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American History Now

American History Now

Eric Foner
Lisa McGirr
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 423
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  • Book Info
    American History Now
    Book Description:

    American History Nowcollects eighteen original historiographic essays that survey recent scholarship in American history and trace the shifting lines of interpretation and debate in the field. Building on the legacy of two previous editions ofThe New American History, this volume presents an entirely new group of contributors and a reconceptualized table of contents.

    The new generation of historians showcased inAmerican History Nowhave asked new questions and developed new approaches to scholarship to revise the prevailing interpretations of the chronological periods from the Colonial era to the Reagan years. Covering the established subfields of women's history, African American history, and immigration history, the book also considers the history of capitalism, Native American history, environmental history, religious history, cultural history, and the history of "the United States in the world."

    American History Nowprovides an indispensible summation of the state of the field for those interested in the study and teaching of the American past.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0245-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    Eric Foner and Lisa McGirr
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Steve Brier

    • 1 Squaring the Circles: The Reach of Colonial America
      (pp. 3-23)

      In 1721 in South Carolina, the royal governor received a precious present: a deerskin map conveying a complex world of native peoples and their intricate interconnections. The gift came from Indian chiefs who met Governor Francis Nicholson at Charles Town (now Charleston), the colony’s capital and leading seaport. The chiefs represented villages in the Piedmont, where the people spoke a Siouan language. Lumped together by the British (and subsequent historians) as “Catawbas,” the people thought of themselves as belonging to a loose confederation of eleven villages named on the map: Casuie, Charra, Nasaw, Nustie, Saxippaha, Succa, Suttirie, Wasmisa, Waterie, Wiapie,...

    • 2 American Revolution and Early Republic
      (pp. 24-51)

      Books lavishing praise on the Founding Fathers or rehashing the traditional story of Patriots trouncing Redcoats still outsell all other treatments of the American Revolutionary era combined, but alternative histories of the founding period and the early republic have both multiplied and diversified. More and more people who were once ignored by scholars now seem worthy of attention, and historians have begun to study a wide range of topics that did not even exist thirty years ago—everything from hurricanes and smallpox to sensibility and sexuality. As the scope of the field radiates outward—as university courses called “The American...

    • 3 Jacksonian America
      (pp. 52-74)

      Only a decade ago, scholars despaired for the Jacksonian era. An outpouring of new research in social and cultural history during the 1980s and 1990s had multiplied the number of stories that could be told about the middle decades of the nineteenth century and left older political narratives of the Second Party System looking woefully incomplete. At the same time, historians working on the early national period had appropriated many of the developments that once defined the Jacksonian era: popular politics, an expanding franchise, liberal ideology, and intensified market relations. Even the most committed Jacksonian scholars wondered what, if anything,...

    • 4 Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction
      (pp. 75-95)

      The historian George Bancroft assured Abraham Lincoln in November 1861 that they had fallen upon times “which will be remembered as long as human events find a record.” Historians have done their part in fulfilling Bancroft’s prophesy, but they are contentious and fickle. Again and again, they have disagreed among themselves and revised their interpretations of the Civil War era in response to broader changes in social, political, and intellectual life, as well as research in new sources. If today most scholars agree with Lincoln that slavery was “somehow” the cause of the war, they argue over just how slavery...

    • 5 The Possibilities of Politics: Democracy in America, 1877 to 1917
      (pp. 96-124)

      Each major era in American history possesses a strong and distinctive claim as a—perhaps the—foundation of our current age. The late eighteenth century, for instance, provided the basic constitutional structure of the American republic; the mid-nineteenth century seeded latter-day racial struggles. Yet scholars of the period from 1877 to 1917 may be the most insistent in their claims that these decades, more than any others, gave rise to modern America.

      These claims contain genuine legitimacy, since the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed the origins or consolidation of a host of features of our own time, including...

    • 6 The Interwar Years
      (pp. 125-150)

      InThe Age of Extremes, the British historian Eric Hobsbawm labeled the years from World War I to World War II the “era of catastrophe.” He pointed above all to the unprecedented human devastation wrought in a span of less than thirty years: Two global conflagrations bookended the near collapse of world capitalism and the rise of new authoritarian regimes. For one belligerent, however, this age of “catastrophe” brought triumph as well as tragedy. By the end of World War I, the United States was the world’s largest economy and most powerful state. In the decades that followed, Americans grappled...

    • 7 The Uncertain Future of American Politics, 1940 to 1973
      (pp. 151-174)

      For many years, conventional wisdom held that a stable New Deal Democratic coalition and a liberal consensus defined postwar American politics until the 1970s. Beginning with Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s The Vital Center (1949), most journalists and scholars believed Americans broadly shared an ideology of New Deal liberalism. Focused on the cold war split between Soviet communism and American democracy, contemporaries saw domestic politics through the prism of consensus. American political culture, according to this view, centered on a commitment to individualism, private property, and representative government, which now tilted in a liberal direction. “During most of my political consciousness,” Schlesinger...

    • 8 1973 to the Present
      (pp. 175-198)

      In the introduction to his bookThe Age of Empire, the historian Eric Hobsbawm writes of the “twilight zone between memory and history,” where the past ceases to simply exist in the past and instead becomes interwoven with the events of one’s own life. The beginning and end of a war, the dip and rise of the stock market, the invention of a new technological marvel, or the election of a president—these are not part of some general historical past, made remote by the distance of time, but instead are inextricably linked to our personal memories and the timeline...


    • 9 The United States in the World
      (pp. 201-220)

      In the past decade or so, the study of the history of the United States in the world has undergone radical, perhaps unprecedented transformations. The broad shifts in the scope and nature of the field reflect a sea change in how a new generation of historians who study U.S. interactions with the wider world sees their field, and how the discipline of history as a whole views it.

      The most immediate piece of evidence for this assertion is the chapter title at the top of this page. In the previous edition of this volume, published in 1997, the closing chapter,...

    • 10 The “Cultural Turn”
      (pp. 221-241)

      Cultural historians of the United States find themselves in an unusual position. On the one hand, they are part of a uniquely popular, exciting, and encompassing field of historical inquiry. On the other hand, the remarkable growth of the field in the twenty-first century has rendered it less distinctive than in its incarnation in the 1980s and 1990s as the up-and-coming “new cultural history”. Cultural history has triumphed; it is everywhere in the historiography of the United States. Between 1990 and 2005 the number of historians claiming this label doubled, and, by the latter date, nearly 60 percent of American...

    • 11 American Religion
      (pp. 242-260)

      That more historians now identify themselves as historians of religion than as social historians, cultural historians, or even political historians qualifies as an unanticipated episode in the sociology of the discipline. The number of historians in the past eighteen years willing to type “religion” next to their name when queried by the American Historical Association has doubled. Forty percent of these historians work in North American history.

      Just skimming the titles pouring out from the best university and trade presses, let alone reading the acknowledgments, or even, dare I say, the occasional book, exhilarates those toiling in the religious history...

    • 12 Frontiers, Borderlands, Wests
      (pp. 261-284)

      “Americans have never had much use for histories,” quipped historian Richard White, “but we do like anniversaries.” For confirmation of White’s aphorism, we need look no further than the hoopla surrounding the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 2004–2006. Commemorations included museum exhibitions, television documentaries, an Imax film, plays, musicals, and even an opera. Consumers could choose from an array of Lewis and Clark products, including Corps of Discovery cards and coins, “authentic” foods, puzzles, games, and action figures. The “LewisNClark” company marketed an array of gadgets for travelers. Scores of books appeared. There were Lewis and...

    • 13 Environmental History
      (pp. 285-313)

      Environmental history is a relatively new field, little older than a generation. In a very short period it has grown enormously and earned a respectable institutional foothold. Yet environmental historians have always struggled to acknowledge the field’s obvious alliance with contemporary, even activist, concerns while maintaining the appropriate scholarly distance. No development appears more critical to understanding humanity’s global prospects than environmental change, but environmental history is not necessarily concerned with charting the mistakes of the past or offering clear lessons for the future. Though the point is often made, it bears repeating: environmental history is not environmentalist history. Nor...

    • 14 History of American Capitalism
      (pp. 314-335)

      The United States has been the preeminent capitalist economy for more than a century. By any measure—aggregate output, per capita GNP, labor productivity, and innovation—it ranks at or near the top globally. Indeed, the United States has emerged as a symbol for capitalism as such, drawing to it the sharpest critics of capitalism as well as its most enthusiastic admirers. Such diverse Europeans as Karl Marx, Joseph Schumpeter, Antonio Gramsci, and Friedrich von Hayek have all chimed in. American observers ranging from Richard Hofstadter and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., to Ronald Reagan hold entrepreneurship to be a defining trait...

    • 15 Women’s and Gender History
      (pp. 336-357)

      Emerging from feminist inquiries in the 1960s and 1970s, women’s history has become one of the most prolific and creative fields in U.S. history. Before the mid-1980s, scholars treated it as a branch of social history, whose goal was to illuminate the experiences of ordinary women and the sources of their oppressionas women. Early historians in the field emphasized the rise and fall of Victorian domesticity, with its attention to women’s “separate sphere” in the home. Scholars sought particularly to understand women’s organizing efforts on their own behalf—notably, through the suffrage movement—and their entry into public life....

    • 16 Immigration and Ethnic History
      (pp. 358-375)
      MAE M. NGAI

      The field of immigration and ethnic history has changed over time, from a study of European immigration to one defined by increasingly broad concepts. It is now popular, for example, to present immigration history under the rubric of “the peopling of America.” That phrase is used as the name of the National Park Service’s new national immigration museum, scheduled to open in 2011 on Ellis Island, adjacent to the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. At some colleges, courses formerly listed as immigration history now appear as “The Peopling of America.” The expansive notion of “peopling” often includes the...

    • 17 American Indians and the Study of U.S. History
      (pp. 376-399)

      It goes without saying that American Indians maintain a deeper history upon the North American continent than any other people, but American historians have only recently engaged the long-standing and often traumatic tale of indigenous struggle and survival found throughout our nation’s past. As a growing body of scholarship over the past three decades has revealed, American Indian history not only predates the colonial and national periods but also exposes critical dynamics within every temporal and geographic field of American history. Indian histories now routinely garner professional historical prizes and have particularly reoriented the fields of early American, U.S. western,...

    • 18 African-American History
      (pp. 400-420)

      Academic historians have no monopoly on the production of historical narratives. Historians engage in lively public debates about the meaning of the past with many actors, including journalists, politicians, political and religious leaders, and members of civic associations. History is, thus, produced in a set of overlapping sites, including those outside of academia. History is also, as Michel-Rolph Trouillot observed, laden with silences. Academic historians and others with a stake in the matter are often selective in their interests, and not immune to blind spots.

      Such overlapping sites of production and silences have shaped the field of African-American history. In...

    (pp. 421-423)
  8. Back Matter
    (pp. 424-424)