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Table of Contents
Editorís Introduction by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese

D.G. Hart on Religious History in American History

Robert Wiebe on Nationalism and Imagined Communities

Mark M. Smith on Writing the History of Sound

Victor Davis Hanson on Agrarianisms Ancient and Modern


From D. G. Hart's "The Failure of American Religious History"

"The irony, then, is that the shift from church history to religious history inevitably led to religious history's marginality. Of course, pure church history would not have succeeded any better even if it would have had more intellectual integrity. The history of Christian churches would have been published by denominational houses for church folk, rather than university presses for academic peers. To be sure, good church historians have written and still do write with an eye toward larger historical developments in ways that may appeal to nonbelievers. Because believers are human, and religious organizations very closely resemble other institutions, church history may contribute to more general questions about human nature and society. Still, the core of church history is the religious life of individuals and communions, topics that leave most non-believers cold and indifferent. In other words, if the history of religious diversity is marginal to academic history, the history of churches concerns an entirely other world.

Yet, the apparent success of religious history, the heaps of books produced by it, the mounds of foundation money thrown at it, and its apparent relevance, has prevented religious historians from producing answers to the kind of question that David Hollinger asks: does religion matter? Could it be that, contrary to most religious historiansí assumptions, religion is actually irrelevant to what is most important in American history?"

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From Robert Wiebe's "Imagined Communities, Nationalist Experiences"

"We have been slow to examine the premises behind the standard interpretation of nationalism. It is our phlogisten theory, patched and reworked to serve a little longer in the absence of an alternative. So the orthodoxy stands: Nationalism is an elite invention that mobilizes citizens at the onset of modernization, and Imagined Communities, where a state uses the resources of print-capitalism to turn whoever happens to be within its boundaries into a nation, is this orthodoxy's most influential voice, a touchstone for intellectuals everywhere. In actuality, nationalism is a field of study that lacks a vocabulary for sharing its findings. Even where we have a good question, the context for a good answer eludes us. Why does the state's version of nationalism appeal to some and infuriate others? Why has nationalism triumphed over so many competitive attempts at top-down manipulation? If modernization generates nationalism, how do we account for its simultaneous surge among--say--the Hutu, the Slovaks, and the Flemings? We need a fresh start."

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From Mark Smith's "Listening to the Heard Worlds of Antebellum America"

"Listening to the heard worlds of antebellum America indicates that modernity, capitalism, freedom, and constructions of gender, class, and otherness had distinct and meaningful aural components. It also suggests that workers, black and white, understood the power of silence and the control of sound as tools of effective resistance to their enslavement and exploitation. None of this was lost on ruling classes, north or south. Elites heard social order at the everyday level of interaction and, simultaneously, as an abstraction, often with the former reinforcing the latter. Sound-sensitive elites, their ears pricked by the day-to-day shape and defense of their worlds, used these aural metaphors that described the ideological differences between North and South to augment an increasingly pronounced sectionalism. Aural constructions of "the North" and "the South" gained wide currency, so that very quickly northerners and southerners heard one another in divisive ways, though in reality some sectional differences were not pronounced. The heard world, imagined and distorted though it was in part, was real to those who did the selective listening; real enough, in fact, to prompt men to palpable, destructive action."

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From Victor Davis Hanson's "Agricultural Equilibrium, Ancient and Modern"

"Physical labor for oneself was the perfect arena in which to match word with deed, and it grounded the entire Greek notion of both physical and mental excellence the day laborer who worked for wages and the wealthy, idle, and absentee property owner alike were marginalized in cultural, military, and social terms. And because, unlike later political theory, the Greeks believed constitutions were supposed to improve the moral quality of the populace, it made perfect sense that the equilibrium found in yeomanry should be replicated on a community level: the family that produced food on its own, improved its own parcel of ground, and sought to maximize production without exploitation of its peers produced citizens ideal for the responsibilities of constitutional government, the challenges of shock warfare between phalanxes, and the independence necessary to ward off challenges from both the wealthy and poor. What followed were the social, political, ethical, and military institutions of the city-state itself that promoted progress within the careful confines of existing communitarian institutions."

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by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese

HISTORY ARGUABLY ORIGINATED in two unprecedented attempts to understand and explain the forces or passions that lead men to go to war. Herodotus and Thucydides wrote within an intellectual context that included Homer's gripping epic, but they both insisted upon the need to develop different models of explanation. Each, in his own way, succeeded brilliantly. At the root of both explanations lies the conviction that the central historical subject concerns the mystery of causation and the variety of human action and motivations that shape it. Throughout a long and variegated history, the Western tradition has attributed primacy to human choices, and the internal and external forces that shape them. That primacy persists as the hallmark of history as an intellectual adventure.

Contemporary styles of historical writing and choice of historical topics depart in greater or lesser measure from those of the past. The second half of the twentieth century produced a myriad of initiatives and agenda to transform history, whether by expanding the topics deemed worthy of serious historical consideration or by transforming the methods upon which historians rely. Theoretical and philosophical currents intersected with and intensified these projects in various ways, notably through the introduction of elements of postmodernist skepticism on the one hand and canons of feminist and other political certainties on the other. With the modicum of hindsight that a few decades afford, it is possible to recognize the strong ties between these challenges to the received notion of historical studies as the offspring of an eventful and troubled historical moment.

Poised at the threshold of the twenty-first century, we confront a plethora of phenomena that our ancestors could not have imagined. From decolonization to the globalization of the economy, the contemporary world seems consumed by unceasing reconfiguration, something like those halls of mirrors in which you can never see yourself clearly and from which you seem never able to escape. Under the pressure of these forces, including the acceleration of commodification and the expansion of the Internet, familiar social roles, notably those that have historically constituted families, are experiencing radical transformation and even disintegration. Perhaps more significant, we are living with a rate of change that exceeds anything previously known. This is an intellectual and political climate in which it has become plausible to pronounce history, as the world has known it, "dead." Whatever the ultimate merits of that judgment-and it embodies an intellectual sophistication with which it is not always credited-those who teach history too often have reason to bemoan an apparent death of historical knowledge and understanding among their students.

The Journal is intended as an intervention into the discussions that emanate from our postmodern condition. Above all, it invites reflection upon and discussion of historical questions and problems that can engage the imagination of a wide variety of readers who may share only an interest in history as a vital inquiry into both unique and recurring aspects of human experience. To this end, we hope to publish articles on specific historical subjects that suggest connections to others, thus contributing to a web of historical inquiry that simultaneously unsettles prevailing pieties and reconstructs an understanding of connections among apparently discrete events, societies, and cultures.

We will select articles according to two principal criteria: first, their embodiment of exacting standards of historical scholarship, normally original research, but sometimes fresh review and interpretation of secondary literature or intervention in lively historical debates; second, the likelihood of their appeal to a broad constituency beyond specialists in the specific historical field or subfield. Consequently, we will place a high premium upon grace and clarity of writing style. The proliferation of jargon-variously known as "theorizing" or social science-has done as much as anything to discourage potential readers of academic history, and we intend to campaign vigorously against it. With luck, the vigilance of the editorial staff will guarantee that the pages of the Journal will be, as they say, genuinely "user friendly." Certainly, that is our goal. There is no excuse for producing historical work that appears arcane and inaccessible to highly educated readers of the Wall Street Journal or the New Republic.

Accessible does not mean, "dumbed down." We expect to publish articles, commentaries, reviews, and interventions of the highest intellectual quality. But the more significant and complex the historical arguments, the more important it becomes that readers find them engaging and intelligible. We deplore-and hope to avoid-the disquieting elitism that assumes that what we "professionals" do necessarily eludes the comprehension of hoi polloi. One of the major justifications for historical study-and hence the continuing employment of those who teach history-lies in its ability to illuminate aspects of the human condition and to inculcate exacting investigation of tough decisions, whether about the choice of war or peace, the allocation of scarce resources, appropriate forms of governance or social and legal structure, or the distribution of social roles. We aspire to initiate such discussions in relation to a variety of questions across a broad range of settings.

It is not surprising that historians, given the breadth of their ambitions, have poached upon adjacent fields, notably literature, political theory, sociology, anthropology, art history, philosophy, and religion. And the Journal of The Historical Society, like The Historical Society itself, warmly welcomes the contributions of specialists in those fields, which have done so much to enrich our own. But the main focus of the Journal will remain, as it was for Herodotus, Thucydides, and their successors, the craft and interpretation of history understood simultaneously as the actions of people in the past and the contemporary attempt to unravel the meaning of and motivation for those actions. In purposefully cultivating what Marc Bloch, the great medievalist and rural historian, called "the historian's craft," we hope to contribute to a reinvigoration of historical thought and practice among scholars, teachers, students, and aficionados, whether professional or independent.

Each of the articles in this first issue identifies and explores a historical problem worthy of sustained discussion; each simultaneously focuses scrupulous attention upon a particular topic and points beyond itself to questions that engage our understanding of history and of historical study. In "The Failure of American Religious History," Darryl Hart reviews the trajectory of religious history from the 1950s, when Henry May optimistically assessed its prospects, to the present, when, notwithstanding a proliferation of discrete studies, it remains as marginal as ever. Notwithstanding Hart's admirable discretion, the astute reader will readily note that he harbors reservations about the enthusiasm with which many historians of American religion have embraced variants of cultural studies and focused upon questions of identity. Nor, as he notes, does the sheer number of books suffice to establish the importance of a subject, much less to move it from marginality to centrality. Having originated as an almost exclusively Protestant enterprise, American religious history now almost entirely ignores the Protestant mainstream, perhaps because of academic historians' lack of interest in the large number of middling Americans who adhere to its tenets, perhaps because of a reluctance to acknowledge the pervasive influence of Protestantism upon American political and civic culture.

Most American historians have, it appears, been happy to support religious historians' focus upon the more exotic manifestations of religious belief, presumably because the proliferation of discrete cases does not disrupt the central narrative they favor. If anything, this scholarship adds indirect aid and comfort to social and women's historians' interest in individual cases. Thus American religious history has, however inadvertently, contributed to the discrediting of a central narrative of American history, and the outcome is all the more ironic because of the centrality of mainstream Protestant beliefs to American civic and political culture. The more troubling problem concerns the place-or even the admissibility-of religious conviction in the writing of history. For as Hart, in some ways complementing George Marsden's sweeping critique, argues, contemporary academic historical culture has made room for, and frequently embraced, an extensive company of ideologies and allegiances, but has resolutely placed religious conviction, especially on the part of historians themselves, beyond the pale.

Hart's thoughtful essay invites sustained reflection upon and discussion of these issues, notably whether it is possible to write compelling history from within religious conviction. On the face of it, to write history as a Muslim, Christian, or Jew should be no more problematic than to write it as a Marxist, a philosophical idealist, a feminist, a pan-Africanist, or a gay activist. Yet contemporary academics have normally cast religion as uniquely in violation of the standards for intellectual "objectivity." In future issues, the Journal will pursue this question in relation to other societies and centuries, and we invite responses that directly engage Hart's argument.

In "Imagined Communities, Nationalist Experiences," Robert Wiebe opens an equally, if not more, sensitive and contested topic. Taking the impressive success of Benedict Anderson's title, Imagined Communities, as a point of departure, Wiebe details the multiple ways in which the studied ambiguity of "imagined communities" appealed to a contemporary intellectual imagination that was finding it increasingly difficult to encompass the protean realities of the modern world within the neat categories of modernist thought.1 The notion of imagined communities, Wiebe suggests, owed much of its appeal to its power to obscure a host of fundamental problems, notably nationalism. As scholars from different ideological and methodological perspectives became ever more embroiled in debates over the definition and significance of nationalism, the appeal of imagined communities as a heuristic substitute grew apace, doubtless because the replacement of a precise definition with a metaphor opened inviting possibilities.

Wiebe especially criticizes Anderson's concept of imagined communities for obscuring the significance and dynamics of nationalism as a major-and elusive-historical phenomenon, but he simultaneously acknowledges the formidable challenge of any attempt to contain nationalism within one or more neat categories. Reviewing the various ways in which scholars have treated nationalism, he suggests that, in one case after another, even the ablest scholars have fallen back on circular or misleading generalizations. In this respect, Anderson's metaphor may be said to have answered an unarticulated yearning for a way out of the intellectual dead ends to which the discussions of nationalism were leading. Wiebe attributes much of this confusion to the congeries of political, ethnic, linguistic, and religious formations to which nationalism has been applied or to which it has been linked.

Political, linguistic, ethnic, cultural, and religious considerations all have a claim upon the understanding of nationalism, but they do not all come into play in every instance of perceived national identity. Above all, however, Wiebe views the problematic relation between nationalism-or nationalistic elements-and the state as a compelling intellectual challenge for historians. In focusing upon this relation, which requires renewed attention both to the coupling and the uncoupling of nation and state, Wiebe opens a new set of questions with broad implications for different societies and centuries. Consider, among the many cases he evokes in passing, the implications of a renewed discussion of nationalism on our understanding of Black Nationalism, which has developed in isolation from control of the state. Here, as in the case of Hart's essay, the possibilities for empirically grounded theoretical discussion are virtually endless, and we expect to invite a range of responses.

From the start, the promotion of respectful debate has ranked as one of the main purposes of The Historical Society, and the Journal offers an important forum for continuing debates. Hart's and Wiebe's essays both directly engage subjects that have provoked vigorous discussion and, in this respect, both represent forceful interventions into continuing conversations. Both also sharply challenge the terms of the debates in which they are engaging, thereby recasting and reorienting them in essential ways. These are essays that invite further discussion, and we expect regularly to publish others that do the same. The Journal will reserve space for responses to the articles we have run, and, as things become more settled, we may (with the author's acquiescence) invite responses prior to publication so that the article and its initial responses appear in the same issue. In instances in which the discussions acquire an independent life and attract numerous participants, they may well spill over onto The Historical Society's Web page.

The articles by Victor Hanson and Mark Smith should also stimulate responses and continuing discussion, but in a somewhat different way. Smith is contributing to a startling new historical subject: the history of sound. Most of us so much take sound for granted (whether we enjoy or abhor the sounds with which we are bombarded) that we do not think of its having a history. Yet, as Smith demonstrates, it indisputably does, and attention to the history of sound vastly expands our ability to grasp the texture of previous societies. Smith laid the foundations for this compelling work in his previous study of time, in which he boldly challenged received wisdom about attitudes toward time in preindustrial societies, including the slaveholding South.2

Here he begins with a preliminary overview of the general problem of sound as a historical subject, demonstrating that the sounds a society produces play a significant role both in expressing its character and in marking its differences from other societies. After delineating some of the promising new perspectives and questions to which the history of sound can lead, Smith turns to an exploration of the different "soundscapes" presented by the northern and southern states in the decades before the Civil War, notably to the distinct sounds of emerging industrialism on the one hand and agriculture grounded in slavery on the other. Historians have long made much of the differences between free and slave labor, but the idea that these different labor systems produced different sounds will strike many as novel, and it opens a striking new perspective on the history of the United States during the nineteenth century. Smith reminds us of the many issues that converge in the sounds a society makes, including the ability of some to control the sounds made by others. In his view, a society's sounds articulate its class relations as well as its level of development. Such bold claims are bound to suggest a host of arresting questions for other places in other periods as well as discussions of the most fruitful ways in which to identify both the character of sounds and the social meanings they convey.

Hanson's discussion of agricultural equilibrium-or what he calls agrarianism-in the ancient and modern worlds develops a theme that simultaneously illuminates a facet of ancient history and raises important questions about the modern world. Hanson holds that the proliferation of middling family farms endows a society with a unique and invaluable quality and, especially, underwrites the true politics of democracy. Students of the Southern agrarians of the 1930s will note resemblances between the world Hanson evokes and the world the agrarians sought to restore, and they will also recognize important differences. For Hanson takes us back to the earliest foundation of the independence of the responsible citizen. Breaking with Locke and subsequent thinkers who sought ways of justifying the accumulation of property-whether in land or in specie-Hanson insists that a truly viable political society must be grounded in agricultural property that is worked by its owner with some family or hired assistance and that is widely distributed among the citizenry of the society. In his judgment, only these conditions can guarantee responsible political decisions, especially with regard to war and peace. For in these societies, men only go to war to defend their farm and the way of life it supports, and they cease fighting when the farm demands their presence.

Those familiar with Hanson's impressive corpus of work on warfare and on Ancient Greece, notably The Other Greeks, will recognize elements of the argument he advances here.3 But the argument in this form raises an important set of questions for historians of all periods and societies, namely the ultimate significance of an immediate relation to the land as a source of livelihood and a distinct way of life for the understanding of the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship. In Hanson's view, a citizen's robust sense of stewardship requires individual ownership and cultivation of land as well as some rough equality among landholdings. In other words, a landholding society composed of lords and serfs does not produce the same beneficial political culture as one composed of family or yeoman farmers.

In very different guise, similar questions weave through all of history and remain contentious today. The most highly developed economies have moved so far from their original agricultural base as to lead many to dismiss as bizarre the idea that responsible citizenship depends upon the ownership and cultivation of land. What even the most highly developed economies have not lost is a commitment to the significance of private property-the individual ownership or control of resources. Yet the more highly developed the economy and the wealthier the individual, the more likely it is that the individual's property will be completely severed from specific parcels of land or even a specific country. In this respect, the globalization of the economy has led to a growing divorce between property and place. If Hanson is correct, we should not be surprised that these developments have led to a widespread view of the individual as accountable primarily-if not only-to him or herself.

We look forward to discussions of these topics and any others that our contributors choose to place before us. We already expect future issues to include an exploration of the American Revolution as a violent struggle that weighed heavily upon the lives of countless contemporaries, combatant and noncombatant alike, and a discussion of the failures and challenges of labor history, especially in the developing world, as well as the continuing conversations about nationalism and the place of religious history in mainstream historical narrative and analysis. In addition, we are hoping to publish some of the papers from our second national conference (June 2000), which will focus upon revolution in history, and we foresee the possibility of other thematic issues. At least one issue a year will include a review essay that links this journal to the on-line History in Review.

The Editorial Board will warmly welcome suggestions of topics for articles and will work with authors to develop ideas into appropriate articles. We shall unabashedly seek as broad a range of topics as possible, with special attention to representing different epochs and different parts of the world as well as different historical styles and methods.

These goals nonetheless carry inherent limitations: Since we are determined-for reasons of readers' comfort as well as reasonable cost to subscribers-to keep the Journal at a manageable size, we will not be able to touch upon the interests of each of our members in each of our issues. Recognition of that impossibility has stiffened our determination to publish articles with practical or theoretical significance for a range of fields and, especially, articles that should be of interest to all historians because of the ways in which they engage and deploy the historical craft. We will expect cultural and social historians to read articles on military, economic, or diplomatic history and vice versa. In the spirit of "nothing human is foreign to me," we will aim to publish articles that are of interest to all our readers, embodying good history and raising significant historical questions. We do not expect to hew to one or another ideological line, any more than we expect to restrict our offerings to specific topics or methods.

In an age of intense specialization, dangers shadow any attempt to promote generalization-above all the dangers of banality and superficiality. Since we embrace the goal of encouraging historians from different specializations and different clubs to talk to one another, we have shouldered the responsibility to demonstrate that a common conversation remains possible and, more, that it is potentially beneficial not merely to our work as specialists but to our work as teachers, colleagues, and members of a profession.

1. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed. (London: Verso, 1991 [1983]).

2. Mark M. Smith, Mastered by the Clock: Time, Slavery, and Freedom in the American South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997).

3. Victor Davis Hanson, The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization (New York: Free Press, 1995).

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