Blogs > Cliopatria > Beyond the Frontier: The Midwestern Voice in American Historical Writing -- By David S. Brown

Jul 2, 2009 6:22 pm

Beyond the Frontier: The Midwestern Voice in American Historical Writing -- By David S. Brown

[From the Publisher]

As the world went to war in 1941, Time magazine founder Henry Luce coined a term for what was rapidly becoming the establishment view of America’s role in the world: the twentieth century, he argued, was the American Century. Many of the nation’s most eminent historians—nearly all of them from the East Coast—agreed with this vision and its endorsement of the vigorous use of power and persuasion to direct world affairs. But an important concentration of midwestern historians actively dissented. With Beyond the Frontier, David S. Brown tells their little-known story of opposition.

Raised in a cultural landscape that combined agrarian provincialism with reform-minded progressivism, these historians—among them Charles Beard, William Appleman Williams, and Christopher Lasch—argued strenuously against the imperial presidencies, interventionist foreign policies, and Keynesian capitalism that swiftly shaped cold war America. Casting a skeptical eye on the burgeoning military-industrial complex and its domestic counterpart, the welfare state, they warned that both components of the liberal internationalist vision jeopardized the individualistic, republican ethos that had long lain at the heart of American democracy.

Drawing on interviews, personal papers, and correspondence of the imoprtant players in the debate, Brown has written a fascinating follow-up to his critically acclaimed biography of Richard Hofstadter. Illuminating key ideas that link midwestern writers from Frederick Jackson Turner all the way to William Cronon and Thomas Frank, Beyond the Frontier is intellectual history at its best: grounded in real lives and focused on issues that remain salient—and unresolved—even today

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vaughn davis bornet - 7/24/2009

It is, of course, Ray Allan Billington. Bad slip on my part!

vaughn davis bornet - 6/6/2009

I see that mine of May 22 drew nary a peep.

I recommend Wilbur Jacobs' good book on Turner to get a feel for "the midwest."

I worked with Edgar Eugene Robinson for half a lifetime. He was conservative and patriotic and admiring of Hoover and wild about Turner themes (his American Democracy course was a tour de force of ideas). His course The Westward Movement was an auditorium item at Stanford for a long, long time.

William Appleman Williams wrote a nice little book before burying himself away on the Oregon coast (teaching a two day week at OSU), and I thought him pleasant. So...

James Billington wrote a massive account of The Westward Movement which I never see mentioned. It ought to be.

Talking about "middle west historians" without such people is not rewarding. It is "liberal" or "radical" historians one extols.

Speak up! Tell me I am, at the least, wrong.

Vaughn Davis Bornet, Emory, Georgia, Stanford

vaughn davis bornet - 5/22/2009

As a veteran of maybe scores of presidential speeches at our conventions long ago, I have always found the intellectual divisiion of our historical ranks into schools somewhat baffling--though interesting and challenging.

I read this item and went to the publisher's release and read half a chapter in addition to this.

I studied under at least two men who worked with Turner; they had little in common.

When the productivity of historians is on subjects all over the place, I have never understood the school of historians thing. It seems to apply best when focused on the presidency and things like the New Deal or "liberalism"--which, by the way, seems to be essential to the making of cases and outlawing of nonconforming individuals.

I wish some senior people would put comments here, soonest. NOt on my remarks but on schools matters.

Vaughn Davis Bornet