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  • Keywords:What's an Advocate to Do with the Words She's Given?
  • Marilyn Fischer

I was ecstatic when i read Donna Gabaccia's discussion of "keywords." There is a name for this? People really write books about it? I was thrilled to learn that people do systematically what I, in a bumbling sort of way, dabble with. For the past few years, I have kept a "phrase file," entering what Gabaccia calls "central and evocative terms," along with instances of their use that I happen upon while doing other things (Gabaccia, "Nations of Immigrants" 6). Every once in a while, I check in with JSTOR, Reader's Guide Retrospective, and Google Books. I am grateful to Gabaccia for showing us the power of this kind of analysis.

The point of the Coss dialogues is for philosophers to engage with people from other disciplines. In my response, I will take Gabaccia's message about keywords leading to new insights and adapt it to the historical recovery projects many of us pursue. First, I will give some concrete examples of how using keyword searches turned my head around and led me to read classic texts in new ways. Second, I will examine how Grace Abbott and Jane Addams talked about immigrants. They were advocates. When the words the culture gave them carried messages of denigration, restriction, and exclusion, they found strategies with which to subvert those messages.

Exploring Keywords

"The past is a foreign country" is a cliché among historians, but something philosophers working with texts by classical American pragmatists should keep in mind. As contemporary English speakers reading century-old texts, we sometimes forget how encoded language was and is. Language communicates. I'll give three examples of surprises I found when I asked what perfectly [End Page 32] ordinary-looking words communicated to an author's original audience, and traced the conversations in which those words functioned.

Mead and the International Mind: George Herbert Mead wrote about the "international mind," advocating that people develop one. Mitchell Aboulafia draws on these discussions in The Cosmopolitan Self, where he claims that Mead's international mind fits right in with Kant's sensus communis, Adam Smith's impartial spectator, and Arendt's inclusive human community (see Aboulafia, especially chap. 2). "International mind" was in my phrase file; I spent a delightful day sitting on the floor of the library stacks, reading through issues of Atlantic Monthly from the Great War years. Lots of people talked about international minds back then, but none of those minds were cosmopolitan in the way Aboulafia assumes that Mead was. Internationally minded people wanted to establish international commercial and juridical machinery among "civilized" nations—that is, northwestern European nations and the United States. How these nations handled internal oppression or their own colonial empires was not part of the conversation. When Mead is placed in this conversation, he emerges as more politically conservative and decidedly less egalitarian and universalist than Aboulafia contends (see Fischer, "Mead and the International Mind").

Royce and Antipathies: In his 1906 essay, "Race Questions and Prejudices," Josiah Royce attributes racial problems to our antipathies (285). Shannon Sullivan and Jacquelyn Kegley interpret Royce to be saying that with some attention we can reorient our antipathies toward nonracist rather than racist reactions (Sullivan 32; Kegley 7). I searched for antipathies in JSTOR and Reader's Guide Retrospective. In 1904, University of Chicago sociologist W. I. Thomas gave a widely held definition. Antipathies are instinctual, he said, deeply embedded in our evolutionary makeup, so deep in fact, that reason and effort cannot touch them (607-10).1 Working with this understanding of antipathies, white writers at the time proposed various solutions to keep whites' antipathies from being irritated by contact with blacks. Royce's support for the white supremacist, colonial regime in Jamaica fits in well as one way of accommodating this. When Royce's essay is placed in historical and linguistic context, it is very difficult to claim he was anti-racist.2

Addams and Social Control: I am trying to write a piece on Addams's speeches and essays on black-white race relations, most of them presented to black audiences. In her essay...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6489
Print ISSN
1930-7365
Pages
pp. 32-40
Launched on MUSE
2011-02-04
Open Access
No
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