For some reason I’m having huge trouble responding, with Blogger, to comments on this issue at John Fea’s excellent blog, where much discussion is ongoing. A virtue of the FB board would be to address the problem of diffusion I complain about below — but only John Bell and I are posting there, so no help! This comment will make sense only if you also check out both of John Fea’s posts on the topic, and the comments, here and here:
OK, now I’ve mucked up this thread with removals to correct inadvertent repetitions, then failed to post something I thought I posted. Semi-conscious resistance? It dismays me when comments full of interesting ideas, challenges to previous comment, etc., proliferate in scrolldown threads, fragmented across multiple posts on multiple blogs, even as new topics pull our attention up to the home pages. Diffusion may be part of what’s good about blogging, but sometimes the byplay just defeats me.
Yet I appreciate the space dedicated to this issue here (even amid some very interesting reporting from AHA!). Commenting below on this post and its comments and the other post and its comments on the same topic:
John Fea, I’ll send you a copy of Inventing American History, the MIT Press book from which my reflections on Wood are drawn (and I’m looking forward to reading your book). The continuum you shrewdly identify between Holton and Wood is what concerns me in both authors’ work: both think there was a 1780’s backlash, associated with Federalism, against emergent democracy; I don’t think it was a backlash — to me, elite fear and loathing of populist democracy had never truly wavered (that’s despite Holton’s citations) — and I don’t think anti-democratic efforts were by any means Federalist alone. But that’s what my (other) books are about (and I’m trying to avoid writing a book on your blog!). [UPDATE, here on my blog only: I should add that I think Holton’s Unruly Americans is indispensable reading for everyone interested in these matters.]
Wood’s work is so nuanced and complex, and so well written, that it would take a career to really dissent from it, but my endnotes to those same books probably make clear that I read Wood — plenty audaciously, I know, given my outsider’s status — as ultimately (deep breath) overdetermined, tendentious, and strangely motivated historiographically.[UPDATE, here on my blog only: For leftish criticism of Wood, see the work of Terry Bouton, Alfred Young, and others; an interesting right-wing critique is here. Many along the “sane, reasonable” liberal-to-conservative spectrum, where people of mutually defined good will supposedly can disagree, will conclude that if the serious left and serious right both dissent from Wood, he must be doing something right. I get it, but I don’t see things that way.]
I don’t think because Lepore criticized Empire of Liberty, Wood is now indulging in some kind of invidious payback. A fascinating argument between important, brilliant, liberal historians is taking the form of mutual book reviews, one way historians argue. What I was calling, off the top of my head, goofily unfair is Wood’s wholesale, even stubborn misreading, as mere journalistic snark and academic disdain, of what I take to be the real intention of Lepore’s book.
Tom van Dyke: Wow. I’d have to know what you mean by almost everything you say in order to respond effectively. But risibility and squawking being in the ear of the beholder (lack of guts too), I’ll just say that you and I are never going to agree on whether a Lepore is somehow failing, in your terms, to do legit history. And, OK — if you think I’ve made up those 1776 Pennsylvania radicals, or have exaggerated their significance, etc., well, that would accord with majority opinion these past 235 years. Stick with John Adams and Morrison (and, ultimately, Wood), and you’ll never go wrong. And that list of academic topics you present as absurd certainly has nothing to do with me.
Since when — final outburst — is Gordon Wood a defender of this “old-fashioned” popular memory thing, Tea Party style? How many Tea Party activists has he gone out and talked to? And if this was always the bottom-line burden of his work, then it’s just as I always suspected: he’s balancing a gigantic pyramid of brilliant academic apparatus on the tip of insisting, albeit in a billion times’ smarter and more modern way, on poorly criticized ideas about America’s providential greatness that go back, circuitously, through Morgan to Bancroft and before (bringing Bailyn in, not inappropriately, along the way). Giving Wood, in the present context, some strange bedfellows in the politics of history.
Everyone’s read Nietzsche on this stuff, right? Critical history / monumental history / antiquarian history? …