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What’s in the December Issue of The Journal of American History?

The cover of the December issue of The Journal of American History.

The December 2018 issue of The Journal of American History is now available online for subscribers.

Included are articles by Robert H. Churchill, Jamie L. Pietruska, Joseph Fronczak, and Cynthia B. Meyers. “Everyone Their Own Historian,” the 2018 OAH Presidential Address by Edward L. Ayers, can be found in this issue. We are also excited to feature public history reviews, book reviews, movie reviews, and digital history reviews. The digital history projects reviewed in this issue are Mapping the Fourth of JulyMapping Historical Dialogue; and Documenting the Now.

Preview of Articles

Students always like Carl Becker’s “Everyman His Own Historian” (1931).  They are pleased by the notion that everyone practices history all the time, whether they recognize it as such or not, and they are amused by his mild sarcasm. When I found myself confronting the creation of a presidential address of my own, I turned to this classic for inspiration. Since Becker’s time, of course, electronic media and public history have proliferated. Today, we are exposed to more history in more forms than ever before. I want students to recognize the ubiquity of historical representation, to think about what proliferation means, and to consider new ways to think about the past. This essay was originally presented by Edward L. Ayers as his presidential address to the 2018 Organization of American Historians annual meeting.

On dozens of occasions during the antebellum era, slaveholders and slave catchers pursuing fugitives from enslavement into the North were confronted by residents of Northern communities and found their right to recapture fugitives on Northern soil challenged, and often violently resisted. This article uses evidence from over 150 fugitive rescues to uncover a geography of violence, a landscape of distinct regional cultures of violence whose norms governed these encounters and shaped the operations of the Underground Railroad. Robert H. Churchill discusses the “violence of mastery,” an outgrowth of Southern norms of racial subordination and the South’s culture of honor, and examines the distinct reception the violence of mastery received in three regions of the North: the borderland, the “contested region,” and the “free soil” region. The collisions between these regional cultures of violence transformed Northern attitudes toward proslavery violence, triggered the collapse of the Fugitive Slave Act, and contributed to the coming of the Civil War.

Jamie L. Pietruska examines the attempted government regulation of weather-related advertising as a window onto the commercialization of scientific knowledge and the constitution of federal and scientific authority in daily economic life from the Gilded Age to the New Era. She traces a shift from the U.S. Weather Bureau’s efforts to enforce a little-known 1894 law against the unauthorized commercial use of government weather signals to the agency’s gradual acceptance of the practice as part of twentieth-century consumer culture. Counterfeit weather forecasts initially exploited but ultimately helped clarify the relationship between fraud and advertising in a modern consumer economy.

Joseph Fronczak offers a transnational reinterpretation of the origins of the U.S. modern Right. Whereas historical works on U.S. conservatism generally present the modern Right as a post–World War II, homegrown project, Fronczak points to the Great Depression years and, by engaging with recent trends in fascist studies, contextualizes the making of the U.S. modern Right within the broader formation of the interwar global Right. During the age of fascism, political actors on the right in the United States looked abroad for solutions, drawing on a transnational exchange of political ideas, concerns, and practices.

Anticommunist blacklisting in 1950s entertainment might seem a well-studied subject. However, most of our knowledge of the practice is derived from ex post facto recollections or self-serving voluntary disclosures. This case study by Cynthia B. Meyers, based on hitherto unknown archival documents, vividly represents the actions and reactions of executives of a television sponsor and those of its advertising agency as they faced an ongoing crisis about which they were profoundly ambivalent. We see the shifting motivations, doubts, and rationalizations that shaped the compilation and revision of an actual blacklist. The resulting story not only provides a new perspective on 1950s anticommunism but also illuminates the moral, political, and economic consequences we all face in an era of political polarization.

Looking for older issues of The Journal of American History? See previews of past issues and articles. Looking for other great publications? Explore The American Historian.

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