American Populism A Social History Essay

This seems especially evident in the American version of social history, where modernisation theory is a leading inspiration (Eugen Weber's Peasants into Frenchmen, a celebration of the allegedly civilising process, is an accessible and influential example).It can also be seen in the preoccupation with the origins of 'companionate' marriage and the modern family, a work pioneered in a liberal-humanist vein by Lawrence Stone, and in a more conservative one by Peter Laslett and Alan Macfarlane.

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The democratisation of genealogy, and the remarkable spread of family history societies – a 'grassroots' movement of primary research – could also be said to reflect the egalitarian spirit of the 1960s; a new generation of researchers finds as much delight in discovering plebeian origins as earlier ones did the tracing of imaginary aristocratic pedigrees.

Another major 1960's influence on the new social history – very different in its origins and effects – was the 'nostalgia industry' which emerged as a kind of negative counterpart, or antiphon, to the otherwise hegemonic modernisation of the time.

Rescuing the past from the enormous 'condescension of posterity'? Fashion may direct the historians' gaze; or a new methodology may excite them; or they may stumble on an untapped source.

Sometimes it is suggested by 'gaps' which the young researcher is advised by supervisors to fill; or by an established interpretation which, iconoclastically, he or she is encouraged to challenge.

Social history does not only reflect public interest, it also prefigures and perhaps helps to create it.

Thus 'Victorian Values' were being rehabilitated by nineteenth-century enthusiasts for a decade or more before Mrs Thatcher appropriated them for her Party's election platform; while Professor Hoskins' discovery of 'lost' villages, and his celebration of the English landscape anticipated some of the animating sentiments which have been made the conservationist movement a force for planners to reckon with.The spirit of 1960s social history – tacking in its own way to the 'winds of change' – was pre-eminently a modernising one, both chronologically, in the choice of historical subject matter, and methodologically, in the adoption of multi-disciplinary perspectives.Whereas constitutional history had its original heart in medieval studies, and economic history, as it developed in the 1930s and 1940s, was centrally preoccupied with Tudor and Stuart times (the famous controversy on 'The Rise of the Gentry' is perhaps representative), the 'new' social history, first in popular publication in the railway books (as of David and Charles) and later in its academic version, was apt to make its historical homeland in Victorian Britain, while latterly, in its enthusiasm for being 'relevant' and up-to-date, it has shown a readiness, even an eagerness, to extend its inquiry to the present. the new social history was hospitable to the social sciences, and much of the energy behind the expansion of Past and Present – the most ecumenical of the social history journals, and the first to be preoccupied with the inter-relationship of history and 'theory' – came from the discovery of historical counterparts to the categories of social anthropology and sociology: e.g.Another of its major themes – solidarity – could be said to have been anticipated by that sub-genre of autobiography and sociological enquiry – Hoggart's Uses of Literacy (1957) was the prototype – which made the vanishing slum a symbol of lost community.' So far as historical work was concerned, these sentiments crystallised in an anti-progressive interpretation of the past, a folkloric enthusiasm for anachronism and survival, and an elegaic regard for disappearing communities.'Resurrectionism' – rescuing the past from the 'enormous condescension' of posterity, reconstituting the vanished components of 'The World We Have Lost' – became a major impetus in historical writing and research.Methodologically too, in ways presciently announced at the beginning of the decade in E. 'sub-cultures', social mobility, crowd psychology, and latterly gender identities.One way in which numbers of the new social historians made them- selves at home in the past was by projecting modernity backwards, finding anticipations of the present in the past. Ever since its elevation to the status of a discipline, and the emergence of a hierarchically organised profession, history has been very largely concerned with problematics of its own making.Its practitioners are counted in thousands rather than hundreds – indeed tens of thousands if one were to include (as I would) those who fill the search rooms of the Record Offices, and the local history rooms of the public libraries, documenting family 'roots'; the volunteer guides at the open-air museums; or the thousands of railway fanatics who spend their summer holidays acting as guards or station staff on the narrow gauge lines of the Pennines and North Wales.Urban history, pioneered as a cottage industry by H. Dyos in the 1960s, and labour history, as redefined in E. Thompson's Making of the English Working Class, was a protest against the routinisation and narrowing of economic history, together with (in the case of Thompson) sideswipes at the invading generalities of the sociologists.Social history owes its current prosperity, both as a popular enthusiasm and as a scholarly practice, to the cultural revolution of the 1960s, and reproduces – in however mediated a form – its leading inspirations.

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