- Introduction to Special Issue:Political Writing and Literature 1800-1835
The field of literary history has burgeoned in the last three decades, as historicism has become the predominant methodology in literary studies. In an academic form of sibling rivalry, relations between scholars who take literature as their object of inquiry and scholars who study "the past" (that is to say, historians) have grown somewhat strained, even as the two groups arguably share a larger number of assumptions and practices than at any moment in the life of the modern academy. This special issue of the Journal of the Early Republic developed out of an initiative by then-editor Roderick McDonald to bring scholars from the fields of literary studies and history into closer dialogue. 1 Politics and literature have provided important points of convergence between the disciplines in the past, notably in the protracted [End Page 171] debate about republican and liberal influences on the early American republic and in studies that build on the insights of Jürgen Habermas to track the emergence of a public sphere in the United States. The topic of this issue, "Political Writing and Literature 1800-1835," arose out of a sense that new developments in both history and literary studies made the topic ripe for reconsideration.2 An open call for papers netted a modest number of essays, a review process led to the selection of the four articles included here, and Roderick and I worked together to guide the authors toward a style and a method that could appeal to scholars in both disciplines. Three of the authors (White, Apap, and Miller) have their academic homes in literature departments, while Graham resides in a history department, as does Catherine O'Donnell, whose cross-disciplinary work makes her a helpful surveyor of recent scholarship in the field.
The essays included here are notable for the suppleness with which they read their textual archives and relate them to concerns guiding recent scholarship. They revisit old debates and engage new ones by means of a close analysis of texts, which remains the trademark gesture of the literary scholar. Collectively they suggest how textured readings of specific works can open out into case studies that illuminate important general claims and engage theoretical concerns. The subjects addressed here include the robust persistence of republican ideology and its characteristic literary genre, the deliberative oration, after 1800; the importance of geographic thinking in the modern republic; the shifting dynamics of race, gender, class, and religion; and the rise of mass party politics that claimed to represent democracy while practicing many forms of exclusion.
These essays extend several of the emphases in the revisionary historical scholarship included in the 2004 collection Beyond the Founders: New Approaches to the Political History of the Early American Republic.3 In a concluding comment to that volume, William G. Shade notes that it began as an initiative within SHEAR, which took shape on the H-SHEAR listserv and led to a 1998 panel at the SHEAR conference before [End Page 172] evolving into the essay collection. All of the contributors to the volume are historians, and they collectively aspire to create a "new cultural history of politics of the early republic" (388), drawing on the methodologies made current by the postmodern "linguistic turn" and neo-Marxist critical theory. The essays in the volume are divided into four parts whose titles share affinities with the concerns explored by the essays in this issue: "Democracy and Other Practices," "Gender, Race, and Other Identities," "Norms and Forms," and "Interests, Spaces, and Other Structures." By chance rather than plan, all of the essays included in this special issue fall into one or more of these rubrics. The coincidence suggests how certain motivating questions—such as the changing nature of power in the early republic and its institutional and normative embodiments—lead to similar explorations across disciplines.
This issue extends the methodologies pursued in Beyond the Founders via a deeper engagement with specific texts and authors. This text-and-author focus is a characteristically "literary" gesture, and the accompanying emphasis on textual analysis can seem superficial or unrepresentative to historians trained to read...