Guest Post: William Black, Gordon Wood’s Notecards and the Two Presentisms

Today we are pleased to have a guest post from William R. Black (@w_r_black), a PhD student of history at Rice University. His research examines how Cumberland Presbyterians dealt with slavery, sectionalism, theological controversy, and professionalization in the nineteenth century.

blogsize-obama-gordon-woodGordon Wood riled up the #twitterstorians with a review of his advisor Bernard Bailyn’s latest book, Sometimes an Art: Nine Essays on History. Much of the review is not so much about Bailyn as it is about later generations of historians, who (according to Wood) have abandoned narrative history for “fragmentary,” obscure monographs on subaltern peoples. Wood attacks these historians for being “anachronistic—condemning the past for not being more like the present.” He continues: Continue reading

J. Franklin Jameson Superstar

It is not often that historiographical essays have a hero. But, in Al Young’s essay, “American Historians Confront ‘The Transforming Hand of Revolution’,” it’s hard not to see J. Franklin Jameson that way. Jameson was a New Englander by birth and character who helped found the American Historical Association in 1884. Never a prolific historian (or teacher, for that matter), Jameson’s greatest impact—beyond the important structural role he played in the emergence of History as a modern academic and professional discipline in the United States—came in the form of a small collection of four lectures originally written in 1895 but published largely in the form they were given at Princeton 30 years later. That small book, The American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement, is not just the starting point for Young’s assessment of the historiography of the American Revolution in the twentieth century, it is quite literally its genesis. Continue reading

Putting “Republicanism” in Its Place

“By 1990,” wrote Daniel Rodgers, the concept of republicanism in American historiography “was everywhere and organizing everything, though perceptibly thinning out, like a nova entering its red giant phase.” A quarter of a century later, it can seem barely more than a dull glow—and in part, we have Rodgers’ essay to thank for dimming the lights. If republicanism’s 1970s high-water-mark was followed by a decade of furious debate over republicanism-versus-liberalism, scholarship after 1990 often framed itself as moving beyond precisely that anachronistic question. There was, apparently, no such conflict in the minds of revolutionary-era Americans. The problems that troubled them were different ones entirely.[1] Continue reading

Pauline Maier and the Republican Revolution

FRTROne of the things that set Pauline Maier apart was the exuberance she brought to the work of history. That joyful zeal is charmingly expressed in the metaphor she used to evoke the intellectual atmosphere in which she wrote her dissertation and first book, From Resistance to Revolution (1972).[1] “In the heady days of the 1960s,” she recalled in 1991, a group of Bernard Bailyn’s graduate students shared the exciting “conviction” that “a great historical paradigm, an interpretation of the Revolution that had stood for most of the century, was collapsing like some great empire, and that another, equally powerful, was already coming into view” (v-vi). It was, indeed, a “‘revolution’ in historical understanding” (ix). Continue reading

Wood & Holton on the Constitution

Was the purpose of the constitution to protect democracy from being ruined by the people or to protect commerce from being ruined by democracy? This was one of the questions put to Gordon Wood and Woody Holton in a debate held a few weeks ago at the University of South Carolina. A full video of the event has just been released on YouTube, and is embedded below. For anyone familiar with the work of these two historians, the debate will constitute a useful recap of the distinction between their two interpretations of the origins of the federal constitution. And for others, I hope it might be a kind of teaser for their excellent books! Continue reading

Constitutional Interpretation and Historians

Yesterday I learned that some Republican state legislators in North Carolina have sponsored a bill to declare an established religion—or at least, to declare that the federal Constitution wouldn’t prohibit such a declaration. In doing so, of course, they disregard a mainstream of constitutional jurisprudence on the issue that goes back into the ninteenth century but was really firmly established in the middle of the twentieth century. I’m not here to talk about that question, but I found it particularly interesting in light of the conversation I’ve been having by email over the last few weeks with Dr. Sean Wilson, an assistant professor of law at Wright State University, about his new book The Flexible ConstitutionContinue reading