Where Have You Gone, Gordon Wood?

Gordon S. WoodWood and Obama is perhaps the most prominent of the many Bernard Bailyn-trained historians to emerge from Harvard in the 1960s and 1970s, including Richard Bushman, Michael Kammen, Michael Zuckerman, Lois Carr, James Henretta, Pauline Maier, Mary Beth Norton, and many others. In the late 1960s, Wood’s dissertation-turned-first-book, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787, had arguably as large an impact on the field as his mentor’s Ideological Origins of the American Revolution did a few years before, both helping to usher in the heady days of the “republican synthesis.” This is all to say that Wood had earned himself a prominent spot in the field of early American history from pretty much the very start of his career. However, subsequent generations of early Americanists have grown increasingly hostile to not only Wood’s work but to the man himself. This leads to the question: Why is it acceptable (or even praiseworthy) behavior among early Americanists to treat one of the most important historians in the field in the last century disrespectfully? In this piece, I’d like to talk about Gordon Wood’s career trajectory, suggest that other historians’ reactions to him reflect not only Wood but on historians themselves, and ask whether that might give us even a fleeting insight into generational differences between early Americanists. Continue reading

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