OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Andrew Hartman

Portrait of Andrew Hartman

Andrew Hartman is a professor of history at Illinois State University focusing on U.S. intellectual history. He is the author of Education and the Cold War: The Battle for the American School (2008) and A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars (2015). He is currently at work on his third book, "Karl Marx in America," which is contracted to be published by the University of Chicago Press. Hartman is the winner of two Fulbright Awards. He was the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Studies at the University of Southern Denmark for the 2013-14 academic year, and he was the Fulbright British Library Eccles Center Research Scholar for 2018-19. Hartman was the founding president of the Society for U.S. Intellectual History. He has been published in a host of academic and popular venues, including the Washington Post, Baffler, Chronicle of Higher Education, American Historian, Journal of American Studies, Reviews in American History, Journal of Policy History, Salon, Jacobin, Bookforum, and In These Times.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

This lecture, based on my 2015 book, is about the history of the culture wars, that dramatic struggle which pitted liberal, progressive, and secular Americans against their conservative, traditional, and religious counterparts, and that captured the attention of the nation during the 1980s and 1990s. The history of the culture wars, often misremembered as merely one angry shouting match after another, offers insight into the genuine transformation to American political culture that happened during the tumultuous decade known as the “sixties.” Prior to the sixties, a cluster of powerful conservative norms set the parameters of American culture, particularly in terms of racial and gender identities. But the sixties gave birth to a new America, a nation more open to new peoples, new ideas, new norms, new identities, and new, if conflicting, articulations of America itself. In this way, the sixties ushered in the culture wars.
To read and think about Karl Marx is to grapple with the modern world that capitalism has made. This includes modern America—especially modern America. Because the United States is the nation in world history most committed to capitalism, and because Marx is the world’s most enduring theorist of capitalism, Marx is a veritable American alter ego. Karl Marx in America will investigate the meaning of Americans reading and thinking about Marx from 1861, when Marx made waves across the Atlantic with his astute analysis of the U.S. Civil War, to the present, when Marx is on many American horizons yet again. Why Marx? That question continues to provoke. Isn’t Marx anathema? On the surface, perhaps. But as this book will show, Marx is a ghost in the American machine. The aim of this book is to demonstrate the ways in which Marx has long been embedded in American thought and life. If there is capitalism, there will be Marx.
Whether the culture wars in higher education during the 1980s and 1990s had political consequences is debatable. But that they had enduring historical significance is inarguable. Shouting matches about academia reverberated beyond the ivory tower to lay bare a crisis of national faith, demonstrating that the culture wars did not boil down to any one specific issue or even a set of issues. Rather, the culture wars often hinged on a more epistemological question about national identity: How should Americans think?
The curriculum of the public schools served as one of the primary fronts in the culture wars, those shouting matches over values that dominated headlines in the decades following the polarizing 1960s. Placed in the long historical context of American educational politics, Andrew Hartman will examine recent curriculum wars from three distinct angles: the lens of Christian conservatives who resisted secular curriculum reform at the grassroots; the perspective of neoconservatives who sought to overturn educational trends by taking hold of the commanding heights of the state; and the position of professional educators who believed their liberal curricular innovations represented objective knowledge. What emerges from this three-pronged approach is a vexing yet clear picture of why the knowledge taught to young Americans has long been such a hot button political issue, and why it is only getting hotter with continued controversies about theTexas state history curriculum and the United States Advanced Placement exam. The curriculum is a crucible for American modernity.
In the late twentieth-century United States, Americans took an extraordinary interest in the nation’s past. But they fervently disagreed about how it should be represented. In short, history wars gripped the nation. Growing numbers of Americans took to heart George Orwell’s truism that “who controls the past controls the future.” For conservatives, history would redeem the nation from all that had gone wrong since the sixties. For those on the left, history was no less important. The left-wing interpretation of American history, like the right-wing version, often acted as a form of redemption. The greater attention paid to the history of blacks, Native Americans, Chicanos, immigrants, women, and workers was, in part, a means of redeeming the humanity of people previously swept away by traditional historical narratives that accentuated the role of powerful white men. But left-leaning Americans also understood the purpose of history as a tool for social transformation. This division in how Americans saw the American past played out in a number of high profile cases, including controversies over the National History Standards and the Smithsonian's attempts to display the Enola Gay.