Cultural History

The Practice of Book History: Between and Beyond Disciplines

newbooksIt has been about eight months since I finished my master’s thesis—a book history and critical edition of James Fenimore Cooper’s 1840 historical novel, Mercedes of Castile. It proved to be marvelous meat for my thesis. In the course of my research, I gained insight into Cooper’s love both for his wife and his new novel: in one of his letters he tells her, “You are my Mercedes”—referring to the idolized heroine and namesake of the novel. I learned about the press wars Cooper was embroiled in, which may have adversely affected sales of the novel; gained insight into the publication practices of Philadelphia publishers Lea & Blanchard by exploring their archives at the Pennsylvania Historical Society; and saw Cooper’s vast popularity reaffirmed by a variety of translations and illustrated editions that swiftly followed the first editions.

Pells Bells: The End of Cultural History?

In this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education, Richard Pells (a historian at the University of Texas at Austin) charges, “The vast majority of American historians no longer regard American culture—whether high culture or mainstream popular culture—as an essential area of study.” It’s an interesting article, and the Chronicle reports that it is among the most e-mailed for the week, but I think it should be read with considerable caution...