The Cult of the “American Consensus”:
Homogenizing Our History
IN RETROSPECT, it is becoming apparent that the decade of the 1940′s marked a fundamental change of direction in the exploration of the American past. At the time nothing very unusual seemed to be happening in the minds of American historians, in spite of the clamor in the world around them. The usual outpouring of conventional monographs continued. Our endless fascination with the pageant of the Civil War produced a new but not a very different crop of narratives. There was, to be sure, a rising volume of criticism of the giants who had dominated American historical scholarship in the period between the wars: Frederick Jackson Turner, Charles A. Beard, and Vernon L. Parrington. But the image they had fixed on the screen of the American past had only begun to dissolve. As late as 1950, when Henry Steele Commager’s The American Mind carried our intellectual history down to date in the spirit of Parrington, the result sounded only a trifle old-fashioned.
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