A New Take on Early Political History

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I think Ben’s last post and his points in class about “shaping” memory was a good transition into William Shade’s, “Commentary,” at the end of Beyond The Founders. Ben suggested that Douglass, as an outsider and through pen, was trying to shape and mend the memory of the Civil War. After the war, the history written about it was up in the air for the taking. As we read, Douglass viewed this as an opportunity to “never forget” what he believed was the main memories of the Civil War and Reconstruction. This opportunity and effort to shape and restore history on behalf of Douglass provides us with a good introduction into Shade’s comments on the types of histories, the historians themselves, and an insight into the newest political history wave showed throughout Beyond The Founders clippings of new approaches towards the political history of the Early Republic.

I began to read this commentary and was a little side-tracked by what Shade was talking about with these types of political history being thrown around. As a newcomer to this field as of recently, this information and conversation was foreign to me but by the end of this short commentary I began to understand why it is something of importance and deserves discussion. I did not know about the worry traditional historians have regarding the depleting field of political history, so I found it rather interesting that current historians and those of old are hoping and relying on the newest political historians to salvaged and restore political history. Shade discussions the differences in scholarship on political history from those deemed traditionalists, New Political Historians, and those recently labeled the New New Political Historians which leads into his comments on their subtle variances in language and methods of inquiry. As he delves into the newest political history being published he states, “Right now there is not enough published work to talk about a school of political history, but there is a feeling that something is going on” (394). Immediately, my focus was on what this feeling was and what were the newest historians doing that coined them “agents of change.”

As I continued to read, Shade was claiming that the new generation of political historians were writing and confronting the history of the early republic using different language and variants of topics and methods to study than the New Political Historians did forty years ago. From this I wanted to ask questions regarding why most of the literature identified from the newest political historians is on the early republic before 1820? Also, why these new historians returned to strikingly traditional methods in their analysis of early republic politics? Beyond The Founders represents quite different ways of doing history, but the excitement for the new studies for political historians is refreshing for historians of the past and present and also those like me who are newcomers. Shade left us with a promising notion as he states, “Above all, the energy and engagement of the newest political historians represented in this book provides hope for the revitalization of American political history” (404). As a history major, the ways in which these new historians are restoring old history and revitalizing the field seems pretty cool. I wonder what reasons these new historians have for going back to early republic politics and shining new light on old methods yet new variants in topics and interpretations. I guess we will find out.