that will make this work available to the public, gets done as we try to talk to each other. There is no question that we profit from the discontent that faculty feel about having their conversations segregated by department and discipline. Conditions are ideal for interdisciplinary work led by historians, though trying to lead such a diverse group can give one fits.

Roediger: I very much like Professor Limerick’s point regarding the ways interdisciplinary collaborations can—the process is far from automatic—encourage a laudable care to be understood by all parties. Historians may well be poised to take the lead in such interdisciplinary work. My own inspirations have been from ethnic studies (inter)disciplines, and I am consistently impressed by the commitment of many such programs to prioritize a grounding in history. However, we are only starting to think through some important questions in our own departments in this regard. For example, in American studies there has long been careful attention given to how graduate students learn that field and a more traditional discipline. Those in charge of history doctoral programs do not necessarily feel the same urgency to think about how to train students for interdisciplinary work. The job market may help provide such urgency, since so many students now move into both history and, for example, ethnic studies jobs.

Painter: I’m not sure historians have always been eclectic with regard to new knowledge. I suspect—and I’d like to hear what others have to say in this regard—that change has come from new kinds of people becoming historians rather than historians themselves looking around and loosening up. The people involved in this conversation have been exceptions to what I think may be the rule of sticking to one’s original groove. In any case, it’s not impossible for mature historians to find new methodologies and wider angles of vision.
     Speaking for myself, in the late 1980s and 1990s I found psychology and psychoanalysis particularly useful in my work on slavery and southern society. With race and racial difference such salient themes of analysis, psychology in general had not found much place in southern history (with Winthrop Jordan a noteworthy exception and W. J. Cash a well-known one). It was as though southerners, especially black southerners, had race rather than psyches, and they sprang from the womb fully formed as units of group rather than individual identity. After Stanley Elkins’s Slavery, just mentioning the fact that black southerners had psyches became forbidden. Wilma King in Stolen Childhood wrote about black people as subjects who developed psychologically, but her book has never received the attention it deserves. My own discussions of enslaved people as individuals who developed psychologically also encountered a good deal of resistance….24

Hartog: I have spent my life at the boundaries of two disciplines, law and history, that, whatever their points of integration and connection, work in very different ways. And many of my most important intellectual connections have come through the Law and Society Association and, more recently, the Conference on Law, Culture, and the Humanities, both of which are explicitly inter- and multidisciplinary organizations. So, I think of interdisciplinarity as my life and a core commitment. I love the experience of connecting with others across and through disciplinary boundaries. And among the many joys attendant to interdisciplinary conversations and projects, I would now add, as Patty Limerick notes so helpfully, a renewed devotion to intelligibility….
     But let me make two unrelated observations about the interdisciplinarity of the moment:
     First: I have been engaged in a long-standing, friendly (but serious) argument with another “interdisciplinary legal scholar” about whether one ought to devote energy to creating new graduate programs devoted to a new (inter)discipline of “legal studies.” I’ve always resisted his siren song, and there are many reasons for my resistance, most of which need not be detailed here. But, in large part, I resist because I imagine that the historical work that would result would be shaped by people less widely and thoroughly immersed in history. They would know James Willard Hurst and Morton Horwitz because those scholars would be in the legal studies canon. But would they know Natalie Davis or Carlo Ginzburg or Carl Schorske or Nell Painter or Linda Gordon or Patty Limerick?25 I’m not sure. Some forms of interdisciplinarity, as we know from the sciences, become ways to narrow rather than widen inquiries. Even graduate students have limited time, eyes, and energy, and while I want them to know something of the sociology and economics and anthropology of law and I want them to have engaged with critical and literary theory, I also really want them to be widely educated in history broadly conceived. And at some point choices need to be made. And so far I end up voting for deep history rather than broad “legal studies.” I might change my mind (and obviously particular students go in many different directions), but I haven’t yet.
     Second: The question is framed as if “borrowings” are what historians do. Yet in such fields as anthropology and literature, the borrowings go in the other direction today. And we should not take that for granted. When I was a graduate student in the seventies and I took a seminar in anthropology or I read social theory, I experienced history as “lacking,” and I thought of myself as looking to those likely suspects to find what I needed. But in the last few years I have had numbers of conversations with scholars from other disciplines in which the sense of “lack” was theirs. They all had concluded that history had what they needed in order to resolve the disciplinary crises they were experiencing. And it is they as much as we who are the creators of a new interdisciplinary moment, in which history seems to lie as the font of energy and creativity.

Hollinger: The history discipline’s resistance to sharply defined formulations of its basic character has advantages that have become more apparent than ever during the last thirty years. This imprecision about what we are has made it somewhat easier for us to absorb and use a variety of theories and methods that have come into (and sometimes largely departed from) the social sciences and humanities without being captured by any of those theories and methods. A number of other discipline-defined professional communities find it harder to take up a theory or a method without ending up in a quarrel over the entire direction of the discipline (“rational choice” in political science is a convenient example of this, but it is not hard to find comparable situations in anthropology, sociology, English, and literary studies generally). No doubt we pay a price for this “eclecticism,” as our editors rightly describe it. It may blunt creativity in some ways and inhibit historians from pursuing a particular insight with the single-mindedness that philosophers, literary scholars, and psychologists sometimes do. Historians are rarely the ones (although it sometimes does happen) who come up with the extreme articulations of this or that idea that serve as referent points for the rest of the learned world (and whose contributions are thus recognized by the “Arts and Ideas” section of the Saturday New York Times or by profiles in the New Yorker or the now-defunct Lingua Franca). Yet I find the price worth paying. There is a division of labor in the learned world, after all, and those who find our own combination of restraints and opportunities (I do believe we try harder to take “everything” into account when we study something) unappealing are not obliged to join us or to stay with us. Whatever our problems may be in the study of American history these days, I don’t believe that our relation to theories and methods associated primarily with other disciplines is prominent among them.

Taylor: As Dirk Hartog notes, the borrowings go both ways. At present many (by no means all) other social scientists and humanists are drawn to developing a greater historicism in their approaches. This provides a greater openness to what we do, which is our chance then to listen to what they’re doing. The results from the other end are not always reassuring. I’m thinking of the prevalence of “rational choice” among political scientists, which overrides the elements of context, irrationality, and contingency that are of special interest to historians, especially at this moment.

Faust: Perhaps because I was trained in American civilization in the 1970s and did anSSRC (Social Science Research Council) postdoc in anthropology in 1975, interdisciplinarity seems far from new to me. But I am often struck by how glad I am to be a historian as I read or witness interdisciplinary exchanges. First, building on Dirk’s point, I think we need to acknowledge how much other fields are now turning to history. Literary scholars, for example—consider the history-of-the-book movement, the interest in texts that once would have been thought of as “historical,” not “literary”—are fascinated with what historians do. Yet we have standards of evidence, understandings of power relations, of social and economic context, of ways of posing questions that I think offer an unrivaled potential for insight and explanation. I do think it is true that in the seventies and perhaps eighties historians felt they had little to offer and much more to gain in interdisciplinary exchange. But I feel now that history has analytic methods and strengths that almost require it to demand comparable levels of rigor from other disciplines’ excursions into the past.

Iriye: I must say that I find interacting with historians from other countries often more useful than borrowing from other disciplines. In my current preoccupation with the history of globalization, I constantly borrow from work by political scientists, economists, sociologists, etc., who have done far more than historians to examine this development. Nevertheless, so much more needs to be done to establish connections and interact with historians all over the world. Many of them, too, are developing broad conceptualizations of history.

Ryan: Excursions into other disciplines are particularly healthy, if not essential, exercises for historians, because our academic specialization lacks an explicit foundation in theory or method, is a cluster of scholarly projects originating in particular times and disparate places, and is now divided into multifarious topical fields as well. Whatever the time, place, or topic I have addressed in my checkered career, I have found it useful to think it through in the company of writers and colleagues from other disciplines: my dissertation was an excursion into literature; for family history I required assistance from sociologists, demographers, and experts on quantitative analysis; my study of nineteenth-century civic life was shaped fundamentally by political theory—of the public sphere, civil society and democracy; my current investigations of the urban cultural landscape have taken me on an interdisciplinary escapade through geography, architecture, and theories of social space. Of course, gender history required more routine pillaging of other disciplines to conceptualize the field in the first place.
     Most recently, I have sensed a certain thinness and narrowness of interdisciplinary communication among historians. The primary link seems to be through cultural studies and the humanities and by way of an epistemology that focuses on the process of representation more than social practice or context. As a consequence the texts or cultural documents that are the stuff of many recent books have a kind of random and suspended quality. A good dose of self-consciousness about research design and standards of evidence as learned in social science might give more coherence and comparability to historical narratives. If we aren’t going to give up the project of speaking to concerns that bring our discrete projects together into stories about whole cultures, nations, or world systems that are bound together over time, we need some help in learning how to chart specific social connections in the most systematic way possible.

Editors: Twenty-five years ago, many historians celebrated (and some lamented) the new emphases on “race, class, and gender.” Some of you have noted a trend away from the study of racial minorities, workers, and women to the cultural construction of race, class, and gender, with recent emphasis on whiteness, middle-classness, and masculinity. Where do we go next? Or are we moving onto other topics entirely?

Painter: I’d say that scholars’ interest in writing with race, class, and gender in sight peaked in the mid-1990s. Even though the Republican triumph in the House of Representatives did not occur in academia, it shone a green light on everyone annoyed or stressed by the task of writing more broadly than had long been the practice.
     Yes, it is hard to keep all those balls in the air at once, though many did try in the 1980s and early 1990s. Women’s history did pretty well, e.g., among many other efforts, Ellen DuBois and Vicki Ruiz’s anthology, Unequal Sisters, and work by Gerda Lerner, Darlene Clark Hine, and Nancy Hewitt.26 Many still do well. But in the late 1990s, something seemed to say to some white women scholars that they didn’t need to try any more. It was all right, it seemed, to return to the pre-1970s truisms that all the women are and were white. They just stopped trying. Better, it seemed, to celebrate the considerable successes of women’s history.
     I found myself the cheerless guest at the happy anniversary parties where white women colleagues my age told stories of moving from the margins of the historical profession to its center. While they were looking at how far they’d come and patting themselves on the back, I was worrying about the same old problems I experienced in the 1970s and heard from my students in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. These days I also find myself worrying not only about the field, but also about the toilers. Too many of my women of color colleagues have fallen ill or died for me to feel we turned some kind of corner back in the late twentieth century, and now we’re on a royal road in which histories and historians are race-, class-, and gender-conscious in theory and praxis….

Roediger: My own views, at least in this regard, are optimistic. I think that recent writing on race, gender, and class is actually delivering on years-ago promises to a greater extent than we sometimes acknowledge. When the call for such scholarship was made, our training led us to revert to treating just two categories of analysis. In works such as Tera Hunter’s To ‘Joy My Freedom, Linda Gordon’s Great Arizona Orphan Abduction, Robert Lee’s Orientals, and Venus Green’s Race on the Line, what feminists of color have called the “simultaneity” of race, class, and gender is present in ways I could not have imagined fifteen years ago. An emphasis on contingency and human drama coexists in the best such work with serious attention to political economy and, in Green’s case, to the labor process. 27

Hollinger: The transition to which I believe the editors direct our attention may be best understood by clarifying two sets of questions. The first set of questions asks how and to what extent the lives of Americans have been determined by the distinctions flagged by “race, class, and gender” and asks how people the most negatively affected by those distinctions have built political movements, created culture, experienced discrimination, and otherwise coped with their circumstances. The second set of questions asks how the salient distinctions themselves have been generated (including the extent to which the distinctions have been invidious from their origin), sustained, applied, and sometimes altered. To ask the second set of questions is not to disparage the first, but to expand our understanding in ways that we cannot so long as we remain confined by the first set of questions and are thus focused on the study of the groups themselves. Indeed, some of the impetus to pursue the second set of questions seems to have been created by the success of scholars working on the first set of questions: if you compare the scholarship that existed in 1970, the chronological point that this JAH symposium treats as a bench-mark, with that existing by the 1990s, when interest in the second set of questions became more visible, the difference is truly prodigious. But the second set of questions is not simply a turn toward “cultural construction.” Surely, our scholarship shows that the distinctions at issue have taken on their meaning through the operation of a range of biological, economic, and political as well as more narrowly cultural agents, varying greatly in strength and combination. An obvious example is the process by which individuals get classified “racially” by the highly politicized federal census.
     This example can turn us toward what might be considered a “new” topic: ethnoracial mixture. Two important recent collections pull together some of the studies that are commanding attention in that area: Martha Hodes’s Sex, Love, Race and Werner Sollors’s Interracialism.28
     Another “new” topic, farther removed from “race, class, and gender” but not unrelated, is religion. The United States is by far the most Christian society in the industrialized North Atlantic West. We were reminded of this by the presidential campaign of 2000, in which one candidate asserted his favorite philosopher to be Christ and the other professed to resolve life’s tough questions by asking himself, “What would Jesus do?” The Department of Justice is now in the hands of John Ashcroft. Our politicians fall all over themselves in the enthusiasm with which they defend the “under God” clause in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. Yet, these features of contemporary America play a relatively small role when historians decide just what it is about the modern United States that demands historical explanation. If there is any basis to “American exceptionalism,” it may be found more readily in religion than in political economy. The old question, “Why is there no socialism in the United States?,” variations upon which have so long engaged students of twentieth-century American history, might well be supplemented by another, “Why is there so much Christianity in the United States?” There are some promising answers to this question rumbling around in our scholarly literature, but that literature is not as focused on this question as the world-historical circumstances of modern America might inspire. We have a rich monographic literature on religion in early American history, but Christianity is still a vital force in the United States, and we surely need to have a better understanding of it than we do.

Painter: I like David’s mention of religion and its absence in so much historical scholarship. Why do you all think this is so—assuming you agree that it is the case?

Ryan: When race, class, and gender were first placed on our agenda twenty-five years ago, they translated topical and political issues into analytical problems for historians. When historians studied race from the standpoint of African Americans or gender from the standpoint of women or class from the standpoint of workers, their work might have been naïve theoretically but it was also straight on the political mark: focused on the issues of injustice, subordination, marginalization as seen from a subaltern position. Over the next two decades historians moved two necessary steps forward in order to see both the cultural construction and the relational aspect of each of these categories of historical analysis.
     More recently, other implications of these historiographic advances have become apparent. First, the academic fields we created may seem to younger and more recent historians a stale orthodoxy. Stripped of political meaning and the excitement of discovery, “race, class, and gender” may be just items on a reading list for orals. Second, when race becomes white, class becomes middle, and gender becomes male, they lose the bite of a focus on inequality and can shade off into identity history or even narcissism. (A focus on middle grounds, intermarriages, and cosmopolitanism can diminish the analytical and political edge of race, class, and gender.)
     So, you ask, where do we go from here? For one thing we need not be alarmed by any of these developments in themselves; each is part of a much more sophisticated historiography and testimony to the major accomplishment of changing the agenda of academic, if not popular, history. We can also be glad that these categories have been thoroughly constructed and deconstructed so we can go on to generate some entirely new questions, posed by current political and intellectual imperatives. At the same time I am pleased to see on my bookshelves a number of volumes that have brought these fragments into mature and satisfying histories. I think, for example, of recent works by Linda Gordon, Glenda Gilmore, and Daniel Richter, each of whom assumes cultural construction, retains passionate attention to questions of injustice, and frames the issues, not as epistemological, but as historical, that is, as integral to major events narrated through time.29 I can see in recent monographs such as these a consolidation, rather than a dissipation, of twenty-five years of work. These multifaceted histories can now be integrated into studies that assume a societal breadth, a political centering, and a temporal focus on events and changes over time.
     I can’t sign off, however, without acknowledging that this optimistic take on current historiography is widely at odds with the current political mood. I for one will be taking a sober look at the present, at contemporary events, including continuing, shifting, sometimes growing, signs of inequality in America, as I chart my course as historian and teacher.

Hollinger: I’d be interested in how people react to Mary’s caution that “focus on middle grounds, intermarriages, and cosmopolitanism can diminish the analytical and political edge of race, class, and gender.” 30 I would have thought that the analytical and political consequences of what we say about “middle grounds, intermarriages, and cosmopolitanism” depend on what we say specifically rather than on the mere fact that we are talking about them. Should this list of topics, as opposed to all the others we study, come with a warning label?

Painter: Picking up on Mary’s comments, I’d like to second her guarded optimism about the ways in which American history has broadened—as well as her cautions regarding narcissism without engagement in scholarship. But I want to follow her glance at the current political economy into the praxis of history: notably into the currency of citations and book prizes.
     You will note that the works Mary and Dave Roediger cited fall into two categories: (1) books by historians of color on people of color and (2) books by white historians on anything they chose to write about. From time to time books in the former category cash in on multiple citations and the occasional book prize. But mostly it’s books in the latter category that take home the bacon, even on nonwhite subjects. Baconwise, things have definitely improved. For instance, Kevin Gaines and Chana Lee won prizes for their work in African American history: Uplifting the Race and For Freedom’s Sake, respectively.31 Back in the 1980s, historians of color couldn’t garner book prizes (though they did get citations) even when writing on people of color….
     Nowadays the rare book by a historian of color on white people still gets savaged and/or disappeared. If it hadn’t been for Eric Foner, who had the grace to read the book with an open mind, Lerone Bennett’s Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream would have been damned and ignored practically unanimously by professional historians. Mia Bay’s White Image in the Black Mind: African-American Ideas about White People, 1830–1925, turns the familiar gaze around to examine whiteness. No prizes there.32
     So before we get carried away in optimism, let’s keep the praxis as well as the theory of history in sight.

Faust: One of the dimensions of change in the study of race that is striking to a southern historian is the dramatic way considerations of race have moved beyond the South. This is very evident, for example, in recent studies of slavery in the North, such as Joanne Melish’s Disowning Slavery33 It is at the core of the new western history. This seems to me to represent a critical shift in our broader understanding of the U.S. past and of national identity. The American dilemma of race was long seen to be essentially a southern problem in origins and responsibility and essentially a black-white problem, but historical practice has helped in altering that.
     On a less upbeat note, I worry that scholarship on the construction of race, which has led to so many important historical insights, may have also in some ways contributed to the neoconservative denial of race as a significant factor in contemporary life.

Iriye: In my field of study, international history, race, gender, and class continue to be important categories. They would have to be, given that we are studying the whole world and its interactions with the United States. Diplomatic and international historians have, rather belatedly, been producing monographs using race and gender, as seen in the works I have already cited in my comments on the first two questions. I would say that race is particularly gaining in importance today inasmuch as historians from all over the world are studying U.S. foreign relations and many of them inevitably raise questions about the racial foundations of international relations. Class, too, is important in the North-South context. We cannot study U.S. economic relations with the world without coming to grips with the question of postcolonial nation building, and that inevitably leads to the issue of global disparities of income, resources, etc.

Hollinger: Nell invites us to address the relative lack of sustained scholarly attention to religion in the study of the twentieth century. This historiographical curiosity seems to me to have among its most visible sources a series of presumptions that are rarely called out into the open to be critically discussed.
     One is the methodological presumption that religion is epiphenomenal and that what needs to be explained about religion can be explained by reference to other, ostensibly prior considerations. It is interesting to see how durable this presumption is in the era of cultural studies, when so many other cultural phenomena are subjected to careful and respectful scrutiny.
     A second is the ideological presumption that whatever role religion might have played in the nineteenth century or before, in the twentieth century it has been chiefly a conservative, if not reactionary, force in the society and that by taking it seriously as a historical topic one risks strengthening its hold on the public. This presumption is of course subject to African American exceptionalism, according to which the positive role of churches in the civil rights movement is widely acknowledged.
     A third presumption concerns the religious orientation of the scholar, and this is the one that I encounter the most frequently. Here, the presumption is that the study of religious phenomena implies a positive feeling toward them, if not an effort to advance the standing in society of any particular religious persuasion being studied. Defenders of a religiously apologetic scholarship often insist that the study of religious movements is no different from the study of radical political movements in that both have been promoted by scholars who sympathize with the movements they study. The presumed link between the topic of study and the personal values of the scholar is given credibility by the fact that many of the scholars who have contributed importantly to American religious history have done so while affirming their religious faith. Their ranks include Richard Bushman, D. G. Hart, and George Marsden. To be sure, some who write about religion do not declare any personal commitment or are known to be agnostics or atheists; these include Bruce Kuklick, Laurence Moore, Ronald Numbers, and Leo Ribuffo. But the presumed link between religious subject matter and the religious orientation of the historian is a very strong one and has been powerfully reinforced in recent years by major foundations that fund religious history (the Pew Charitable Trusts, Lilly Endowment, and John Templeton Foundation) and that favor projects designed and presented as contributions to the preservation of the faith. The history of religion belongs, it seems, more to the religious than to the rest of us.
     In my own opinion, religion is too important for its history to be left in the hands of people who believe in it. This need not imply the slightest hostility between secular historians studying religious phenomena and colleagues who profess one faith or another while doing so. We are united by the rules of evidence and reasoning characteristic of the epistemic, not the religious, community. Nor need the opinion I express here prevent a secular historian from appreciating, rather than condemning, this or that consequence of religious faith in a particular historical context. And after all, we have excellent studies of racism by historians who are not racists, and of innumerable topics by scholars who are not affirming what they study. But the searching study of the role of Christianity—to which I keep referring because of its unique centrality—in the history of the modern United States will proceed more successfully when that study is more widely understood to carry no spiritual strings….

Editors: We suspect it’s safe to say that most historians agree that the world we live in has—and should have—some impact on the histories we write (as David Hollinger suggests in his call for the history of religion). In light of recent events, what (other) new directions do you see (or want to see) in the writing of U.S. history?

Roediger: The question is an especially critical one. Our habit of thinking in terms of the lessons history delivers to the present much needs to be supplemented by reflection on how the present changes the questions we ask of the past. Dismissal of history as “present-minded” has sometimes cut short very complicated debates about ways our own moments of danger lead both to inapt assumptions about the past and to striking new perceptions about elements of the historical record that have been obscured over time.
     In our present, the need for a history of contradictions is posed with great force. In some subfields and genres (e.g., history of slavery and biography), a sense of contradiction often is already at the heart of the best work. However, we also train our students and ourselves to organize works around advancing narratives and unfolding arguments that sometimes crowd out the ways a simultaneous commitment to warring ideals structures changes and anxieties. David Noble’s brilliant and sustained inquiries into the contradictions inherent in the pursuit at once of “boundless” markets and of the ideal of a “bounded” American exceptionalist nation provide one timely example of a dialectical frame for thinking about past and present.34 The ways the political economy requires both a labor force sustaining disciplined, sped-up, and surveilled production and consumers utterly committed to immediate gratification similarly suggests that the “overworked” and “overspent” Americans do not have separate histories. The recent and welcome quickening of interest in the history of conservatism, itself animated by present concerns, similarly demands a sense of contradiction. This is true not only in the sense that religious traditionalism and growth-is-everything market conservatism come uneasily (and sometimes easily) into political coalition with each other. They also mix promiscuously in the consciousness of individuals.

Hartog: It seems to me that we are already seeing the entry of a much greater attention to religious sensibility, particularly in the writing of biographies. David Hollinger is clearly right. There are lots of examples: to mention one, Linda Przybyszewski’s biography of John Marshall Harlan. 35
     At least from the perspective of what is happening in my department, it seems like the next new thing in history is going to be the full integration of the history of science with more general historical writing. Others know the history of the history of science (HOS) better than I, but I have a rough sense that a time when HOS scholars engaged primarily with analytic philosophers and sociologists and often produced highly technical—largely unreadable to the rest of us—works about science disciplines has come to a close. At the moment, there is immense movement back and forth between technically trained historians of science and the “mainstream.” Much of this is occurring in European and colonial and postcolonial histories. But it is and will be occurring more and more in U.S. history—in work on the history of social science, in the history of legal thought, in histories of public health, in environmental history, and in all the ways that issues of colonialism are addressed in the American context….
     If the question is reframed in terms of what I wish would become a next new thing, my answer would be different: I wish that I knew how to revive the history of the family and of “private life.” The history of the family crashed along with other forms of “positivistic” social history in the 1980s. After a certain point, the ubiquity of the nuclear family, with stem family variations, was established. Meanwhile, everyone knows how to deconstruct claims of “private life.” Ever since Morton Horwitz’s first “transformation” book (actually for a much longer time before its publication), we have known that private law is just state policy masked from democratic decision making.36 And historians of welfare and feminists from any number of disciplinary perspectives have taught us to see the private family as both a recognition of patriarchal authority and as the privilege of wealth and class and race. So, today one can write about conceptions of the private (in relation to the public) as changing ideologies. Or one can engage in one more deconstruction of the private. Or, perhaps, from a different political/disciplinary perspective, one can take private life as the occasion for “rational” economic decision making. But there isn’t much else.
     The result, I think, is to lose sight of much that was most salient and present in the lives of many Americans, and it makes it hard to take seriously expressed understandings or aspirations to live in a “free society.” The book that has most affected me recently is Emma Rothschild’s Economic Sentiments, on the thought of Adam Smith and the marquis de Condorcet.37 What I take from her is Smith’s recognition of a free market as a conversation where people who are fundamentally mysterious to each other and possess multiple and diverse and contradictory identities and goals in life learn something about one another, along the way creating communities and institutions and ways of living and working together. None of that is to deny the reality of oppression and false consciousness and hegemonic ideologies (Smith certainly denied none of those). But how do we make sense of how people tried to live, what they wanted from life or from one another?

Ryan: While I admire those historians who are moved to write out of some intense imaginative connection with the past in all its pastness, I confess to being inveterately present-minded. I look back to see the world I live in better, the better to act in it. Given that premise, a limitless agenda of possible topics arises, all of them urgent—environment, AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), poverty, and the immediate overwhelming shadow of war.
     As American historians I think we also have one overriding imperative as well. How as authors and teachers of our national history do we contribute to the public agenda and summon our readers, students, and fellow citizens to debating it thoughtfully? The levels of civic engagement may be lower than ever. Americans seem to be acquiescing in policies that are defiant or ignorant of the most basic American civics lessons, about declarations of war, respect of national sovereignty, openness of public records, egalitarian ideas, progressive income taxes, the Electoral College.
     Dare I say we need to return to some basic political history or, more properly, to reclaim political history from the authors of presidential biographies? Reconvening the public through studies of the stakes of governmental action and citizenship is a tall order, but hardly an entirely new direction. We may have been shocked by the outcome of the election of 2000, but if we had read recent books by Alex Keyssar and Jane Dailey we might have been prepared.38

Faust: I want to reinforce Mary Ryan’s call for reclaiming political history. The broadening definition of the political in the past generation has seemed to me salutary, but I think it may have resulted in too little attention being paid to the traditional concerns of political history—voting, legislatures, presidents—and to the wielding of power in America past and present. Especially as many political science departments become caught up by rational-choice concerns that are often of little interest to undergraduates, I think historians have a special opportunity and responsibility. There seems a curious irony that once the polls were opened to women and then to African Americans, we began as historians to care less about voting and its place in American life.
     But I would like to suggest another dimension of American history that I think should engage us increasingly in the years to come: America in a world context. This would include questions as varied as immigration, global economic structures, the imperialism of American popular culture, comparative gender studies. We have heard so much about globalization, yet what does all this mean for Americans and our understanding of our past? Haven’t we always been global? How about the slave trade? What happens to the persisting power of American exceptionalism when we take a truly international look at our history?

Hollinger: I’m glad to see our conversation going back to political history…. I have two points to make about how our scholarship might respond to today’s circumstances.
     First, domestic political economy.
     History is now and Paul Krugman. This play on a famous hyperbole of T. S. Eliot’s treats as emblematic of our time the lucid analyses of current events that the economist and journalist Krugman has been publishing every few days in the New York Times this fall of 2002. Krugman is presenting in a public, national forum, and with rare cogency, a radical (in the classic sense of going to the roots and also in the secondary sense of deeply oppositional to established authority) and empirically supported critique of the way economic and political power is being deployed and ideologically disguised by the government of the United States. He even connects his analysis to international political economy and invites us to see how the question of war in Iraq is entangled with the questions about how politicians and corporations do their business inside the United States. A portentous silence surrounds Krugman within the ranks of nearly all of the Democrats (the late senator Paul Wellstone was one of a handful of important exceptions) and on the part of the cable TV news programs (which provide an increasing percentage of the citizenry with their sense of what the public issues of our time actually are). This silence, in face of the commandingly visible Krugman, renders unmistakable to an honest observer a structural feature of our historical situation: the extensive complicity of the nonpresidential party and of the nation’s media conglomerates in the corporate plundering of the nation being led by President George W. Bush and his circle. The salient elites in the society are unwilling to focus on Krugman’s issues and to use their formidable resources to develop and test the many dimensions of his critique and to force the men and women holding juridical power to answer the questions Krugman’s columns pose.
     How did the United States get to be where Krugman and the silence around him reveal it to be? This is one agenda that the circumstances of our own time might generate for historians. There is plenty of work here for scholars who study culture as well as those who study the economy, political behavior, and political ideas. And there is plenty in the existing monographic literature to be drawn upon (corporate plunder and ideological obfuscation, while now in one of their more scandalously uncontested phases, are far from new, and historians are skilled in analyzing both).
     Might such a project become too partisan? Yes, but we need to remember that C. Vann Woodward’s The Strange Career of Jim Crow was a partisan book in the same sense that studies along the lines I sketch here would be partisan.39 What matters is a work’s methodological integrity and truth content. The annals of our profession are all too filled with examples of historians who extravagantly exaggerated their own political significance and lost track of the distinction between political activism and scholarship. But as the example of Woodward’s intellectually honest, evidence-intensive book can remind us (even though aspects of the Woodward interpretation have now been corrected by later scholars), engagement with the contemporary does not always yield books and articles that soon become sources of embarrassment. Sometimes, it is worth taking a chance.
     Second, the ways interaction with the non-European world has influenced the United States.
     This is a topic that is already well developed in the historiographies of Europe, where the impact of empire on the British, the Dutch, the French, etc., has proved to be a rich source of insight into the political, cultural, and intellectual life of the major European nation-states. We do have some comparable work about the United States, especially in relation to the Philippines, but we have devoted more attention to what American power has done to the rest of the world than to how the rest of the world has shaped, sometimes subtly, the United States itself. The current historical moment, when the global character of the dynamics of history is more apparent than ever and when the leadership elites and the general public of the United States seem more oblivious than ever to the connections between America and the world, is a good time to devote more attention to the other side of this dialectic. The history of Protestant missions is a promising example and upon scrutiny reveals itself to be a historical domain remarkably similar to today’s human rights domain. Although scholars have studied the impact of American Protestant missionaries on China, India, the Levant, etc., the impact of the missionary project on the home culture remains remarkably unstudied, and this is made all the more remarkable by the fact that John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles, for example, were descendants of missionary families and that the children of missionaries (my own current research project) included Henry Luce, Pearl Buck, John Hersey, several of the “China hands” purged in the McCarthy era for their criticisms of the regime of Chiang Kaishek, and a raft of important ambassadors and most of the key leaders in the development of “area studies” during the Cold War. The American “empire,” such as it has been and such as it is today, is both different from, and similar to, the classical empires of Europe, and its study entails missionaries as well as commercial and military liaisons with alterity.

Notes1 Object-relations theory grows out of Sigmund Freud’s concept of the “object”: the person (or thing) toward which an infant directs aggressive and libidinal drives. According to object-relations theorists (such as Melanie Klein, D. W. Winnicott, A. M. Fairbairn, and Otto Kernberg), people are born with an innate drive to form relationships. Through infant and childhood relationships (not simply with biological kin), people create their adult personalities. Trauma, such as beatings or sexual abuse, can rigidify personality and interfere with the creation of healthy relationships across one’s entire life-span.2 Karin A. Wulf, Not All Wives: Women of Colonial Philadelphia (Ithaca, 2000); Susan A. Glenn, Female Spectacle: The Theatrical Roots of Modern Feminism (Ithaca, 2000); John F. Kasson, Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man: The White Male Body and the Challenge of Modernity in America (New York, 2001).3 Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America (New York, 2001); James T. Kloppenberg, Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870–1920 (New York, 1986).4 Linda K. Kerber, No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship (New York, 1998); Nancy F. Cott, Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation (Cambridge, Mass., 2000); Alfred H. Kelly and Winfred A. Harbison, The American Constitution: Its Origins and Development (New York, 1948).5 Gerda Lerner, The Lady and the Mill Girl: Changes in the Status of Women in the Age of Jackson (Andover, 1973); George P. Rawick, From Sundown to Sunup: The Making of the Black Community (Westport, 1972); Alexander Plaisted Saxton, The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California (Berkeley, 1971); David Montgomery, Beyond Equality: Labor and the Radical Republicans, 1862–1872 (New York, 1967); Herbert G. Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom (New York, 1976).6 See the special issue: Michael Merrill et al., “U.S. Labor in Times of War,” Labor’s Heritage, 11 (Winter–Spring 2002), 6–65. Labor’s Heritage is a popular journal published under the auspices of the AFL-CIO’s George Meany Center for Labor Studies–National Labor College.7 George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Makings of the Gay Male World, 1890–1940 (New York, 1994); George Lipsitz, Rainbow at Midnight: Labor and Culture in the 1940s (Urbana, 1994); Robin D. G. Kelley, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression (Chapel Hill, 1990); Nan Enstad, Ladies of Labor, Girls of Adventure: Working Women, Popular Culture, and Labor Politics at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (New York, 1999); Alice Kessler-Harris, A Woman’s Wage: Historical Meanings and Social Consequences (Lexington, 1990); Elizabeth Faue, Community of Suffering and Struggle: Women, Men, and the Labor Movement in Minneapolis, 1915–1945 (Minneapolis, 1991); Julie A. Willett, Permanent Waves: The Making of the American Beauty Shop (New York, 2000); Susan Porter Benson, Counter Cultures: Saleswomen, Managers, and Customers in American Department Stores, 1890–1940 (Urbana, 1986); Gunther Peck, Reinventing Free Labor: Padrones and Immigrant Workers in the North American West, 1880–1930 (Cambridge, Eng., 2000); Catherine Ceniza Choy, Empire of Care: Nursing and Migration in Filipino American History (Durham, 2003); Dana Frank, Buy American: The Untold Story of Economic Nationalism (Boston, 1999); Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Buford Rediker, The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (Boston, 2000); Venus Green, Race on the Line: Gender, Labor, and Technology in the Bell System, 1880–1980 (Durham, 2001); Vicki L. Ruiz, Cannery Women, Cannery Lives: Mexican Women, Unionization, and the California Food Processing Industry, 1930–1950 (Albuquerque, 1987); Tera W. Hunter, To ‘Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War (Cambridge, Mass., 1997).8 Akira Iriye, “Culture and Power: International Relations as Intercultural Relations,” Diplomatic History, 3 (Spring 1978), 115–28; Akira Iriye, “The Internationalization of History,” American Historical Review, 94 (Feb. 1989), 1–10; Kristin L. Hoganson, Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars (New Haven, 1998); Thomas Borstelmann, The Cold War and the Color Line: American Race Relations in the Global Arena (Cambridge, Mass., 2001); Marc S. Gallicchio, The African American Encounter with Japan and China: Black Internationalism in Asia, 1895–1945 (Chapel Hill, 2000).9 Mark Bradley, Imagining Vietnam and America: The Making of Postcolonial Vietnam, 1919–1950 (Chapel Hill, 2000); Matthew James Connelly, A Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria’s Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era (New York, 2002).10 Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896–1920 (Chapel Hill, 1996); Stephanie McCurry, Masters of Small Worlds: Yeoman Households, Gender Relations, and the Political Culture of the Antebellum South Carolina Low Country (New York, 1995); Nancy MacLean, Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan (New York, 1994); Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, Revolt against Chivalry: Jessie Daniel Ames and the Women’s Campaign against Lynching (1979; New York, 1993).11 W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction: An Essay toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860–1880 (New York, 1935).12 Frank A. Ninkovich, Modernity and Power: A History of the Domino Theory in the Twentieth Century (Chicago, 1994); Frank A. Ninkovich, The Wilsonian Century: U.S. Foreign Policy since 1900 (Chicago, 1999); Kloppenberg, Uncertain Victory; Daniel T. Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (Cambridge, Mass., 1998).13 Ariela Julie Gross, “Litigating Whiteness: Trials of Racial Determination in the Nineteenth-Century South,” Yale Law Journal, 108 (Oct. 1998), 109–85; Walter Johnson, “The Slave Trader, the White Slave, and the Politics of Racial Determination in the 1850s,” Journal of American History, 87 (June 2000), 13–38.14 Alexandra Harmon, Indians in the Making: Ethnic Relations and Indian Identities around Puget Sound (Berkeley, 1998); Mark Fiege, Irrigated Eden: The Making of an Agricultural Landscape in the American West (Seattle, 1999).15 “Intellectual History in the Age of Cultural Studies,” Intellectual History Newsletter, 18 (1996), 3–69.16 Patricia Nelson Limerick, in “Interchange,” Journal of American History, 90 (Sept. 2003), 588; Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene Genovese, Fruits of Merchant Capitalism: Slavery and Bourgeois Property in the Rise and Expansion of Capitalism (New York, 1983); Herbert G. Gutman, Power and Culture: Essays on the American Working Class, ed. Ira Berlin (New York, 1987).17 Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave: Written by Himself (1845; New York, 1968), 71–104, esp. 77.18 David A. Hollinger, in “Interchange,” 589.19 Ibid.20 Editors, in “Interchange,” 592.21 New York Times, Oct. 14, 2002, p. B7; David M. Kennedy, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929–1945 (New York, 1999); Stephen E. Ambrose, D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II (New York, 1994); Stephen E. Ambrose, The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men of World War II (New York, 1998).22 The Merle Curti Prize was awarded to Garry Wills, Inventing America: Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence (New York, 1979). On religion, see, for example, Garry Wills, Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit (New York, 2000).23 David Lee Roth, Crazy from the Heat (New York, 1997); James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York, 1988).24 Winthrop D. Jordan, White over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro, 1550–1812 (Chapel Hill, 1968); Wilbur J. Cash, The Mind of the South (New York, 1941); Stanley M. Elkins, Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life (Chicago, 1968); Wilma King, Stolen Childhood: Slave Youth in Nineteenth-Century America (Bloomington, 1995); Nell Irvin Painter, Sojourner Truth, A Life, A Symbol (New York, 1996), 3–20; Nell Irvin Painter, “‘Soul Murder’ and Slavery,” in Southern History across the Color Line, by Nell Irvin Painter (Chapel Hill, 2002).25 James Willard Hurst, Law and the Conditions of Freedom in the Nineteenth-Century United States (Madison, 1956); Morton J. Horwitz, The Transformation of American Law, 1780–1860 (Cambridge, Mass., 1977); Natalie Zemon Davis, The Gift in Sixteenth-Century France (Madison, 2000); Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, trans. by John Tedeschi and Anne Tedeschi (Baltimore, 1980); Carl E. Schorske, Fin-de-Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture (New York, 1979); Painter, Sojourner Truth; Linda Gordon, Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence, Boston, 1880–1960 (New York, 1996); Patricia Nelson Limerick, Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West (New York, 1987).26 Ellen Carol DuBois and Vicki L. Ruiz, eds., Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in U.S. Women’s History (New York, 1990); Gerda Lerner, The Majority Finds Its Past: Placing Women in History (New York, 1979); Darlene Clark Hine et al., eds., Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia (New York, 1993); Nancy A. Hewitt, Companion to American Women’s History (Oxford, 2002).27 Hunter, To ‘Joy My Freedom; Linda Gordon, The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction (Cambridge, Mass., 1999); Robert G. Lee, Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture (Philadelphia, 1999); Green, Race on the Line.28 Martha Elizabeth Hodes, Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History (New York, 1999); Werner Sollors, Interracialism: Black-White Intermarriage in American History, Literature, and Law (New York, 2001).29 Gordon, Great Arizona Orphan Abduction; Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow; Daniel K. Richter, Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America (Cambridge, Mass., 2001).30 Mary Ryan, in “Interchange,” 603.31 Kevin Kelly Gaines, Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill, 1996); Chana Kai Lee, For Freedom’s Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer (Urbana, 1999).32 Lerone Bennett, Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream (Chicago, 2000); Mia Bay, The White Image in the Black Mind: African-American Ideas about White People, 1830–1925 (New York, 2000).33 Joanne Pope Melish, Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England, 1780–1860 (Ithaca, 1998).34 David W. Noble, Death of a Nation: American Culture and the End of Exceptionalism (Minneapolis, 2002).35 Linda Przybyszewski, The Republic according to John Marshall Harlan (Chapel Hill, 1999).36 Horwitz, Transformation of American Law, 1780–1860.37 Emma Rothschild, Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment (Cambridge, Mass., 2001).38 Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The Constested History of Democracy in the United States (New York, 2000); Jane Dailey, Before Jim Crow: The Politics of Race in Postemancipation Virginia (Chapel Hill, 2000).39 C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (1955; New York, 1974).

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