Which Historians Have Influenced You the Most?

Okay, it’s not quite ten, but I tried.

I’ve been reflecting the past few weeks on the historians who’ve influenced my work or historical viewpoint the most. Some of the historians were obvious, but I was also surprised at who else came to mind after some thought. There is a distinct bias toward political historians.

In no particular order, my list*:

Robert V. Remini

Remini is the most obvious influence because of his focus on the Jacksonian period. He’s been criticized as being too sympathetic to Jackson, which I think is true on some issues. Nevertheless, his three-volume biography, which I’ve read multiple times, remains the standard by which all Jackson biographies are measured.

C. Vann Woodward

Woodward’s The Burden of Southern History was the first scholarly history book I read as an undergraduate. It helped me understand my identity as a southerner and prompted my interest in the history of the region, which hasn’t abated.

Bertram Wyatt-Brown

His work on southern honor was significant in shaping my understanding of antebellum southern society and the relationships between men of the era.

Richard Hofstadter

Hofstadter’s essay on the paranoid style was instrumental in encouraging me to explore conspiracy thinking in American history, and his influence on Jacksonian political history is unmistakable.

Edward Pessen

Pessen’s work inspired the title of this blog and provided a good balance to Remini’s more optimistic portrayal of the Jacksonian era.

Walter Johnson

Johnson’s Soul By Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market was a book that stayed with me long after I finished it. It helped me grasp the reality of everyday antebellum slavery in ways that no other book has.

Bernard Bailyn

His The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution influenced my thinking about the role of conspiracy thinking in early American politics and led me to explore the works on classical republicanism by J.G.A. Pocock, Lance Banning, Robert Shalhope, Joyce Appleby, Drew McCoy, and others.

For better or worse, that’s the list. What’s yours?

* For the purposes of this list, I am leaving off professors who taught me. Their influence is unmistakable, and they automatically belong on my list.

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2 Replies to “Which Historians Have Influenced You the Most?”

  1. Hi Mark,
    It’s a great list and I can certainly add a few. I am studiously avoiding trying to be comprehensive. Since I study nullification and Cherokee Removal, you can see how my interests spin.

    First, I admire Daniel Walker Howe’s synthesis of the Jacksonian period (I mean communications revolution era!) in his work, What God Hath Wrought. Howe, of course, prefers not to call this era “Jacksonian” because he believes it was so much more than one person’s controversies. Because he de-centers Jackson from the era, Howe’s comprehensive analysis is a nice complement to other period works.

    The influence of Jeanne Boydston is important to me as well, because she helps us see the “invisible” contribution of female gendered “free/cheap” labor in capitalist industry.

    Theda Perdue, in addition to her own Cherokee studies, well articulated the influence of Native Americans on Southern history in early nineteenth century America, in her presidential address to SHA in Baltimore, Maryland, October 28, 2011, “The Legacy of Indian Removal.”

    And finally (see? as promised—not comprehensive—just a few favorites!)
    William B. Freehling’s work on nullification has been indispensible for me. While some disagree with his inextricable link of slavery with South Carolina’s nullification, I find his argument connecting the two convincing. Mostly, I appreciate Freehling’s insistence that historians spend considerable time reading the primary source materials in the archives. His detailed description of “must-see” archives at the end of Prelude to Civil War is a wonderful gift to future research.

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