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POPULAR HISTORY, POST-WAR LIBERALISM, AND THE ROLE OF THE PUBLIC INTELLECTUAL IN RICHARD HOFSTADTER'S THE AMERICAN POLITICAL TRADITION (1948)*

  • NICK WITHAM (a1)
Abstract
ABSTRACT

This article examines the status of Richard Hofstadter's classic work The American political tradition (1948) as a ‘popular history’. It uses documents drawn from Hofstadter's personal papers, those of his publisher Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., as well as several of his contemporaries, to pursue a detailed reconstruction of the manner in which the book was written, edited, and reviewed, and to demonstrate how it circulated within, and was defined by, the literary culture of the 1940s and 1950s. The article explores Hofstadter's early career conception of himself as a scholar writing for audiences outside of the academy, reframes the significance of so-called ‘middlebrow’ literature, and, in doing so, offers a fresh appraisal of the links between popular historical writing, liberal politics, and the role of public intellectuals in the post-war United States.

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Corresponding author
Institute of the Americas, University College London, 51 Gordon Square, London, wc1h 0pn n.witham@ucl.ac.uk
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I would like to thank Jonathan Bell, Owen Dudley Edwards, Dan Geary, Simon Hall, Iwan Morgan, Michael O'Brien, Lydia Plath, Leo Ribuffo, Dan Scroop, Robin Vandome, and several anonymous reviewers for the incisive critical readings and thoughtful comments they provided as I wrote and revised this article. I am grateful to Andrew Preston for steering me through the editorial process, and to Eric Foner for generously permitting me to quote from an oral history interview about Richard Hofstadter that he recorded in 1973. I would like to acknowledge funding I received to undertake research on the article from the US-UK Fulbright Commission, the Institute of the Americas at University College London, and the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh. Final revisions were undertaken while I was an Arts and Humanities Research Council International Placement Scheme fellow at the Kluge Center, Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Lastly, I would like to show my appreciation to the staff of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University in the City of New York, the Berg Collection and the Manuscripts and Archives Division at the New York Public Library, and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin for all of their support in locating the archival material upon which the article is based.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Charles Crowe , ‘The emergence of progressive history’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 27 (1966), pp. 109–24

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The Historical Journal
  • ISSN: 0018-246X
  • EISSN: 1469-5103
  • URL: /core/journals/historical-journal
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