Blogs > Cliopatria > OAH 2007: Margaret Washington

Apr 8, 2007 8:42 pm

OAH 2007: Margaret Washington

The HISTORY NEWS NETWORK ( recorded this appearance of Margaret Washington at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians on March 31, 2007.

She spoke at a panel reviewing the merits of Sean Wilentz's The Rise of American Democracy.

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Jason Blake Keuter - 4/12/2007

The comments of this speaker do not address the ideas in the book. The speaker only talks about inclusion. She comes close to a meaningful discussion when she asks about Jackson's Indian Removal Policy, but there is no direct answer to the question she raises: was Jackson making the best of a (for a myopic modern perspective) bad situation. There is no discussion of Spain or England or France; there is no discussion of the degree of autonomy white settlers had from the national government; there is no discussion, in other words, of all of the historical circumstances that explain Jackson's actions. Instead, we are simply treated to the usual litany of how Jackson was a bad man who, at best, represented bad people who wanted to do bad things. Her comments (like most of the "critical" scholarship on Jackson) are utterly simplistic. She isn't an historian : she simply projects herself back in time as a political partisan and her ideas have the depth one would expect from someone so engaged.

Critiques like Ms. Washington's could be made by simply looking at the index of the book and seeing how many times Indians and African Americans are cited. At no point does she grapple with any ideas at all. Not anyone could have written Wilentz's book because his book actually reflects THOUGHT. I personally find much to disagree with in Wilentz's work - especially Chants Demoncratic - but at least his work is engaging because it is thoughtful.