Citizens Unchanged


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From Shade and Brown’s articles, it seems that until recently the common man and the working class at large has been neglected by both the political elites and historians of the last 50 years. Political leaders preferred that the citizenry remain uninformed and the historians preferred to look at the political leaders as representatives for the citizenry. I see a connection here. As Brown points out, the commercial sector has become the most powerful factor in molding political and social opinions. Perhaps the newest political history is a way to better understand the “pseudomodern” present by trying to understand the significance of the disconnect between the populace and decision makers. The emphasis here is on what the people do when their representatives aren’t asking for their opinions.

I felt that Brown’s article provided an excellent end to our discussions on early American politics. It sobers us up to remind us that we aren’t so different from the citizens of yesterday and we still grapple with similar problems in a new world. In conjunction with his argument, I liked the question posed by Michael, which was “Are we Davidson students informed/critically minded to be able to choose public officials wisely?” There are many things that I can excel at where students of other schools couldn’t because of Davidson’s curriculum. However, I don’t believe most of us are truly informed enough because politics are so broad and complex. The same goes for people back in the day. They had their politicians to simplify their options the way the commercial media has done for us.

Just as we began talking about race and gender near the end of the course, Shade talks about how it should figure into the newest political history near the end of his article. The new political history had emphasized ordinary politics in these narratives. With the newest histories being written from the perspective of the disenfranchised people, we can better understand how race and gender factor into politics today.

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.