Phillips out of Boston University, it is an incredibly creative journal, especially in those forums and special features. In the s and s, historians investigated the economy. They were serious and politically relevant. But then the discipline fell to the beguiling ways of cultural and social history. Fractured and fragmented, scholars wandered off like cats into various alleyways, pawed at incomprehensible theories, and lost track of the common reader.
There is hope, however, because in the past decade or so a new movement has arisen to lead historians out of the obscure alleyways and back to the main path: the economy, so long neglected. Enstad takes the founding myth apart from both ends. The [NHOC] jeremiad suggests that historians of the s and s the time frame is vague and variable studied social and cultural areas of life and neglected another distinct and separable area, economy.
This is a significant mistake that has prevented a rigorous critique of prior scholarship. Social and cultural history were analytical approaches to studying a myriad of topics, including formal and informal politics, business, labor, imperialism, welfare, marriage, immigration, slavery, and so on.
Historians using these approaches did not study only social and cultural events or themes, as though those could be isolated as such. Much of the groundwork for, many of the intellectual influences active within the new history of capitalism can be found in the groundbreaking work of the s and s, not in some fabled heyday of a pre-linguistic turn, pre-identity politics history. Most of the work that is the new history of capitalism owes far, far more to cultural history than it does to cliometrics. If the new history of capitalism really has a quite close relationship with cultural history, is there any reason to complain about its founding myths?
Well, quite a bit. She writes,. How is this narrative [the NHOC jeremiad] organizing our intellectual and monetary resources? How does it highlight some voices and perspectives over others? I believe we are not, and this is a problem worth attending to.
Enstad certainly has a point, but to some extent, I would say that her own critique reinstantiates a certain understanding of what the field is and who its gatekeepers are. In other words, her choice of targets for critique also implicitly repeats the idea that the field is in practice defined by those very people—Louis Hyman and Sven Beckert especially. Enstad, by focusing her critique on a handful of statements by two or three scholars, accedes to the notion that the field really is defined by what those scholars think and do.
That seems to me both incorrect—the field is more polycentric or at least more diffuse than that—and self-undermining.
Enstad herself is a well-established scholar at an excellent school UW-Madison —rather than protest the definitions of the field that Hyman and Beckert have given, why not gather likeminded scholars and present an alternative? Or, in the absence of that, why not elevate more of the scholarship that—like her old and her new work—brilliantly foregrounds the entanglements of the economic, the cultural, and the social? As Enstad says,. Such a debate may not lead to consensus but it could make us all smarter.
There is a lovely passage in J. Burrow wrote:. He may recognize limitations to the scope of his theory, may insert qualifications which he is yet unable to integrate into the theory itself. Thus he may, as an individual, if he is cautious enough… escape charges of superficiality or oversimplification which nevertheless continue to lie against his theory. It is no defence, for example, of a sociological theory which lies under the imputation of being unable to account for social change, that its author is aware of the problem.
I think that what Enstad is saying is something along the same lines: in the face of a critique that gender and race are missing from the definitions that certain historians of capitalism have given to the field, they cannot merely say that they are aware of the problem or that they agree that those are important categories and ought to be included.
Those are views, not theories. What is needed is a more forthright theoretical discussion of the place of gender and race, of culture and society in the history of capitalism. Cook as excellent resources for understanding what actually happened as cultural history emerged within and against social history. Tags: cultural history , history of capitalism , Kenneth Lipartito , louis hyman , Modern American History , Nan Enstad , new history of capitalism , Raymond Williams , social history , Sven Beckert , the economy.
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