The Turning Tides of Political History

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Both Shade and Brown write their pieces in a way that demonstrates the growing complexity of both American history and politics – on through charting the development of American political history and the other through the analysis of “informed citizenry” in the United States. While I agree with my colleagues that Shade’s “Déjà Vu All Over Again” was undoubtedly dense, I think it sheds important light on the development of American political histories and how a “New New Political History…provides hope for the revitalization of American political history (404).” While arguing that the newest form of political history emphasizes “culture” and is largely devoid of any “quantification of their analyses,” Shade illustrates this newest political history also incorporates previous political histories (400-401). Through his analysis of several works contained in Beyond the Founders, Shade makes clear that the newest political history is not a definitive departure from the traditional or even the first New Political History. Rather, it takes some of the strategies employed by the previous histories – for example, Pasley’s traditional and neo-Progressive characteristics in his work – to emphasize different perspectives of a similar historical narrative (397). I think that Shade sees this amalgamation of qualities from earlier political histories as the aforementioned “hope” he sees for the future of American political history.

In reading Shade, I also agree with Michael that Shade’s commentary in many ways reflects what we have done throughout this course. While beginning the class with a very traditional view of political history, we have become cognizant of political history even in the “public sphere,” a quality Shade states is shared by almost all the newest political historians (398). In the past few weeks as we have incorporated religious history, women’s history, and the history of black Americans, we have crafted ourselves into New New Political Historians and explored the nuances American politics for different members of society, as well as the way these nuances limited or shaped political voices.

I also found Brown’s “Looking Backward” and engaging piece of scholarship as I reflect on this semester. Most interesting was his argument about the development of the “commercial sector” as the “most powerful educator and molder of informed citizenry” in the United States (203). I thought his argument about t the commercial sector becoming a “crude demagoguery” was most effective because it lifted some of his criticism off of American citizens and onto government officials. He claims that there is a fear that government officials have become “too responsive” to the messages conveyed by the commercial sector as opposed to moral institutions like the church (204). Thus, public officials are reinforcing the creation of an uninformed populace by succumbing to its uninformed demands. One criticism I have of Brown is that he finds that “comparisons across time” of an informed citizenry “cannot be definitive” (202). While I comprehend his argument, he concludes that throughout American history, there has not been a monolithic definition of an “informed citizenry” (205). In order to convincingly demonstrate this claim, Brown would have had to embark on some form of comparison of interpretations – much like Shade did in outlining American political history – of an informed citizenry in American history. It seems contradictory that instead, Brown casts doubt on the very grounds upon which he establishes his argument. With this in mind, Brown ultimately writes a very powerful and pertinent piece that calls into question the current state of American informed citizenry and challenges the populace to change political culture.