Political History

Political History


From the beginning of recorded history, one aspect of the political world that has become clear over the years is that it is never static for a long period of time. Nations may last for centuries or more, but an examination of nearly any state’s political history will demonstrate that change is the only constant. Even in the brief time since the establishment of the United States, the political world has seen remarkable changes. The twentieth century alone has seen great change with the decline of colonialism and the rise and fall of Communism. The United States itself, though it has maintained the same basic system of government over its brief history, undergoes a change in political atmosphere with nearly every national election.


No book or essay attempts to cover the historiography of American politics, but one major dichotomy is addressed in Bernard Sternsher, Consensus, Conflict, and American Historians (Bloomington, Ind., 1975). For an overview of the discipline, see John Higham, History: Professional Scholarship in America (Baltimore, Md., 1983). William T. Hutchinson, The Marcus W. Jernegan Essays in American Historiography (Chicago, 1937), provides biographical perspective on early researchers, as does Harvey Wish, The American Historians Social-lntellectual History of the Writing of the American Past (New York, 1960). The dominant figures of the early twentieth century are brilliantly analyzed in Richard Hofstadter, The Progressive Histonans: Turner, Beard, Parrington (New York, 1968). On the Turner school see also Richard J. Jensen, “On Modernizing Frederick Jackson Turner,” in Western Historical Quarterly, 11 (1980).

The leading historians at mid-century are covered in Marcus Cunliffe and Robin W. Winks, eds., Pastmasters: Some Essays on American Historians (New York, 1969). On the development of political science, see Donald M. Freeman, ed., Foundation of Political Science: Research, Methods, and Scope (New York, 1977); Martin Landau, “The Myth of Hyperfactualism in the Study of American Politics,” in Political Science Quarterly, 83 (1968); Heinz Eulau, The Behavioral Persuasion in Politics (New York, 1963); and especially Albert Somit and Joseph Tanenhaus, The Development of American Political Science: From Burgess to Behavioralism (Boston, 1967). Current theories are outlined and critiqued in Ronald H. Chilcote, Theories of Comparative Politics: The Search or a Paradigm (Boulder, Colo., 1981). For broad overviews of how historians since 1950 have treated the main political issues, see John Higham, ea., The Reconstruction of American History (New York, 1962); William H. Cartwright and Richard L. Watson, eds., The Reinterpretation of American History and Culture (Washington, 1973); Frank Otto Gatell and Allen Weinstein, eds., American Themes. Essays in Historiography (New York, 1968); and Stanley I. Kutler and Stanley N. Katz, eds., The Promise of American History: Progress and Prospects (Baltimore, Md., 1983). The historiography of state politics has its own traditions, brilliantly explained in John Alexander Williams, “A New Look at an Old Field,” in Western Historical Quarterly, 9 (1978).

On southern and western politics, see Arthur S. Link and Rembert W. Patrick, eds., Writing Southern History: Essays in Historiography (Baton Rouge, La., 1965); and Michael P. Malone, ed., Historians and the American West (Lincoln, Nebr., 1983). Unfortunately, there are no adequate surveys of the Midwest or Northeast. The creation of the party systems in the 1830s has continually fascinated historians, whose interpretations have changed dramatically every twenty or thirty years. See Alfred A. Cave, Jacksonian Democracy and the Historians (Gainesville, F 1964); Ronald P. Formisano, “Toward a Reorientation of Jacksonian Politics: A Review of the Literature, 1959-1975,” in Journal of American History, 63 (1976); and Edward Pessen, Jacksonian America: Society, Personality, and Politics, rev. ed. (Homewood, III., 1978). On the following era, see Robert P. Swierenga, ea., Beyond the Civil War Synthesis.

Political Essays of the Civil War Era (Westport, Conn., 1975). Major new interpretations soon engender critical review essays, such as Allan J. Lichtman, “The End of Realignment Theory?” in Historical Methods, 15 (1982); Richard L. McCormick, “Ethno-Cultural Interpretations of NineteenthCentury American Voting Behavior,” in Political Science Quarterly, 89 (1974); and Robert Shalhope, “Republicanism and Early American Historiography,” in William and Mary Quarterly, 39 (1982). Allan G. Bogue has written several introductions to the “new political history,” including “The New Political History in the 1970s,” in Michael G. Kammen, ed., The Past Before Us: Contemporary Historical Writing in the United States (Ithaca, 1980), 231-251; see also Philip R. Vander Meer, “The New Political History: Progress and Prospects,” in Computers and the Humanities, 11 (1977). For the flavor of the approach, see the early essays collected in Joel H. Silbey and Samuel T. McSeveney, eds., Voters, Parties, and Elections: Quantitative Essays in the History of American Popular Voting Behavior (Lexington, Mass., 1972). For interdisciplinary perspectives generally, see Richard E. Beringer, Historical Analysis: Contemporary Approaches to Clio’s Craft (New York, 1978).

The intersection of political science and historiography can be explored in Richard J. Jensen, “American Election Analysis: A Case History of Methodological Innovation and Diffusion,” in S. M. Lipset, ed., Politics and the Social Sciences (New York, 1969), 226-243; and in Lee Benson et al, eds., American Political Behavior: Historical Essays and Readings (New York, 1974). One narrow but important research theme has been examined by Joel H. Silbey, Congressional and State Legislative Roll-Call Studies by U.S. Historians,” in Legislative Studies Quarterly, 6 (1981); and his “‘Delegates Fresh from the People’: American Congressional and Legislative Behavior,” in Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 13 (1983). On a closely related approach, see Howard Allen and Jerome M. Clubb, “Collective Biography and the Progressives,” in Social Science History, I (1977). The sources and techniques of studying aggregate election re returns are explained in Jerome M. Clubb, William H. Flanigan, and Nancy H. Zingale, eds., Analyzing Electoral History: A Guide to the Study of American Voter Behavior (Beverly Hills, Calif, 1981). Newtonian perspectives tend to baffle intellectual and Baconian historians, especially when the quantitative method ology advances too far for them. Clear thinking and logical simplicity can be difficult to follow without suitable training. See Melvyn Hammarberg, “An Analysis of American Electoral Data,” in Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 13 (1983); and J. Morgan Kousser, “Restoring Politics to Political History,” in Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 12 (1982). (1)



1. Richard J. Jensen, “Historiography of American Political History,” in Encyclopedia of American Political History, edited by Jack P. Greene (New York: Scribner’s, 1984), 1-25






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