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TheCanadian Review of American Studies, Volume IO, Number I, Spnng, 1979 Intellectual History and TheBicentennialAmericanist [\erett Emerson, ed. American Literature, 1764-1789. Madison: l nt\ers1ty of Wisconsin Press, 1977. 30I + xvi pp. John Stephen Martin Tavlor L1tt!eton,ed. A Time to Hear and Answer: Essars for the BiientennialSeason. University, Alabama: University ofAlabama Press, 1977. 218+ xii pp. Robm\V. Winks, ed. Other Voices, Other Views: An International Co!lectwnof Essaysfrom the Bice11ten11ial. Westport, Connecticut, and London,England: Greenwood Press, 1978. Contribution in American Studies, No. 34. 428 + vi pp. Oneof the questions of the Bicentennial Americanist is, how academically ngorousare the investigations of American "roots?" In establishing the BicentennialCommission to oversee a world-wide celebration, Congress wanted a popularapproach to American history, one that would re-assure Americans andthe world, despite the present funk of spirit, that the United States was on "the right road." And yet there must have been in Congress a number of historians, political scientists and students of literature who might have cautionedthe Commission that the nature of recovered ideas was doubtful or thatthey might contradict what the populace supposed about its daily life. Theseknowing individuals might have seen that there was perhaps little for themodern American to claim in the past as his roots and that the BicentennialAmericanist would have a hard time to read the ideas of the past. Only the approach of the history of ideas could assure a relatively successful season of celebration.This involves a belief that ideas which are articulated correspond totheactualities or at least are reasonable representations of the actualities or documentsthat the historian examines. Such a view of ideas assumes that they areentities with lives of their own~they stand apart, waiting to be recognized bymen and to be invited to take part in their affairs, somewhat as Platonic ideasawait the discerning mind. Thus, to go back to the ideas of the founding fatherspresumes that those ideas are universally recognized despite language difficultiesand that they are valid appraisals of the Revolutionary Era. The purposeof this approach, in sum 1 is to express what the historian believes is 104 John Stephen Martin the spirit of the times or a reflection of what was supposedly on people's minds, and there is no doubt permitted that the expression or reflectionis valid or useful. The approach of the history of ideas shows its weakness, however, when contrasted with that of intellectual history. Alexis de Tocqueville noted inthe second volume of Democracy in America that Americans were a people given to discussion of abstract ideas. On analysis, de Tocqueville was making a point about how metaphysical ideas provided Americans with a mental handleon their activities which were unique and outside the ken of Western history until that time. No other nation depended so extensively on an expanding middleclass of tradesmen or farmers, and so ideas -drawn from a European context -were attempts to articulate what was non-verbal. Seymour Lipset has added that such ideas provided a social cement for a nation which lackeda homogeneous population replete with traditions. 1 But ideas, Robert M. Weaver reminds us, do not only describe; they are the vehicle of rhetorical persuasion to command and direct activities: in sum, they are purposive, and , before one can e~d a~ examination of ide~s,_ one must a~count for the rhetoric.:I Therefore, an h1stonan undertakes a mm1mal analysis of the structure and form of "records" to discern why the ideas (or rather, constructs) seemed' plausible and credible to the reader and, we assume, to the writer himself.In the end, one hopes to find the make-up of a dynamic relationship between ideas and the non-verbal factors that stimulate the creation of ideas withina given mind. This approach is certainly more critical than that of the history of ideas. Perhaps as corrective, a new form of the history of ideas has appeared to enable ideas of the past to continue to be relevant to the present. I term this new form, comparativism. In this approach, factors within the United State1 1 are contrasted with factors existing elsewhere or in an international context. The approach seems to forego older Americanist debates about whether...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 103-118
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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