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Book Reviews

The American Intellectual Tradition Editors: David A Hollinger & Charles Capper Oxford University Press, New York, 2001

Vol I: ISBN: 019518338X, Paperback. Pages: 566

Vol II: ISBN: 0195183401, Paperback. Pages: 513

Reviewed by John Wedgwood Pound MA (Dunelm) Ph.D Student, University of Birmingham

The American Intellectual Tradition

These volumes are conceived for college and undergraduate students and designed to provide access to documents routinely assigned by Tutors. The depth is considerable, the editors have successfully aimed to provide substantial excerpts rather than a greatly expanded range of authors, whilst context building segue text is kept to a minimum based on the assumption that sufficient background will be provided by tutors.

This is a formula that works well. The focus is intellectual history, what the editors term the “American Family Argument”. Documents have been chosen that represent a significant position and advance an argument whether through sermons, letters, treaties, or essays.

This impetus for this revised fourth edition comes from the feedback received from the editor’s colleagues and thus reflects recent scholarship with new works on theology, psychology, cultural theory, gender awareness and the role of the US in world affairs.

The works are arranged thematically. The first volume initiates the collection, as one might expect: Winthrop’s A Modell of Christian Charity (1630). Also included in part one of this volume, subtitled “The Puritan Vision Altered” are standard Puritan tracts by Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards.

The Revolutionary period addressed in part two, “Republican Enlightenment”, represents the spectrum of republican thought with Adams, (his 1765 Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law is an inspired inclusion), Paine, Jefferson, Hamilton and Madison given their say. Abigail Adams famously admonished her husband not to “forget the ladies”, and they are represented here by Judith Sargent Murray’s 1790 essay On the Equality of the Sexes.

Parts Three and Four, “The Protestant Awakening and Democratic Order” and “Romantic Intellect and Cultural Reform”, take up the themes of religion, reform and liberation. Charles Grandison Finney lectures on the Revivals of Religion, William Lloyd Garrison ponders African Liberation, Margaret Fuller takes up the cause of Women in the Nineteenth Century whilst Henry David Thoreau’s Resistance to Civil Government (1849) presages the themes of the fifth and last section of this volume “The Quest for Union and Renewal”. The Civil War era is addressed through a varied section embracing works on America’s blacks, the emancipation of Women together with a number Lincoln Texts.

For the editors, if the overarching themes of volume I are religious in nature, its successor is concerned with science and character – a focus well served by selections dealing with secular culture, social progress, diversity and post modernity, from William Graham Sumner’s Sociology (1881) to W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk (1903). The pieces on ideology and self-analysis in the inter-war years are thoughtfully chosen and the post War dynamism and confidence of America (though including the concurrent conflicts) is well served by selections from Hannah Ardent, David Bell, Malcolm X, Thomas Kuhn and Noam Chomsky.

This is a fine selection, of considerable value to A-Level and undergraduate students, that gives a real sense of the intellectual development of America. The chronologies at the end of each volume (with time-line details of American documents, European documents and World events) are invaluable for context and trend identification. One criticism however is the dearth of material from the 1980s and 1990s, with nothing dated after 1992. Where is 1980s monetarism, where are Newt Gingrich and Ralph Nader? However, this is primarily a targeted source book, necessarily curriculum dependent and I look to further editions with a sense of anticipation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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