Which American history books transformed the historiography of its field?

Mar 2015
6
N/A
#1
I am having a hard time selecting a book for the final essay of my first year of university. The brief is:

focus on a single book and explain how it contributed to its field, adding to or even entirely transforming our understanding of its subject matter. The task will involve not merely appreciating or describing the quality of the work but addressing its significance. This will involve reading more widely around the subject so that you are able to identify more specifically where it has taken the debate forward and where it has built on previous work and particular historiographical debates.
I am really unsure what book to focus on. I was considering The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan but I don't know if that had enough of an impact on historiography to fulfil the brief and I would rather write something on a topic that interests me more, such as political history.

I was wondering if you could give me some suggestions of books that changed/influenced historical debate. Some topics I am interested in are the Cold War, JFK's assassination, and the Vietnam War, but I would like suggestions outside of these areas too.

Thanks!
 
Jul 2012
4,379
Here
#4
I'd have trouble giving you suggestions on the Cold War historiography because I've only read a few books on the subjects, and personally, I wouldn't be interested in the JFK assassination stuff because I'm not interested in the lavish conspiracy claims. I have read a large number of books on the Vietnam War, and I think I have a good grasp on the historiography, and I can think of several that influenced thought on the topic, but I'd have trouble picking out one that radically affected the historiography. Maybe looking at how this book, which suggests that U.S. leaders had several chances to get out contrasts with David Halberstam's much earlier "The Making of a Quagmire" which suggests once the U.S. got in, there was no way out, might work. But this recent book is probably too recent to suggest that is going to shape the historiography in a significant way.

[ame="http://www.amazon.com/Choosing-War-Chance-Escalation-Vietnam/dp/0520229193/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1425246969&sr=1-1&keywords=choosing+war"]Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam: Fredrik Logevall: 9780520229198: Amazon.com: Books@@AMEPARAM@@http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/411AGN7HZAL.@@AMEPARAM@@411AGN7HZAL[/ame]

I think going with pre-20th century topics with longer historiography is easier. (but maybe that is because that is what I most study).

I think two topics from the American Civil War are easily assessable. Up until the 1920s the Lost Cause explanation was the most prevalent. This held that a unified south fought heroically against northern domination. The "unified south" theory came under attack by two 1920 historians. 1) Albert Burton Moore's book "Conscription in the Confederacy" assaulted the idea that all southerners willing fought for the south. Likewise, Ella Lonn's "Desertion in the Civil War" also highlighted how many southerners (as well as northerners) escaped, or tried to, from military service.

But both of these books barely mentioned slavery, they were largely cast in some version of "states rights". A couple examples of early works that brought slavery to the forefront of the Civil War were Kenneth Stampp's "The Peculiar Institution" and Eugene Genovese's "Roll, Jordan, Roll." Since then, slavery is the overwhelming explanation for the war.

If you like the American Revolution, you might look at either Bernard Bailyn's or Gordon Wood's work on the subject. Before them the historiography was largely dominated by the "Progressive school" views that the Revolution and the Constitution were driven by upper-class economic concerns. They rejected economics as the deciding factor, instead focusing on the ideology of freedom/independence as the primary focus. I don't know of any working historians who are still doing the progressive school thing.

If you have an interest in U.S. colonial history, i can name several books you might want to look at.

Another thing you could look at is how social history has transformed history in the past 50 years or so. For instance, if you are interested in women's history, I can point to several works that were influential in the 1980s that turned that previously unexplored topic into a highly researched subject.

Hope this helps.
 
Mar 2015
6
N/A
#5
I'd have trouble giving you suggestions on the Cold War historiography because I've only read a few books on the subjects, and personally, I wouldn't be interested in the JFK assassination stuff because I'm not interested in the lavish conspiracy claims. I have read a large number of books on the Vietnam War, and I think I have a good grasp on the historiography, and I can think of several that influenced thought on the topic, but I'd have trouble picking out one that radically affected the historiography. Maybe looking at how this book, which suggests that U.S. leaders had several chances to get out contrasts with David Halberstam's much earlier "The Making of a Quagmire" which suggests once the U.S. got in, there was no way out, might work. But this recent book is probably too recent to suggest that is going to shape the historiography in a significant way.

Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam: Fredrik Logevall: 9780520229198: Amazon.com: Books

I think going with pre-20th century topics with longer historiography is easier. (but maybe that is because that is what I most study).

I think two topics from the American Civil War are easily assessable. Up until the 1920s the Lost Cause explanation was the most prevalent. This held that a unified south fought heroically against northern domination. The "unified south" theory came under attack by two 1920 historians. 1) Albert Burton Moore's book "Conscription in the Confederacy" assaulted the idea that all southerners willing fought for the south. Likewise, Ella Lonn's "Desertion in the Civil War" also highlighted how many southerners (as well as northerners) escaped, or tried to, from military service.

But both of these books barely mentioned slavery, they were largely cast in some version of "states rights". A couple examples of early works that brought slavery to the forefront of the Civil War were Kenneth Stampp's "The Peculiar Institution" and Eugene Genovese's "Roll, Jordan, Roll." Since then, slavery is the overwhelming explanation for the war.

If you like the American Revolution, you might look at either Bernard Bailyn's or Gordon Wood's work on the subject. Before them the historiography was largely dominated by the "Progressive school" views that the Revolution and the Constitution were driven by upper-class economic concerns. They rejected economics as the deciding factor, instead focusing on the ideology of freedom/independence as the primary focus. I don't know of any working historians who are still doing the progressive school thing.

If you have an interest in U.S. colonial history, i can name several books you might want to look at.

Another thing you could look at is how social history has transformed history in the past 50 years or so. For instance, if you are interested in women's history, I can point to several works that were influential in the 1980s that turned that previously unexplored topic into a highly researched subject.

Hope this helps.
I am interested in the Civil War and would be interested in writing an essay on something along those lines, however, I have just been informed I need to focus on a book that influenced a specific field of history. The fields I am able to focus on are: Native American history, labor history, women’s history, gender history, racial history, and transnational history. Are there any books that you can think of heavily influencing these fields?

I am pretty sure I will end up writing about The Feminine Mystique but I am not sure whether or not that is a good choice?
 
Jul 2012
4,379
Here
#6
I am interested in the Civil War and would be interested in writing an essay on something along those lines, however, I have just been informed I need to focus on a book that influenced a specific field of history. The fields I am able to focus on are: Native American history, labor history, women’s history, gender history, racial history, and transnational history. Are there any books that you can think of heavily influencing these fields?

I am pretty sure I will end up writing about The Feminine Mystique but I am not sure whether or not that is a good choice?
I haven't read The Feminist Mystique, but from what I know about it I'm not sure you can call it a history book. Maybe you should ask your professor what he thinks about it.

I could give you a few ideas on Native American history books, but my knowledge is limited to eastern Indians up until "Indian removal" in the 1830s-1840s.

If you want some suggestions on women's history/gender history I can help you out with that, get back to me. But first I would check to see if writing about Friedan's book is going to fly with your professor. If so, and that's what is intriguing you, by all means, go for it.
 
Mar 2015
6
N/A
#7
I haven't read The Feminist Mystique, but from what I know about it I'm not sure you can call it a history book. Maybe you should ask your professor what he thinks about it.

I could give you a few ideas on Native American history books, but my knowledge is limited to eastern Indians up until "Indian removal" in the 1830s-1840s.

If you want some suggestions on women's history/gender history I can help you out with that, get back to me. But first I would check to see if writing about Friedan's book is going to fly with your professor. If so, and that's what is intriguing you, by all means, go for it.
Yeah, I'm really not sure whether Friedan's book is "historical" enough. Could you give me the titles of a few Native American history books that I could consider? I know little about this topic but would love to learn some more about it, so this would be an ideal opportunity.
 
Dec 2011
2,830
Late Cretaceous
#8
Yeah, I'm really not sure whether Friedan's book is "historical" enough. Could you give me the titles of a few Native American history books that I could consider? I know little about this topic but would love to learn some more about it, so this would be an ideal opportunity.
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee could be a possibility.


[ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bury_My_Heart_at_Wounded_Knee"]Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]
 
Mar 2015
6
N/A
#9
I think I have found a great one on the Cold War and foreign policy: The Tragedy of American Diplomacy by William Appleman Williams.
 

Baltis

Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
4,005
Texas
#10
I think I agree with this choice simply because it has had such a tremendous impact upon the conversation. Whether one agrees with Brown or perhaps thinks Brown over the top in his bias toward the Indians, the book is a focus point for study and contrast. And, let's not forget how the book hit best seller lists and remained for years. Lots of people have their views impacted by that book.
 

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