Today, we conclude “The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution at 50″ roundtable with a guest post from Eran Zelnik. Zelnik is a PhD candidate at UC-Davis where he is writing “The Comical Style in America: Humor, Settler Colonialism, and the Making of a White Man’s Democracy, 1740-1840,” a dissertation that traces the rise of common white men to cultural dominance in early America.
In his classic study, The Great Cat Massacre, Robert Darnton captured what to me has always seemed as the moment when cultural or intellectual history becomes truly thrilling: “when you realize that you are not getting something—a joke, a proverb, a ceremony—that is particularly meaningful to the natives, you can see where to grasp a foreign system of meaning in order to unravel its meaning.” Fifty years later, Bernard Bailyn’s classic The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution still stands out in my mind as one of the prime examples of such a moment in the historiography of early America. His writing in that piece exudes the intellectual rush Bailyn and many of his students felt as they fleshed out a new promising analysis of what later came to be known as “republican” thought. Leafing through the book one can still feel the sense of excitement Bailyn shares with the reader as he explores the significance of hitherto little-understood intellectual traditions. It might seem counter intuitive for a junior historian with unambiguous leftist tendencies, but it is one of those few books that keep reminding me that history can be exciting. Continue reading