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Shorter Book Reviews 137 antebellum South. It supports the argument that the Southern economy was underdeveloped and questions the dominance of pre-bourgeois values among the Southern planter class. Equally, it reaffirms the diversity and complexity of the antebellum South. As his title suggests, Siegel believes that an environmental interpretation of Danville's history can be projected onto the antebellum South at large. Although his study is limited to one county in Virginia, Siegel does suggest that the "primal source" of Southern distinctiveness was "the template of soil and climate" (4). This assertion is intriguing, but raises the problem of representativeness. If Danville's fortunes were tied to tobacco, the rest of the South, especially the lower South, was dominated by the staple crop of cotton. Rice and sugar, along with tobacco, were important but secondary staples in the Southern economy. Any environmental interpretation of Southern distinctiveness must take these other crops, especially cotton, into account. Until then, the idea of environment as the central theme of Southern history must remain a tentative, if tantalizing, hypothesis. MitchellSnay Department of History Denison University Gertrude Himmelfarb. The New Histoo 1 and the Old: Critical Essays and Reappraisals. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1987.209 pp. In April 1984, Harper's published an impassioned essay by Gertrude Himmelfarb, which eloquently and vigorously complained that "traditional" history had lost its primacy in the profession to the ''new" social history. For the framework of political narrative and the "rule of reason" in analysis of evidence, the followers of this trend had substituted personal perceptions or biases reinforced by a selective rendering of the past or by some ahistorical theory. More often than not, Himmelfarb contended, the "new"historians used present values not to inform their understanding of the past, but to determine it. As a consequence, it was not simply the methodology or even the focus of the profession which had been altered, but also its sense of common standards and its contribution to public knowledge. For Himmelfarb, who had perused the programs of learned conferenccs with 138 Shorter Book Reviews increasing distress, social history was now "the new orthodoxy," and it was clear from the tone and content of her article that she would remain an outspoken heretic. That impression has been confirmed in the essay that has now reappeared, retitled (but not revised) as "History With the Politics Left Out." Himmelfarb's critics are equally unlikely to reconsider their reactions to her piece as previously published. The book brings together a number of Professor Himmelfarb's reflections on the state of the profession and, as one might expect, these are strongly argued and elegantly written. At no point is the reader left in any doubt where Himmelfarb stands or what provokes her wrath. Some may be tempted to dismiss her views as defensive. Certainly there are instances when the case against the dominance of the "new" history (itself, as she acknowledges, an amorphous category) may be overstated or selectively rendered. But for readers and historians alike, that does not d~inish the importance ofwhat she says. Possiblythe highlight of this critique is Himmelfarb's discussion of the phenomenon of "psychobiography" (especially as it overlaps with her own expertise), a peculiar blend of psychoanalysis and speculative biography which satisfies the requirements of neither. Perhaps predictably, historians of this persuasion appear to regard Freud more uncritically than do psychoanalysts, and to apply his insights more broadly than even Freud himself would dare. A dearth of accurate personal information, which one would expect to inhibit a biographer, instead inspires even more creative endeavor, more akin to historical fiction than to academic inquiry. As Himmelfarb notes, evidence for important and provocative conclusionsabout the formative years of Edmund Burke, or of James Mill and John Stuart Mill, simply does not exist. And Himmelfarb will not allow psychobiographers to evade responsibilityor questioning by usingweasel words about conjecture or surmise. Indeed, on one occasion she demonstrates that a secondary account suggests not what is contended but its opposite. Furthermore, psychobiographers often devote little attention to the published work of their subjects. Thus, what was important to the lives and historical reputations of these thinkers seems curiously marginal...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 137-139
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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