Founded in 1967 with social history still in its infancy in the United States, the Journal of Social History quickly emerged as an important home for this emerging field, even beyond North America. At first, with political, intellectual, and diplomatic histories supreme, Peter Stearns created the journal as a beachhead, but it soon came to play a major role and continues to do so to this day. From his position as editor, Stearns wrote over a dozen statements—many provocative—about the centrality of the field. This article focuses on these remarks in the JSH. Wishing to end the hegemony of the traditional fields, he urged social historians to work toward competing syntheses, proposing modernization theory or blended social and political explanations as alternatives. Later, he grappled with new methods such as the linguistic turn and accommodated the journal to such innovations. Beyond the academy came political attacks from conservatives who saw social history as a threat to traditional narratives that emphasized the role of elites. Stearns defended social history on all fronts right up to the time to pass the baton to a new editor. In sum, on both defense and offense, Stearns sought not only a role for social history but also one of fundamental importance in the discipline and society.


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pp. 444-456
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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