David M. Wrobel is a historian of American thought and culture and the American West. Dean of arts and sciences and at the University of Oklahoma, he also holds the Merrick Chair in Western History and the David L. Boren Professorship there and has been engaged in a wide range of partnerships with K-12 educators over the years. He is the author of The West and America, 1890–1950: A History (2017), Global West, American Frontier: Travel, Empire, and Exceptionalism, from Manifest Destiny to the Great Depression (2013), winner of the Western Heritage Award; Promised Lands: Promotion, Memory, and the Creation of the American West (2002); and The End of American Exceptionalism: Frontier Anxiety from the Old West to the New Deal (1993). He is currently working on "John Steinbeck's America: From the Great Depression to the Great Society." He is a past president of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association as well as of Phi Alpha Theta, the national history honor society, and current president of the Western History Association.
This lecture begins with the question, "why, if the conditions for so many people were so poor in late 19th-century America did it take so long for American society to address those problems in any systematic way? The talk examines the clashing conservative and progressive ideas of the late nineteenth century and how understanding that context and those ideas can inform our understanding of contemporary political/economic/cultural divides. The lecture contrasts the Social Darwinist William Graham Sumner with the Reform Darwinist Lester Frank Ward; the Popular Calvinist Russell Conwell with Social Gospel proponent Walter Rauschenbusch; and Constitutional Conservative Stephen J. Field with Legal Pragmatist Louis Brandeis.