Sorry for the long(ish) absence. I have been lost in the unruly reeds of the Serial Set, ladies and germs, a wanderin’ in the wilderness of Congress’s forgotten backlot. I have seen many things, horrible things, in that slushpile: innumerable, ungainly, uncollated reports sprouting anteDeweyvian reference numbers, all housed with an organization scheme only a Melville could love in its Eris-inspired and Demos-driven multiplicity. (His erstwhile namesake, Melvil, would’ve hated it).
It’s not pretty, folks. Not pretty ‘t’all.
But I come bearing new loads of data, new sand and clay to be mixed with the brackish water of intellect and baked into scholarly bricks, and then built into a sturdy House of Monograph, shelter for kith and kin, and possibly even a way to pay rent.
Stuff for my dissertation, I mean. Not just ridiculous extended metaphors.
But that’s not what I came to discuss today. No, what interests me today is this: Daniel Howe, “Goodbye to the ‘Age of Jackson’ ?” New York Review of Books, May 28, 2009.
Howe is an eminent historian — preeminent, even, as not only is his most recent book part of a field-defining (if staid) series, but it won the Pulitzer prize in History. Like all of the books in the Oxford series, the interpretation Howe puts forward in What Hath God Wrought is intended as a master synthesis of the existing literature, the new foundation for all work to come. The NYRB review is a restatement of that larger project in miniature.
My concern with this particular article is not his critique of the books under review, per se, but rather an argumentative tack he makes along the way – a restatement of that made in the larger work.(1).
Put simply: Howe replicates a general feature of the political historiography of the Jacksonian era that drives … me …nuts.(2).
Like many other would-be synthesizers of the period, Howe maps contemporary political labels onto the political parties and personalities of the second party system – the Democrats and the Whigs – while trying to claim he’s doing the opposite. This effectively trades any development in the historiography, by way of synthesis, for retrenchment. This leaves us on the other side of the ditch, but still stuck in the mud.
Continue reading “Muddy Whigs, Stuck Wheels” →