We continue “The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution at 50,” our joint roundtable with the S-USIH blog. Today’s post is by Jonathan Wilson, an adjunct faculty member at the University of Scranton and Marywood University. He studies ways that intellectuals—elite and otherwise—articulated American national identity in eastern cities during the early nineteenth century.
Upon first reading The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, I found it liberating. (That places me alongside Michael and Sara more than Ken this week.) True, Bernard Bailyn’s book was yet another attempt to credit elite white men for an idealistic national founding. From my perspective at the time, however, it modeled a way to study the ideas of relatively ordinary people. Bailyn depicted revolutionary thoughts as the work of communities, not individuals. He showed me that the life of the mind can encompass the inarticulate, the half-said, even the irrational, in ways that historians can analyze. This was powerful.
This week The Junto is co-sponsoring, “The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution at 50,” a weeklong roundtable on Bernard Bailyn’s seminal workwith the Society for U.S. Intellectual History (S-USIH) blog. Each of the five posts will appear on both blogs concurrently. For readers unfamiliar with the book (or looking for a refresher), please see Episode 12 of The JuntoCast.
Throughout the winter of 2016-17, I helped organize “Ideological Origins at 50,” a conference jointly sponsored by the USC-EMSI and Yale’s CHESS to honor the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Bernard Bailyn’s seminal work, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. The conference papers, presentations, and discussion were quite lively, as was Bailyn himself who delivered a 75-minute talk on the opening evening. Since then, other tributes to the book and its long-term influence and impact have appeared online. However, all of these have had one thing in common; they have been almost solely the product of senior historians who perceptively discussed the book’s long-term impact and the debates that surrounded it, both around its publication and in the immediate decades afterward. This Junto roundtable, “The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution at 50″ (#IOTAR50), aims to offer junior scholars a chance to reflect on this book’s impact on them and, by extension, its continuing significance and influence on the newest generation of early American historians. After all, perhaps the most impressive achievement of Ideological Origins is that fifty years after its publication it is still being read, assigned, and reckoned with by a new generation of scholars. Therefore, rather than rehashing what the book meant when it was published or what it has meant to historians living with it for decades, this roundtable is dedicated to exploring what the book means now. Continue reading →
Contemporary culture loves origin stories. It’s not just that when we make our superhero movies, we always start with the origin—we even like to start the same franchises over and overagain. For historians, the allure of the origin can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to see why. To borrow a phrase from David Marquand’s ecstatic review of Inventing the Individual, origin stories “persuade us to ask ourselves who we are and where we are going by showing us where we have come from.” The idea of finding in the past the hidden meaning of our present can be the very thing that captivates people about history in the first place. Continue reading →
Last week, I attended the annual conference for the Society of United States Intellectual History, this year held in Irvine, CA. It was a fun time, and I learned enough and met enough people to consider the conference a success (and worth the 12 hour flight from London!). Yet one thing struck me the entire weekend, and was reinforced by Mark Peterson who gave words to my thoughts during his session response: why is there a paucity of work on early America within the recent surge of interest in US intellectual history? Or, to ask a different, but still related, question, why do so few historians of early America do work on intellectual history, or self-identify as intellectual historians? Continue reading →
It’s hard to write about early American print culture or intellect without thinking a lot about geography. Scholars like Trish Loughran, Richard John, John Fea, John Brooke, and Mary Kelley have suggested, in all sorts of ways, that it’s often wise to understand “the” early American public as a web of fundamentally local reading and writing publics. Intellectual culture meant something different from what it means in an age of mass media. But tricky questions come up when you try to write a local history of ideas or culture. Just how local can we reasonably go? How much detail can we actually use in an intellectual map of the early United States without getting lost in coincidences and irrelevance?