Thursday, March 29, 2012

"The New American History"

I've been reading a 22-year-old anthology in which a baker's dozen of historians summarized some of the ways in which historical knowledge has evolved since many of us got our childhood dose. Here are six items that stuck out for me. (I do wish some of the chapters had been more thoroughly footnoted, but the bibliographies of books and articles to follow up are great.)

Eric Foner, ed. The New American History. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990. (There is a "revised and expanded" 1997 edition which is available in limited preview on GoogleBooks. In addition, individual chapters are for sale cheap in pamphlet form in the AHA bookstore.)

"In early Virginia, New England, and New Netherlands, the intruders -- not the Indians -- introduced the tactic of the deliberate and systematic massacre of a whole community." (John M. Murrin, "Beneficiaries of Catastrophe," 10; 12 in 1997 edition)

"Rural northeasterners who could not make a go of [farming in the early 1800s] tried to avoid entering the urban wage-labor market . . . . [They] headed west instead, most of them hoping to reconstruct the independent yeoman communities that had crumbled back home." (Sean Wilentz, "Society, Politics, and the Market Revolution," 55; 65 in 1997 edition)

By the end of the Civil War, "some 180,000 blacks had served in the Union army -- over one-fifth of the black male population of the United States between the ages of eighteen and forty-five." (Eric Foner, "Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction," 80; 93 in 1997 edition)

Progressives in the early 1900s "typically began by organizing a voluntary association, investigating a problem, gathering relevant facts, and analyzing them according to the precepts of one of the newer social sciences. From such an analysis a proposed solution would emerge . . . [nevertheless] men and women were commonly surprised by the results of the reforms they so fervently sought." (Richard L. McCormick, "Public Life in Industrial America," 107, 114; 122, 129 in 1997 edition)

"As Kenneth Jackson demonstrated, the Klan [in the 1920s] had its greatest support in northern and midwestern cities." (Alan Brinkley, "Prosperity, Depression, and War," 125; 139 in 1997 edition)

"By 1910 the nickel theaters showing silent motion pictures . . . could be labeled 'the academy of the workingman' . . . . Initially catering to working-class audiences with a tolerant indulgence of drinking and casual family comings and goings, the movie theaters began to take on more lavish, disciplined, middle-class standards only in the 1920s." (Leon Fink, "American Labor History," 243; 343 in 1997 edition)

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