Heterosexual White Male: Some Recent Inversions in American Cultural History Daniel Wickberg
Twenty-five years ago, if one had told the practitioners of the newly arrived African 1 American history that in the future cutting-edge progressive, or Left-oriented, scholarship would focus on the history of something called "whiteness," one would have met, I think, bemusement or disbelief. In works such as Lawrence Levine's Black Culture and Black Consciousness, Herbert G. Gutman's The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750–1925, and John W. Blassingame's The Slave Community, the attempt to recover the experience and agency of black actors in American history was central. The works arose out of the general orientation of the so-called new social history and the specific orientation of the civil rights movement. One of their criticisms of the dominant consensus history of the 1950s was that it adopted the point of view of whites, that blacks came into the story only as objects of white attention, rather than as historical actors and agents in their own right. The new black studies programs of the 1970s installed black experience, agency, and resistance—rather than white power and racism—at the center of historical study. When the popular humorist Martin Mull released his television "mockumentary" and the accompanying book, The History of White People in America, in 1985, modeled on a post-civil rights black history of accomplishments and contributions, the joke was that American history had previously always been written as the history of white people. To reconfigure whites on the model of a previously excluded ethnic or racial group was to point out exactly how white American history had always been. The absence of a visible white culture in American history led Mull to elevate bland and banal social practices such as lawn care, golf, and eating mayonnaise into a would-be white cultural tradition, only to mock it. His Institute for White Studies was a parody of academic culture that was only slightly prescient.1 The new history of whiteness that has developed over the last decade, however, is 2 anything but a joke. The history of whiteness, which first appeared in popular culture as farce, was destined to reappear in scholarship as tragedy. The story the historians have told depicts the way whiteness has functioned as an obstacle to the fulfillment of egalitarian and democratic ideals. Despite some recent assessments of the proliferation of whiteness studies, no one has quite figured out how we got from Black Culture and Black Consciousness to The Wages of Whiteness. Suffice it to say that the practitioners of social history in the 1970s would never have anticipated such a future for themselves and their scholarship. Just when they thought they had moved whites out of the center of history, here they are, back in a new and different form: the return of the repressed.2 The pattern of subaltern challenge to the center leading to a return of the center as 3
an object of scholarship is found not just in the study of race and racial identity but also in the broader historiography of the last three decades. The practitioners of women's history and the new women's studies programs of the 1970s, which arose from the second-wave feminism of the 1960s and 1970s just as African American history arose from the civil rights movement, would never have anticipated the current vogue of the history of masculinity that arose contemporaneously with the study of the history of whiteness. The history of homosexuality had a similar trajectory: it arose from the gay liberation movement and was initially dedicated to recovering a gay past of experience, agency, and resistance that appeared absent in the dominant written histories. It has opened up a newer interest in the history of heterosexuality that, while less prominent than the current histories of whiteness and masculinity, expresses the same historical pattern of inversion. If we think of it generically, the pattern looks something like this: An oppressed group, motivated by a broader social and political movement, seeks to uncover a hidden past, to recuperate an agency that has been rendered absent by the existing historiography, and to see itself as having a history of its own making. The impetus for that act of historical recuperation is the desire to declare an identity rooted in history, what used to be called "a usable past." The first generation of post-1960s historians tried to make claims for many oppressed groups, as if rephrasing a 1990s gay rights slogan: "We were there, we were queer, get used to it." All written history, from the point of view of the excluded groups, had been heterosexual or white or male in that it had consciously and unconsciously embodied the values, norms, and identities of those who had power in society. Instead of taking heterosexual, white, and male identities as its objects of analysis, the historical establishment had installed the viewpoints of those identified groups as the neutral, hence invisible, perspective of all American history. Or so said the subaltern challengers to that establishment.3 Twenty-five years later the agenda within each of those subfields has turned. 4 Women's history gave way to gender history, which birthed, not men's history, but the history of masculinity. African American history gave way to the history of race and racial identity, which led to the history of whiteness. A new gay history gave way to the history of sexuality, and from there to the history of heterosexuality. The fields of women's history, African American history, and gay history have not disappeared. Instead they have become establishment, rather than oppositional, fields, arenas in which "normal history" is practiced. The social historians of the 1970s are now the academic establishment against which the newer theory-influenced cultural historians have defined themselves in their attempts to challenge the existing paradigms.4 One of the questions that the newer histories raise is whether there might be a real 5 and important difference between white history and the history of whiteness, male history and the history of masculinity, heterosexual history and the history of heterosexuality. Their advocates clearly say yes. They reject the old consensus history of the 1950s with the same vigor as the social history establishment does. In fact, they see themselves, if anything, as more radical than the early social historians because they are more critical of the status quo and its historical foundations. Their detractors have not been so vocal but may well sense that the return to the center is a return to the marginalization of the groups that had been excluded from the American historical narrative. The suspicion that the history of masculinity, for instance, is not so much an
extension of feminist perspectives as a reaction against them, a way for men to talk about themselves again on an intellectual terrain that had been politically inhospitable to such talk, is unavoidable. One need only read Michael Kimmel's declaration of purpose in Manhood in America to see the awkward fit between the explicit feminist orientation of such studies and the desire to find a way to stop talking so much about women and to talk about men once again. Why, of all people, one hears whispered in the hallways, do white people now need a history when it has been their history all along? Isn't this just a way of once again making nonwhites the objects and victims, rather than the agents, of history? And why is it, if queer theory has cut the legs out from under the notion of a binary sexual opposition between homosexual and heterosexual and created a spectrum of sexual diversity, that the focus on heterosexuality as the dominant cultural norm seems to put straight back at the center and queer back on the margins? Shouldn't history no longer have a center? And behind all those questions lies the question of the political engagement of academics. Isn't this new orientation another way of severing leftist academics from their activist commitments and identification with oppressed groups? Those questions and concerns are not without foundation, but as I will demonstrate, the newer histories are less the outcome of a political reaction against the progressive orientation of social history dressed up in critical theory, as some critics might suspect, and more the outcome of the logic of the critical spirit of sociocultural history itself. The new histories of identity categories such as whiteness, masculinity, and heterosexuality were responses to the criticisms that a maturing social history directed at itself in the 1980s and 1990s. They represent, not a retreat from the views that animated the new social history, but a rearticulation and redevelopment of those views on a different level. In other words, there is a difference between male history and the history of masculinity, between the history of men as unmarked persons and the history of men as men.5 No one who has been paying attention to trends and directions in historiography 6 could miss the development and characteristics of the histories of whiteness, masculinity, and heterosexuality. But what is striking is the lack of any systematic attempt to interpret those inversions as part of a general transformation in historical practice. The fragmented field of academic specializations has meant that the historians of whiteness, for instance, have not paid much attention to the new historians of masculinity. Occasionally someone asks, as Dana Frank has, why all the white people in the works of David R. Roediger, Noel Ignatiev, Alexander Saxton, and Theodore W. Allen are men, but the historians of whiteness have paid no systematic attention to what we might call the gender of whitenessâ€”although plenty of attention has been paid to its class basis. Similarly, while works have been published on the history of black masculinity or white homosexuality, which link a category of privilege to an oppressed group, those works tend to fall primarily into the historiography of sexuality, race, or gender. There is in all contemporary sociocultural history and cultural studies much hand-wringing about the need to recognize the complex intersections of race, class, and gender, to avoid simple binary relations, to recognize the exclusions involved in any general category such as "women," to realize that normative masculinity, for instance, is heterosexual and white. The actual study of masculinity, whiteness, or heterosexuality, however, proceeds by reference to the specialized discourse of which it is a part, rather than by the recognition of a common
project. But academic specialization tells only part of the story.6 Despite the attention to language and to the power of culture to define reality, each of the subfields is rooted in the primacy of social categories and social experience. The writing of the history of race and racial ideologies, for instance, has generally been seen as a response to the changing place of race in contemporary American society. In that view, as social experience changes, historians respond by asking new questions and conceptualizing history in different ways.7 Changing race relations lead to changes in the history of race; changing gender relations lead to changes in the history of gender; changing sexual relations lead to changes in the history of sexuality. It is something of a historiographical clichĂŠ that historians respond to changing social conditions by asking new questions about the past. While it is widely recognized that the linguistic and cultural turns, the influence of poststructuralist theory, and the greater interdisciplinarity within the humanities and social sciences all have something to do with the new orientations, historians tend to think of those intellectual influences as forces acting on already existing fields, rather than as forces redefining the very objects of historical inquiry. The reason that changes in the three subfields have not been linked to one another, then, is that they are considered responses to the objects of study themselves. The study of whiteness, from that point of view, is a way of thinking about race and its history and owes its genesis and development to thinking about race and not, say, to queer theory, which is about sexual identities and not race. And yet, if one examines the intellectual trajectories and rhetorical shifts in each of those fields from the 1970s to the present, one sees that they follow nearly identical patterns. One might say that the historians working in the fields are in the grip of a larger intellectual and cultural shift, of which their recent inversions are symptoms. That shift might be described in a number of ways: from immediate experience to mediated forms of representation; from agency to discourse; from social history to cultural history; from recuperation to critique; from modernism to postmodernism; or, more broadly, from freedom to necessity. Where the social historians of the 1970s sought to recuperate the social experience of peoples in the past, the cultural historians of the last fifteen years have sought to unmask the constructed categories found in language in the past. The shift is both logical and momentous. If we were to abstract the intellectual shift described here from the specific content of race, gender, or sexuality, we could tell a generic story that would be largely the same regardless of subject matter. That story would go something like this: Historians in the 1970s sought to find evidence in the past of a history for a group that had not been included in the dominant narrative of American history. Their task, in part, was to make visible what had been invisible, to right an exclusion by including a group. The desire to find a common transhistorical identity for the social group foundered on four separate but related critiques, beginning in the late 1970s and reaching full force by the mid-1980s: the pluralist, antiessentialist, social-constructionist, and social-holist critiques. I will explain the critiques more fully below, but here let me stress the historical result of those intellectual challenges. Social and personal identity was destabilized by being unmoored from any unitary, fixed, natural basis. If identity was not fixed and essential, went the argument, it must be historically variable, socially constructed, and
relational. To understand the history of a particular group X, it was claimed, it was necessary to see how it had been defined in relation to its binary opposite Y, instead of studying it in isolation. The meaning of black identity, for instance, could not be understood apart from the ways black was not white, since black was not a fixed, unitary entity, but part of a culturally defined opposition or relation. At the same time, renewed interest in the nonreferential quality of language and the capacity of discourse to define identities, rather than to mirror them—sometimes referred to as "the linguistic turn"—challenged the empiricist faith in access to unmediated experience and identity.8 By the mid-1980s, each of the fields was being redefined by a concern with socially constructed, discursively constituted, relational identities: instead of the history of women, gender history; instead of African American history, a new focus on the social construction of race and racial ideologies; instead of the history of gays, the history of sexuality. By focusing on relational categories, the new fields opened up the possibility of looking at the other pole of the binary relation, but in a new, critical light that took into account issues of power and hierarchy. If "woman" was socially constructed, so was "man." The normative side of the binary relation was reconceived as invisible because it was taken for granted or simply assumed. The task of the new historian was once again to make visible what had been invisible, but with a fundamentally different orientation. The rhetoric of unmasking or revealing what ideology had obscured was continuous from the 1970s, but the new agenda was to reveal the hidden power and particularity of what presented itself as timeless, universal, and transparent, rather than to recover what had been excluded. To put this another way: in the 1970s, women were figured as invisible to history because absent from it; in the 1990s, masculinity was figured as invisible to history because of its too great presence or ubiquity. And so for whiteness and heterosexuality as well. That shift in historical studies was part of a larger intellectual shift in the 11 humanities and social sciences. In philosophy the shift took the form of a revival of pragmatism and the rise of epistemological antifoundationalism and varieties of historical and cultural relativism in the works of Richard Rorty, Charles Taylor, Ian Hacking, and others. In anthropology the shift manifested itself in a turn toward interpretive anthropology in the widely influential work of Clifford Geertz and toward a critical and destabilized anthropology in the works of James Clifford and others. In the humanities the shift introduced a concern with issues of the representation of identity categories in literary and film studies under the influence of deconstruction, new historicism, and the bodies of critical race theory, gender theory, and queer theory that developed out of those ways of thinking. In law the shift resulted in the rise of critical legal studies and a renewed interest in legal realism. The rise of the new interdisciplinary field of cultural studies—which draws on social theory as much as on the methods of textual analysis—was an important part of the shift, bringing together practitioners in departments of sociology, English, history, film studies, communications, and American studies.9 The history of whiteness owes its genesis to interdisciplinary whiteness studies; the history of masculinity to interdisciplinary masculinity studies; the history of heterosexuality to interdisciplinary queer theory and sexuality studies. In other words, the shift described here did not take place in isolation from the broader intellectual currents that reshaped the humanities and social sciences in the past decades but was part and parcel of them. The critical, anti-foundational,
social-constructionist outlook characteristic of social thought during the past decades —and much of the twentieth century—is the backdrop for the specific changes examined in this article. But the form those inversions took in American historiography was somewhat 12 different from that in related disciplines, for two reasons. First, American historians have a very strong empiricist tradition of realism, common sense, concern with documentation, and suspicion of theory. The assimilation of poststructuralism, critical theory, and cultural studies in the discipline of history was driven by concerns that arose from empiricism itself, rather than by the allure of theory and textual analysis. Many historians remain uncomfortable with what they perceive to be the more freewheeling and theory-driven forms of race, gender, and queer studies prevalent in interdisciplinary journals, precisely because such studies appear unmoored from the concrete and specific content of historical research. Second, some of the disciplines that have pioneered in cultural studies take as their objects of study forms of cultural and aesthetic representation: novels, poems, paintings, movies. Literary studies, art history, and film studies, for instance, have always been more concerned with language and representation than with experience and agency. In those fields the inversions described in this article have not involved a movement from experience to discourse to the same degree as they have in historical studies because those fields were not primarily concerned with experience to begin with. Keeping in mind the larger intellectual transformation in the humanities and social sciences, then, it makes sense to focus on how the field of American history was pushed from social to cultural history by its internal dynamics. We can see the historical pattern of inversion over the past thirty years in each of 13 the subfields considered here. As historians of women's experience took the measure of the critiques of the new social history, they made a marked turn to gender history in the 1980s that reached fruition in the writings of Mary Beth Norton, Kathleen M. Brown, Glenda Gilmore, Laura F. Edwards, and Rebecca Edwards, among others, in the 1990s. Many of the works that invoked gender, however, still tended to use the concept primarily to illuminate the socially constructed roles of women, rather than focusing equally on masculinity and its cultural meanings. The overwhelming majority of titles in the influential series Gender and American Culture, published by University of North Carolina Press beginning in the mid-1980s, for instance, are concerned with women's history. The recognition of the implications for men of the feminist conception of gender occurred earlier than the equivalent recognition for historians of race and sexuality. Peter Gabriel Filene was already pushing toward a history of masculinity and manhood in the mid-1970s. That push, supported by a burgeoning men's movement and inter-disciplinary cultural studies of masculinity, reached its apex in the first half of the 1990s in the writings of E. Anthony Rotundo, Michael Kimmel, Ted Ownby, Mark C. Carnes, and others. The mainstream journalistic version of the shift can also be seen in Susan Faludi's turn from an analysis of gender ideology as it was directed at women's roles to an analysis of American manhood in the post–World War II era. The influence of poststructuralist theory—in particular, Judith Butler's dismantling of the sex versus gender opposition as itself a naturalizing of gender relations—pushed the historiography away from a residual commitment to reconstructing the lived experiences of men and toward an analysis of
the discourses of masculinity and the cultural meanings of the male body. Many of the historical studies of manhood maintain an unresolved tension between the search for a usable past for the men of the present, rooted in a common male identity, and a historical unmasking of the ideological contingency of any claim to a universal male identity.10 In the history of sexuality, the 1970s and 1980s laid the foundation for a gay 14 history that produced the best-known works in the field into the 1990s, although the foundations of much of that work lay outside the academy. Both broad general works and the close community studies of Jonathan Ned Katz, John D'Emilio, Martin B. Duberman, Allan Bérubé, Lillian Faderman, and Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline D. Davis created a corpus of substantial work documenting the existence of gay men and women and their communities in the past, particularly in the era prior to the Stonewall riot of 1969. That body of recuperative gay history and its orientation continues to the present. Because so much of early gay history was influenced by the politics of gay liberation and its rejection of the homosexual versus heterosexual distinction as oppressive, it already combined a focus on historical recuperation of a gay past with a notion of contingent historical identity; homosexuality was something made, not found. By the mid-1980s, the influence of Michel Foucault and the notion of constructed sexual identity was evident in the works of most of the historians working in the field; the notion of a "history of sexuality," rather than a more narrowly conceived homosexual history, had become dominant.11 By the mid-1990s, historians had moved toward historicizing heterosexuality as an 15 identity category in works by Katz, Randolph Trumbach, Mary Louise Adams, and Karen Dubinsky. The entire process can be seen in what is probably the single most important work in the field: George Chauncey's Gay New York. It is clear that Gay New York was originally conceived as a work of documentary social history. The meticulous archival research, the far-reaching oral history interviews, and the creative use of court records and other documents all aim to bring to the visible surface a subterranean world of gay life in the first half of the twentieth century. A strong streak of the historical recuperation of a usable past runs through the work. But somewhere in the process of recuperation, its author turned toward a conception of contingent historical identity and away from the notion that gay identity was fixed and stable, that pre–World War II New York contained a world of gay men who simply faced different constraints and contexts than those found in the present. Instead, Chauncey found a world in which men who played the "masculine," or penetrative, role in sexual acts were not conceived of as homosexual, whereas the "feminine" role was designated not so much by same-sex attraction as by gender roles. Turning toward the cultural constructions of sexual identities in terms of gender, Chauncey found that sexual identities were much more variable than contemporary notions of sexual orientation allowed, that not only homosexuality but also heterosexuality was a historically variable identity category. Starting from the search for a male homosexual world in the past, Chauncey ended by historicizing the categories of both homosexual and heterosexual identity.12 The turn from African American history to the history of whiteness was slightly 16 more complex. American historians already had a strong tradition of looking at the history of race prior to the 1970s. In their writings of the mid-twentieth century,
scholars such as C. Vann Woodward and John Hope Franklin—and before them, W. E. B. Du Bois—had made racial conflict central to American history. In the 1960s intellectual historians such as Thomas F. Gossett, Winthrop Jordan, and George M. Fredrickson had examined racial beliefs and ideologies as a way of critically dismantling the white racism that had been prevalent in American society. In fact, the development of African American historiography was in part a reaction against the tendency of historians to consider blacks primarily as the objects of white racism and to look at race in terms of white prejudice against blacks, rather than black resistance or autonomy. Unlike gender history and the history of sexuality, which were entirely new fields of study, the history of race had an established pedigree. As a consequence, the critiques of social history were assimilated in a different manner. On the one hand, historians in the 1980s began to write about worlds of black and white social experience as linked, as part of a larger shared historical pattern that blacks and whites "made together." They attempted to retain the new focus on African American agency while moving beyond the idea of the history of race as a matter of white racism by regarding race relations as a black and white interaction. On the other hand, a new critical race theory, influencing legal studies, literary criticism, and the humanities, helped destabilize and denaturalize the very concept of race, resulting in works of the 1990s by such historians as Joanne Pope Melish, Matthew Pratt Guterl, and Gail Bederman that took a critical historical view of race. While many of the older historians of race had assumed that the concept of race had a fixed, independent referent and that what changed were social practices and attitudes toward race, critical race theory saw the very notion of racial classification as racist, in the same way that Judith Butler had seen the sex versus gender distinction as reproducing a sexist order. The idea that race was not a natural substance but a cultural construction, along with social historians' renewed attention to white-black interaction, led some historians to begin a critical evaluation of white racial identity in the early 1990s.13 Each of the three subfields of 1970s social history came under sustained criticisms 17 that pushed it toward the inversions discussed here. The four arguments—the pluralist, antiessentialist, social-constructionist, and social-holist critiques—were not the only ones addressed to historians in the ensuing decades, but they were the key ones that pushed cutting-edge historians away from the recuperation of experience to the critical history of identity categories, even as social history established itself as the dominant force in the field of American history. The pluralist critique, in its simplest form, argued that the variety of historical experience made any single basis for a unified historical identity impossible. The attempt to write the history of women, for instance, was beset by questions of unity and diversity. Those women who left the greatest documentary record of their activities were not representative or typical of the variety of historical experience. Just as middle-class feminism came under attack from nonwhite, lesbian, radical, and working-class feminists for its attempt to universalize its values and experiences as the basis for the claims of a common sisterhood, so the writing of a women's history with middle-class and elite protagonists seemed increasingly inadequate to an understanding of women's past. The women of Hull House and the social settlement movement, the guiding lights of women's educational institutions, the women abolitionists and early feminists, such as the sisters Angelina and Sarah Grimké, the educated, affluent letter writers found in the early works of
Nancy F. Cott and Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, and the promoters of nineteenth-century domesticity, such as Catharine Beecherâ€”all expanded the framework of American history. But they could hardly be called typical or representative of the diversity of American women's lives. Where were the slave women? The working-class girls of early industrialization? The late nineteenth-century new immigrant women? The women of farm families? The Catholic and Jewish women? More important, could a single history find a meaningful pattern in such diversity? 14 The subaltern groups that sought a new history in the 1970s were particularly susceptible to the pluralist critique because their own arguments for a new history were frequently based on just such a critique of existing historyâ€”that it hid the diversity of historical experience behind a false universalism, letting the lives of powerful white men stand for those of all the American people. The pluralist critique of a unified subaltern history was already implicit in the calls for African American, women's, and gay histories. The second critique, the antiessentialist argument, was explicitly political, 18 although it derived from a long tradition of historicist, pragmatist, and cultural relativist thought. If essentialism is the belief that identities, selves, and persons have an intrinsic and irreducible essence, or core, that makes them what they are, antiessentialism is the belief that identities are variable, contingent, dependent on experience, development, and change, that identities emerge out of relationships, rather than some core essence. In political terms, essentialism could be a way of denigrating or disparaging a particular social group by seeing its social characteristics as fixed and rooted in its core being. Alternatively, essentialism could provide the basis for an identity politics of solidarity by stressing the core essence shared by all members of a social group. The antiessentialist position became the basis for a critique of both the attempt to limit, or discriminate against, people on the basis of a presumed essential set of characteristics and the romantic politics of black nationalists and difference feminists. Like pluralistic thought, the antiessentialist position was probably more congruent with historians' sensibilities and orientations than the essentialist outlook. It favored empiricist foregrounding of experience over a preexperiential essence, change over fixed status, and cultural relativism over biological chauvinism. To the extent that early women's histories in the 1970s were rooted in a developing identity politics that was committed to essentialist notions of women's identity, women's culture, women's ways of knowing, maternalism, and the distinctively female ethic of care, for instance, those histories were subject to the generally historicist, empiricist outlook of historians skeptical of universalist essences.15 Identities, for most historians, are made rather than found, developed in society rather than rooted in some preexisting core. Closely related to the antiessentialist critique is the social-constructionist critique, 19 which has become prevalent throughout the humanities and social sciences in the last three decades. All antiessentialism, however, is not social constructionism. Just because some identities are conceived of as made rather than found does not mean that the agency must be sociological, or tied to institutional systems of knowledge, as social constructionists believe. Social constructionism takes antiessentialist positions but is not identical to antiessentialism. In gay history and the history of sexuality, in particular, the major debate has been between the so-called essentialists and the socalled constructionists. The former argue that there have always been homosexuals
and that what have varied historically have been the attitudes toward and treatment of homosexuality. The latter argue that while there has always been a variety of sexual behaviors, the idea of the homosexual as a specific identity is a modern social construction created in the nineteenth century. As Ian Hacking has pointed out, simply typing "social construction" into library search engines yields hundreds of titles on every conceivable phenomenon or category, from emotions to illnesses to social identities. Social-constructionist arguments are attempts to show how categories that are held to be natural or empirically derived or self-evident prior to society are constructed or constituted in society, for the various constituents who make up the social order—thus such categories tell us more about those who created them than about the objects they putatively denote.16 On the one hand, those arguments are addressed to the modern epistemological 20 tradition derived from René Descartes, in which knowledge is a product of the individual consciousness standing outside the distortions of socially generated lore and superstition. Social-constructionist arguments hold that all knowledge is constructed in society through its institutions and linguistic forms and is not individual but collective. On the other hand, social-constructionist arguments go far beyond epistemological critique, as is evidenced by the fact that historians who have little interest in epistemological controversies are frequently advocates of social constructionism. One of the main points of social-constructionist arguments is that identity 21 categories—such as race, gender, and sexuality—are not defined by biology but by society. The political arguments of social constructionism are addressed to the opposition of biology and society and hence are variants of the older nature versus nurture debate that occupied many thinkers throughout the twentieth century. 17 Instead of assuming that nature dictates social roles, thereby fixing those roles in an order outside and independent of political and social action, social constructionists argue that because the roles and identities are socially constructed, they are subject to critique and change. Biology is not destiny. Hence the 1970s feminist distinction between sex, the biological and anatomical differences between men and women, and gender, the socially constructed roles and identities of men and women. The former, presumably, are fixed in nature, and the latter are subject to change. Hence, too, the notion that race is a "fiction" of society rather than a natural or biological entity, as evidenced by biologists' refusal to recognize race as a biological reality because genetic variation between races is less than genetic variation within racial groups and by the arbitrariness of the social rules of descent defining racial membership—most notably the famous one-drop rule, used in American life and law to define black identity. The social-constructionist critique holds that categories are produced in society rather than in nature, that they are made rather than found. By demonstrating how such categories have been subject to change, historians who took up the socialconstructionist perspective did two things. First, they tapped into a tradition of writing history as social criticism, in which the demonstration of change in the past becomes the condition for change in the future. Second, they helped undermine the notion of a unitary, fixed set of identities in the past, thereby moving the historiography away from the history of the group itself to the history of the social category as it was produced in the past. The fourth critique of the social history of the 1970s was in a way the opposite of 22
the pluralist critique. It challenged social historians who had picked a particular social group as the object of their study to integrate the history of that group into a larger pattern of American history. Throughout the 1980s there was much concern about subdisciplinary fragmentation and a renewed call for synthesis in American history. Some complained that the histories of particular groups were not connected in any meaningful way to the larger whole. If social history had destroyed the plausibility of the old political narrative as the unifying backbone, it seemed to have been better at taking apart the old story than in putting together a new story. A more theoretical issue lay behind that sense of fragmentation: if the antiessentialist and social-constructionist perspectives were correct, then the study of women or gays or African Americans in isolation from the forms and structures of the larger society could never lead to an adequate understanding of those social groups themselves. That critique was based on a notion of sociological holism derived from the French sociologist Emile Durkheim and classic nineteenth-century social theory: the idea that society is not a collection of distinct parts, individuals, groups, or institutions, but that the parts owe their existence to the social whole. Society is to be understood as a complex pattern of relations rather than as a collection of discrete groups. The meaning of social experience is necessarily bound up with the larger structures on which it is dependent. The question of how to integrate the history of groups into an understanding of the social whole stimulated the historiographical movement from essence to relation.18 Closely related to that idea was the notion that power, dominance, and oppression 23 structured the relationships between social groups so that any attempt to understand groups in isolation left out the necessary dimension of power. Instead of looking at homosexuals in history as if they had a self-contained history of their own, it was necessary to see how homosexuality functioned as part of a system of sexual identities defined by power; instead of African American history, the history of race relations; instead of women's history, the history of gender. The part now had to be seen as a function of a relationship and as part of a whole. This critique was present in foundational works of the new social history in the 1960s and 1970s. Eugene D. Genovese's Roll, Jordan, Roll, published in 1974, for instance, scourged the historians of an autonomous African American identity for their failure to understand how black identity was historically dependent on white power. All those American labor histories influenced by E. P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class declared that class was not a substance but a relation, something made in history rather than a fixed essence defined by an abstract socioeconomic structure. But it was the chorus of criticism throughout the 1980s, including the appeal of the unifying concept of cultural hegemony, that pushed American historiography away from the discrete study of social groups and toward an integrated history of social relations.19 One of the central things that had changed in the newer histories was the 24 relationship between the historian and her object of study. What had once been a relationship defined by identification and sympathetic engagement became a relationship defined by alienation and critical distance. Nancy Cott's Bonds of Womanhood, for instance, wrote its author into the bonds it found in nineteenthcentury New England, bonds that were themselves forged in the letters women wrote to one another. Carroll Smith-Rosenberg's female world of love and ritual was one that not only met with its author's approval but was a world, though different from that of
the present, that the author longed to join. In depicting the emotions that tied people to one another, in claiming a history where there had been only an absence, the early advocates of women's history, African American history, and gay history were constructing a genealogy of the present, writing a proprietary history based on identification with people in the past. To evince a sympathetic bond, one did not have to seize the political identification with peoples of the past that led Vincent Harding to speak of "us," "our," and "we" throughout There Is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America. Any perusal of the works of that generation of giants who wrote African American history in the 1970s, such as Herbert Gutman, Leon Litwack, Lawrence Levine, and Eugene Genovese, would reveal a rhetoric of sympathy, respect, and admiration for the objects of their study. Although Genovese, for instance, rubbed the political sensibilities of many the wrong way by not seeing resistance to slavery at every turn, his declaration of sympathy is unequivocal: "Many years of studying the astonishing effort of black people to live decently as human beings even in slavery has convinced me that no theoretical advance suggested in their experience could ever deserve as much attention as that demanded by their demonstration of the beauty and power of the human spirit under conditions of extreme oppression." Similarly, Martin Duberman, Jonathan Katz, and John D'Emilio all very much identified with a history they were trying to construct, to write themselves into. The naming of a "women's culture" or an "African American culture" or a "gay culture" in the past was a way of identifying collective bonds that were themselves sympathetic. The goal was not simply to feel for the victims of oppression but often to reconstruct a "positive" representation as a response to the denigrations of racism, sexism, and homophobia. That rhetorical goal has not gone away, any more than the orientation of 1970s social history has disappeared. It remains a powerful feature that governs much of social history as it is practiced today. It continues to the present in the establishment works of social history such as Steven Hahn's recent book, A Nation under Our Feet, which won the Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes. The new cultural history of identity categories has not replaced social history except in the sense of defining the direction of innovative research.20 The move to relational categories of analysis, such as gender, race, and sexuality, 25 in the 1980s shifted the focus from the reconstruction of experience to the historical critique of ideology and identity. In works such as Barbara J. Fields's oft-cited 1982 essay, "Ideology and Race in American History"; Joan W. Scott's 1986 essay, "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis"; and Foucault's History of Sexuality, volume 1—its insights domesticated as American history in John D'Emilio and Estelle Freedman's Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America— discursive and socially constructed forms of identity were configured as ideological "all the way down." There was no natural, fixed basis for identity; all was contingency. And in stressing ideology, the thinkers and texts called attention to binary relations as inflected by power and hierarchical assumption. The critical view of power meant that the injunction against sympathetic identification with those who wielded it hardly needed to be stated. Not to mention that identification with an abstraction such as race or gender is not, on its face, as immediate as identification with concrete, specific people—even long-dead ones. The result was a move toward stepping outside the culturally and ideologically based conceptions of identity, a kind
of disengagement from what was viewed as the dominant ideology, a skeptical and critical attitude toward ideas that presented themselves as natural facts. To the extent that the transformation in attitude—an emphasis on critical distance rather than sympathetic identification—drew on an intellectual tradition, that tradition was the sociology of knowledge from its founder, Karl Mannheim, forward, with its attempt to demystify commonplace assumptions by revealing their social and ideological origins. The most influential American text in that tradition was Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann's The Social Construction of Reality. By the mid-1980s the form "social construction of X" became a clichéd opening gambit in a wide variety of disciplinary and interdisciplinary practices, including sociocultural history. Socially progressive and leftist sensibilities underlie social-constructionist arguments. The very desire to change those categories, identities, and relations construed as socially constructed indicates an estrangement from them on the part of the analyst. The idea seems to be to persuade others to cease their identification with those identities and categories—in other words, to break apart an unconscious sympathy. 21 In the 1990s, with the emergence of the histories of whiteness, masculinity, and 26 heterosexuality—each also feeding off a broader interdisciplinary body of study (whiteness studies, men's studies, queer theory, and cultural studies in general)—the critical distance of the analyst from the object of study frequently turned to antipathy. That was especially true of whiteness studies, where a group of activists surrounding the political journal Race Traitor sought what they called a new abolitionism—the end of whiteness. But it was also true of the historians of masculinity who, if they did not exactly want to abolish manhood, sought alternative models to those that had existed historically and of the historians of heterosexuality who turned the tables on decades of pathologizing homosexuality by insisting that heterosexuality had been, and continued to be, the pathological form. It was indeed an academic version of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy! All those perspectives utilize the view from the margin, from outside the center, to analyze and dissect the center. While individual works express varying degrees of estrangement and critique, none invoke an uncritical identification with the center; there is no celebration of white power, straight pride, or men's culture.22 These are not recuperative histories, seeking to find a basis for identity in the past, 27 but critical histories, seeking to liberate the present from the past. The historians of whiteness are perhaps the most vitriolic. While there are splits between the neoabolitionists and those who seek to reform whiteness, as well as between Marxists and culturalists, the strongest critique comes from the group around Race Traitor. The term "race traitor" has its origin in the white supremacy movement and is a way of disparaging those whites who seek to break down social barriers between blacks and whites—whether through friendship, marriage, or integrated social institutions. The critical historians of whiteness, such as Noel Ignatiev, the cofounder of Race Traitor, perform what has become the standard act of appropriation—the claiming of a term of disparagement as one of pride. But if "race traitor" is figured as a term like "queer," "nigger," "bitch," or "slut," the implication is that the traitor to whiteness is an oppressed and despised person, that the white supremacist in contemporary society is not a marginal figure, but somehow a central one. And if whiteness requires a "new abolitionism," the further implication is unavoidable: whiteness is a form of slavery.
The question one might ask is: Who is enslaved by it? Given that the Race Traitor slogan "Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity" pits Enlightenment universalism against the particularism of whiteness, we might be justified in reaching the conclusion that according to the new abolitionists we all are slaves of whiteness. The only acceptable category of identity seems to be humanity.23 The better question to ask might be what precisely historians have meant by the 28 term "whiteness." One of the most persistent features of the newer cultural histories, as opposed to the older social histories, is that their objects of study are not persons or social groups, but qualities and cultural categories. It is relatively easy to study white people, for instance, if one takes for granted their racial identities—there they are! But if the point is to question that identity and ask from whence it derives and where it goes, the fixed object of study dissipates—there are no white people, only people who have been designated white at some particular historical moment. Most historians, save perhaps intellectual historians, lack the training or habits of mind to trace a set of free-floating concepts through their permutations. Witness the difficulty historians of whiteness have in consistently maintaining their focus on the category at issue instead of substituting class power or privilege for whiteness. Karen Brodkin, for instance, finding evidence that Jews were oppressed or discriminated against in the early twentieth century, claims that as evidence that they were not yet white, when the transparent explanation is not a lack of whiteness but a prevailing culture of Protestant anti-Semitism—something historians have known for a long time without the benefit of the history of whiteness. Instead of keeping whiteness as the focus, every form of ethnic discrimination—against the Irish, the Italians, the Poles, the Jews, etc.—is refigured as a stage of prewhiteness. Those ethnic groups were not yet white, say the historians. Brodkin even quotes a critic of immigration who used the vocabulary of Nordic, Alpine, Mediterranean, and Semitic races—never mentioning the white race at all—as an ideologist of a whiteness from which Jews were excluded. To write the history of a quality (such as whiteness, masculinity, heterosexuality) is not the same as to write the history of an identity, although all of the recent formulations seem to have been associated with identity politics. The history of whiteness does not revolve solely around who has moved from an ethnic identity to a claim to be white but also around how people have been represented as white in cultural forms such as theater, literature, and film and how symbolic and conceptual meanings have become associated with the abstraction of whiteness—something Winthrop Jordan discussed long before whiteness studies existed. To assume that whiteness is first a quality of specific persons is to ground it in the very thing that is under investigation—how whiteness comes to be associated with specific persons. To assume that white identity is necessarily a form of privilege or supremacy, rather than one historical variable among others, is to reessentialize the category. Historians of whiteness, responding to the difficulties of writing the history of a quality and category, have sought to attach it to the kinds of things with which historians have traditionally been more comfortable. Historians of masculinity and heterosexuality have acted similarly. If there is any return of the repressed in the new histories, it is the return of what C. Wright Mills called the labor metaphysic of the Old Left—class, hard, objective, and definite.24 When Bryan D. Palmer in Descent into Discourse bemoaned the turn of leftist 29 historians to discourse analysis, to the histories of hegemonic cultural categories, to
deconstruction and the linguistic turn, he did so to raise the red flag. All those, he said, attractive as they may seem at first, should be rejected because they are a threat to historical materialism and the reality of class. Palmer's argument did not seek to defend historical materialism on intellectual grounds. Rather, it sought to warn the true believers away from the temptations of the fruit of discursive knowledge. His warning, it appears, was taken up by a new brand of labor historians. They would analyze racial ideologies, identities, discourses, and meanings in the context of objective economic conditions and their psychological consequences. Following the lead of Barbara Fields's "Ideology and Race in American History," they declared that race and class were different kinds of entities: race was nothing but ideologyâ€”it had no biological or objective content, it was only in people's minds. Class, in contrast, had an objective existence entirely separate from whether people believed in it or not. One was ideological; the other was real. The old Marxist distinction between base and superstructure was reintroduced, even as greater power and significance were given to the ideological power of race. In the writings of Alexander Saxton, Theodore Allen, Noel Ignatiev, and especially David Roediger, whiteness was grounded in the formation of the working class. Various appeals to complexity and antireductionism were introduced into the literature, but the argument that the shifting meaning of whiteness could be tied to the objective condition of wage labor was the mainstay of those works. Workers, said Roediger, following W. E. B. Du Bois's lead, received a "psychological wage" of superiority to black slaves as compensation for their loss of economic autonomy and their status reduction to wage laborers. To be white was the psychological payoff for a class condition.25 Although not Marxist in their orientations, the historians of masculinity similarly 30 accept the primacy of economic factors in defining the social construction of masculinity. Both Kimmel's Manhood in America and Rotundo's American Manhood situate changing ideas and meanings of masculinity in the context of economic life, frequently the context of middle-class forms of work. If the historians of whiteness look to the working class, the historians of masculinity are more inclined to look to the middle class. But for both class is the substratum on which to write a history of shifting definitions and meanings. The historians of heterosexuality tell something of a different story. Influenced 31 more by Foucault and queer theory than by either the Marxist tradition or the old American dualism between ideas and economic reality, they tend to look to power and discourse. But to the extent that they have imbibed the old historical realism of American historiography, they too tend to situate a discourse in an underlying material reality. D'Emilio and Freedman, for instance, made Foucault acceptable to the conventions of American historical writing by arguing "that sexuality has been continually reshaped by the changing nature of the economy, family, and politics." Sexual identities are variable and historically contingent but are to be understood as changing in sync with an underlying material objective reality. And Jonathan Ned Katz, one of the primary founders of both gay history in the 1970s and the history of heterosexuality in the 1990s, was ambivalent: When I started this research, I believed, like most of us, that heterosexual feelings, acts, and relationships exist completely apart from the word and concept.... I've ended up thinking that this, our usual, commonsense assumption, significantly distorts and simplifies the historical relationship of the word heterosexual and the concept, the feeling, activity, and system. I now believe that those
relationships are much more active and complicated.
Having moved to the radical social-constructionist position, Katz still affirmed the centrality of class to his analysis. For Katz, "The making of the middle class and the invention of heterosexuality went hand in hand."26 In addition to grounding their histories of identity categories in material and 32 economic structures, the new historians have adopted a methodological approach to primary-source materials that both derives from the social history innovations of the preceding decades and is at odds with them. I will call that method "the reading of absence." Part of the claim of the historians is that the identities they are investigating are both historically constructed and invisible because culturally unmarked. The very absence of systematic concern with white, male, or heterosexual identity becomes evidence for its overwhelming power and presence. Those identities are defined by being the unstated norm from which marked categories such as black, female, or homosexual are held to deviate. As George Lipsitz put it, "As the unmarked category against which difference is constructed, whiteness never has to speak its name, never has to acknowledge its role as an organizing principle in social and cultural relations." But the fact of that unmarked status raises an important issue: How does one find evidence for an absence? If masculinity never has to declare itself, where is the evidence for its existence?27 Social historians in the 1970s and 1980s had responded to the historical invisibility 33 of the "inarticulate"â€”those people who had not left formal written records of their ownâ€”by developing new ways of reading sources. Court records, wills, probate and tax records, business records, and voter registries became forms of evidence not so much of the institutions and organizations that created them, but of the lives of the people who intersected with those institutions. Using such sources in conjunction with elite writings such as travelers' accounts and private diaries and journals, social historians read the documents, not in search of their creators' intentions, but in search of lives and goals and meanings that were incidentally recorded. They read against the grain of authorial intention, seeking to reconstruct a world that the sources were not looking at but just happened to capture. In doing so, they created a historical presence from what had been an absence. They imputed goals, intentions, and agency to persons who had left only secondhand records of their behavior. The record of behavior became evidence for presumed values, beliefs, and intentions that were held to underlie behavior. Antebellum plantation diaries showed broken farm equipment and slaves dissembling; historians found black slaves engaged in sabotage and resistance to slavery. Wills showed widows' disposition of goods; historians declared a world of women's autonomy and moral choice. Social history was Janus-faced. It demanded more rigorous use of source materials to avoid false generalization, on the one hand, but was willing to find intentions and meanings in their documentary absence, on the other.28 So when the new cultural historians of unmarked categories declared the very 34 absence of systematic and explicit attention to those categories evidence for their existence and importance, they drew on the social history tradition of reading sources for what they do not say, for what they presume, for the implicit rather than the explicit. Roediger, for instance, read the antebellum labor movement's concern with distinguishing free labor from slave labor as implicitly making whiteness the polar
opposite of black slavery, even though white identity was not explicitly invoked in much of the discussion. In his work, the popular culture images of blacks in blackface minstrelsy, for instance, become evidence for the consciousness of a whiteness that is projecting an "other," or opposite, even though there is little explicit discussion of white identity in minstrel texts. Mary Louise Adams was clear about her method of using sources. "I had few opportunities," she wrote, "to deal with evidence that explicitly articulates, say, a position on heterosexuality or a definition of what it should look like. To put it in very simple terms, the word 'heterosexuality' rarely appeared in the sources I used for my research. My study of it has been based on the interpretation of evidence that 'points to' heterosexuality." 29 The historians of masculinity have found a slightly different way around the problem. There is a plethora of sources that discuss career paths for boys, the social responsibilities of men, prescriptive advice of every kind. Whereas previous generations of cultural historians had looked at that material for the models of personhood, individualism, or social authority inscribed in them, the historians of manhood look at the same texts for the gender prescriptions that had been invisible to the earlier historians. Thus, instead of the idea of the self-made man, we have the idea of the self-made man. Manhood had been there all along, but it had been read as generically human, rather than gender specific. Is there a problem with "the reading of absence" as a method? My own inclination 35 is to say yes, primarily because the categories of social identity are defined as being constructed in thought and language. The presence or absence of words as evidence of concepts would appear to be highly significant. If early twentieth-century nativists, for instance, used the language of racial Aryanism or spoke of Anglo-Saxon or Teutonic stock, if they distinguished between Alpine, Nordic, and Mediterranean races, that is evidence for the social construction of an understanding of race different from the one suggested by the notion of whiteness. When Theodore Roosevelt spoke of the American race as a compound of various racial stocks, he was not speaking of the white race.30 It might pay the historians of whiteness to look a little more closely at the history of the idea of raceâ€”as Matthew Frye Jacobson doesâ€”since whiteness is conceived to be an idea in people's heads that has no independent or objective existence apart from what people believe about it. Katz's work on the history of heterosexuality is stronger than many subsequent works precisely because he was concerned with how the idea of heterosexuality was conceived by sexual scientists and deployed by other writers and texts. The evidence for the novelty of heterosexuality is the existence of the term itself. The premise of the history is that heterosexuality, as a concept, has been mistakenly applied to all times and places as a universal identity category when in fact it has been a historically specific creation. For historians of heterosexuality to then find evidence of the thing in the absence of the term or concept is to repeat the same mistake of attribution that those who see it as a universal identity category have done. How do we know that behavior that looks like heterosexuality to us was understood as such by the historical actors, especially if they used other language to describe it? The historians of masculinity might be on stronger ground, since the texts they use tend to specify "man," but in the absence of explicit opposition to "woman" within the source, how do we know that the term is not used generically to refer to human beings? That is, how do we know that gendered meanings are the
salient ones? Part of the point is that ideology has tended to conflate the specifically masculine with the generically human, and the polysemy of the term "man" is evidence of that. But that does not mean that every discussion of "man" is really a discussion of the male gender dressed up in the language of universal personhood. When we speak of ideological constructions and identity categories created in history, the evidence we need to offer is the explicit language and presence of the ideas we are documenting, and not their presumed attachment to some behavior that we then identify as whiteness, heterosexuality, or masculinity. Historians have not gone far enough in understanding that the object of study is the category itself, and so they constantly substitute a behavior as evidence of the category, rather than keeping their focus on language. Lest I leave the impression that the larger pattern of historiographical inversion I 36 have been discussing is limited to the subfields of race, gender, and sexuality, I would like to point out other arenas where a similar change has occurred. For instance, the prominence of labor and working-class history in the 1980s has tended to give way to a newer concern with the historical formation of the middle class or bourgeoisie. The pattern is somewhat different in that, unlike race, gender, or sexuality, class has never been imagined to be a natural category, and the idea that it is socially constructed is a given, rather than a critique. Still, the linguistic turn challenged the notion of class having an objective material existence independent of discourse, and historians have rediscovered the middle class, not as the substratum of American historical experience, but as a particular historically variable construction. The history of ethnicityâ€”which intersects with the history of whitenessâ€”is another field in which at least part of the shift of the last thirty years has taken place. The scholarship on immigrant communities of the 1970s opened the way for the historicization and critique of ethnic essentialism in the work of Werner Sollors and Philip Gleason in the 1980s. Sollors raised the question of whether Anglo-Saxon Protestants might be reconceptualized as an ethnic group, but the promise of the history of the nonethnic has yet to be fulfilled, one suspects because there is no adequate name for the nonethnic. The cumbersome white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) might do, however. The history of whiteness is perhaps the ground on which inversions of both ethnic and racial history meet, concerned as it is with how various ethnic groups have been reconfigured as white. And the prominence of the history of the Left has recently been met by a new concern with the history of the Right. One might imagine other possibilities: the history of religion and the history of unbelief; the history of political activity and the history of political apathy; the history of childhood and the history of adulthood.31 From what I have said, it should be clear that I am not arguing for a return to a 37 prelapsarian state in which the sympathetic and recuperative histories of the oppressed remain the dominant mode of American historical writing. Those histories continue to be written and provide much of the substance of American historiography. But a significant and prominent group of American historians has turned toward the critical history of dominant and privileged identity categories in recent years. My primary purpose has been to explain why and how this came about, rather than to suggest a new direction. Nevertheless, a word or two about my own perspective might be in order. I have no brief for the no-longer-so-new social history, nor do I see a departure
from it as a decline or a loss of direction. If anything, I believe the newer discursive history of identity categories has not gone far enough and is hobbled by its continuing allegiance to the materialist or dualist framework of social history. My particular claim, as some of my criticisms would suggest, is that cultural historians need to be more like intellectual historians and less like social historians; they need to take ideas and language a lot more seriously than they have been willing to do.32 But that perspective is less a program for the critical history of privileged identity categories than a general methodological and theoretical outlook. What are the implications of the shifts in direction for American historiography in 38 the coming decades? In some respects, it is still too early to tell, although the trends discussed here have been under way for well over a decade. The new social history revolution of the 1960s and 1970s offered an explicit rebuke to the prevailing practices of American historical writing of the early Cold War era, even if today the notion of a 1950s consensus history seems something of a one-dimensional caricature. There has been no comparable challenge to the social history paradigm in recent years. The historical analysis of socially constructed categories and the turn to language and discourse have occurred as extensions of social history, rather than in opposition to it. It was social historians who insisted on the centrality of race, class, and gender to American history. It was social historians who looked to "culture" and "discourse" to remedy the limitations of quantification and behavioral models of analysis in some versions of the new social history. The decision to reexamine the powerful, the dominant, the unmarked center was a result of the social historians' concern with conflict and power, rather than a rejection of historical concern with the lives of the powerless. The political values and concerns of social history and the new cultural history are largely the same; they bear the same progressive, left pedigree. The histories of whiteness, masculinity, and heterosexuality, then, may mark less a departure from the social history establishment than a kind of last gasp of the paradigm. Having demonstrated the power of normative identity categories, categories of privilege, and the ways they have come into being and operated in American history, historians may be preparing for a swing of the pendulum back to the study of the oppressed, the marginalized, the dispossessed. But we already have that history, and while there may be details to fill in and narratives to elaborate, the main outlines seem largely set. Where will a new history come from, once social history has folded in upon itself?
Notes Daniel Wickberg is associate professor of historical studies/history of ideas at the University of Texas at Dallas. I would like to thank the members of the Dallas Area Social History Group (DASH), and particularly my colleagues Susan Branson, Carla Gerona, Adrienne McLean, and Erin Smith for their comments on an earlier version of this paper. Readers may contact Wickberg at <email@example.com>.
ĂŚ The outpouring of African American historiography, particularly slave historiography, in the 1970s was voluminous. Some foundational texts are Lawrence Levine, Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-
American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom (New York, 1977); Herbert G. Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750–1925 (New York, 1976); Peter H. Wood, Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion (New York, 1974); Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion: The "Invisible Institution" in the Antebellum South (New York, 1978); John W. Blassingame, The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South (New York, 1972); Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York, 1974); George Rawick, From Sundown to Sunup: The Making of the Black Community (Westport, 1972); and Leon F. Litwack, Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery (New York, 1979). Martin Mull and Allen Rucker, The History of White People in America (New York, 1985); The History of White People in America, dir. Harry Shearer (Home Box Office, 1985) (videotape; MCA/Universal Home Video). 2
æ The literature on the history of whiteness is substantial and growing. See David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (New York, 1991); Alexander Saxton, The Rise and Fall of the White Republic: Class Politics and Mass Culture in Nineteenth-Century America (New York, 1990); Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White (New York, 1995), Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race: Volume One; Racial Oppression and Social Control (New York, 1994); Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge, Mass., 1998); and Grace Elizabeth Hale, Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890–1940 (New York, 1998). For assessments of the literature, see David W. Stowe, "Uncolored People: The Rise of Whiteness Studies," Lingua Franca, 6 (Sept.–Oct. 1996), 68–77; Peter Kolchin, "Whiteness Studies: The New History of Race in America," Journal of American History, 89 (June 2002), 154–73; and the symposium "Scholarly Controversy: Whiteness and the Historians' Imagination," International Labor and Working Class History (no. 60, Fall 2001), 1–92. 3
æ On the concept of a "usable past," see Warren I. Susman, Culture as History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century (New York, 1984), 7–26. 4
æ For the term "normal history," an equivalent to what Thomas S. Kuhn called "normal science"—the practice of working within accepted paradigms, rather than seeking to create new paradigms—see Robert F. Berkhofer Jr., Beyond the Great Story: History as Text and Discourse (Cambridge, Mass., 1995), 28–31. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago, 1962). 5
æ Michael Kimmel, Manhood in America: A Cultural History (New York, 1996), 1–10; Bryce Traister, "Academic Viagra: The Rise of American Masculinity Studies," American Quarterly, 52 (June 2000), 274– 304. On the issue of the political commitments of scholars, see Evelyn Nakano Glenn, "Gender, Race, and Class: Bridging the Language-Structure Divide," Social Science History, 22 (Spring 1998), 29–38. 6
æ An exception to the fragmentation by field conceptualizes studies of whiteness, masculinity, and heterosexuality under the rubric of "privilege": Michael S. Kimmel and Abby L. Ferber, eds., Privilege: A Reader (Boulder, 2003), 1–10. Dana Frank, "White Working-Class Women and the Race Question," International Labor and Working Class History (no. 54, 1998), 80–102; Darlene Clark Hine and Earnestine Jenkins, eds., A Question of Manhood: A Reader in U.S. Black Men's History and Masculinity (Bloomington, 1999); Allan Bérubé, "How Gay Stays White and What Kind of White It Stays," in Privilege, ed. Kimmel and Ferber, 253–83. 7
æ For an explanation of whiteness studies as a response to recent social and political developments, see Adolph Reed Jr., "Response to Eric Arnesen," International Labor and Working Class History (no. 60, Fall 2001), 69–80. 8
æ John E. Toews, "Intellectual History after the Linguistic Turn: The Autonomy of Meaning and the Irreducibility of Experience," American Historical Review, 92 (Oct. 1987), 879–907. 9
æ Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton, 1979); Charles Taylor, Sources of the
Self: The Making of the Modern Identity (Cambridge, Mass., 1989); Ian Hacking, Historical Ontology (Cambridge, Mass., 2002); Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (New York, 1973); James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art (Cambridge, Mass., 1988); Stephen Greenblatt and Giles Gunn, eds., Redrawing the Boundaries: The Transformation of English and American Literary Studies (New York, 1992); Patricia J. Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights (Cambridge, Mass., 1991); Nancy Fraser, Unruly Practices: Power, Discourse, and Gender in Contemporary Social Theory (Minneapolis, 1989); Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York, 1990); Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley, 1990); Roberto Unger, The Critical Legal Studies Movement (Cambridge, Mass., 1986); Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula A. Treichler, eds., Cultural Studies (New York, 1992). 10
æ Mary Beth Norton, Founding Mothers and Fathers: Gendered Power and the Forming of American Society (New York, 1996); Kathleen M. Brown, Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia (Chapel Hill, 1996); Glenda Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896–1920 (Chapel Hill, 1996); Laura F. Edwards, Gendered Strife and Confusion: The Political Culture of Reconstruction (Urbana, 1997); Rebecca Edwards, Angels in the Machinery: Gender in American Party Politics from the Civil War to the Progressive Era (New York, 1997). The turn toward gender in the 1980s is best represented by Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America (New York, 1985). Note the change in subtitles in these consecutive editions: Peter Gabriel Filene, Him/Her/Self: Sex Roles in Modern America (New York, 1975); Peter G. Filene, Him/Her/Self: Sex Roles in Modern America (Baltimore, 1986); Peter G. Filene, Him/Her/Self: Gender Identities in Modern America (Baltimore, 1998). E. Anthony Rotundo, American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era (New York, 1993); Kimmel, Manhood in America; Ted Ownby, Subduing Satan: Religion, Recreation, and Manhood in the Rural South, 1865–1920 (Chapel Hill, 1990); Mark C. Carnes, Secret Ritual and Manhood in Victorian America (New Haven, 1989); Mark C. Carnes and Clyde Griffen, eds., Meanings for Manhood: Constructions of Masculinity in Victorian America (Chicago, 1990); Susan Faludi, Backlash: The Undeclared War against American Women (New York, 1991); Susan Faludi, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man (New York, 1999); Butler, Gender Trouble; Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880–1917 (Chicago, 1995); John F. Kasson, Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man: The White Male Body and the Challenge of Modernity (New York, 2001). 11
æ Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A.: A Documentary (New York, 1976); John D'Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940–1970 (Chicago, 1983); Martin B. Duberman, About Time: Exploring the Gay Past (New York, 1986); Allan Bérubé, Coming Out under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two (New York, 1990); Lillian Faderman, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America (New York, 1991); Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline D. Davis, Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community (New York, 1993); Esther Newton, Cherry Grove, Fire Island: Sixty Years in America's First Gay and Lesbian Town (Boston, 1993); John Howard, Men like That: A Southern Queer History (Chicago, 1999); Marc Stein, City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945–1972 (Chicago, 2000). On early gay history and its relationship to what later became queer theory, see Lisa Duggan, "The Discipline Problem: Queer Theory Meets Lesbian and Gay History," 1994, in Sex Wars: Sexual Dissent and Political Culture, by Lisa Duggan and Nan D. Hunter (New York, 1995), 194–206; and John D'Emilio, The World Turned: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and Culture (Durham, 2002), 210–30. The tension between gay history and queer theory is present in Martin B. Duberman, Martha Vicinus, and George Chauncey Jr., eds., Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past (New York, 1989). John D'Emilio and Estelle Freedman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (New York, 1988); Kathy Peiss and Christina Simmons, eds., Passion and Power: Sexuality in History (Philadelphia, 1989). 12
æ Jonathan Ned Katz, The Invention of Heterosexuality (New York, 1995); Randolph Trumbach, Sex and the Gender Revolution: Heterosexuality and the Third Gender in Enlightenment London (Chicago, 1998);
Mary Louise Adams, The Trouble with Normal: Postwar Youth and the Making of Heterosexuality (Toronto, 1997); Karen Dubinsky, The Second Greatest Disappointment: Honeymooning and Tourism at Niagara Falls (New Brunswick, 1999). For the general interest of queer theory in heterosexuality, see Calvin Thomas, Joseph O. Aimone, and Catherine A. F. MacGillivray, eds., Straight with a Twist: Queer Theory and the Subject of Heterosexuality (Urbana, 2000). George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890–1940 (New York, 1994). 13
æ C. Vann Woodward, Origins of the New South, 1877–1913 (Baton Rouge, 1951); John Hope Franklin, Race and History: Selected Essays, 1938–1988 (Baton Rouge, 1989); W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction: An Essay toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860–1880 (New York, 1935); Thomas F. Gossett, Race: The History of an Idea in America (Dallas, 1963); Winthrop Jordan, White over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro, 1550–1812 (Chapel Hill, 1968); George M. Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817–1914 (New York, 1971); Mechal Sobel, The World They Made Together: Black and White Values in Eighteenth-Century Virginia (Princeton, 1987); Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South (Chapel Hill, 1988); Brenda E. Stevenson, Life in Black and White: Family and Community in the Slave South (New York, 1996); Joel Williamson, Crucible of Race: Black/White Relations in the American South since Emancipation (New York, 1984); Joanne Pope Melish, Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and "Race" in New England, 1780–1860 (Ithaca, 1998); Matthew Pratt Guterl, The Color of Race in America, 1900–1940 (Cambridge, Mass., 2001); Bederman, Manliness and Civilization; Paul Gilroy, Against Race: Imagining Political Culture beyond the Color Line (Cambridge, Mass., 2000); Kwame Anthony Appiah, In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture (New York, 1992). 14
æ For the transition from stressing the unity of women as historical agents to foregrounding the plurality of women's experience, cf. Nancy F. Cott and Elizabeth H. Pleck, eds., A Heritage of Her Own: Toward a New Social History of American Women (New York, 1979); and Ellen Carol DuBois and Vicki L. Ruiz, eds., Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in U.S. Women's History (New York, 1990). 15
æ The most widely known statements of "difference" feminism are Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development (Cambridge, Mass., 1982); and Mary Field Belenky et al., Women's Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice, and Mind (New York, 1986). For the antiessentialist position, widespread in feminist thought, see Denise Riley, "Am I That Name?": Feminism and the Category of "Women" in History (Minneapolis, 1988). 16
æ Edward Stein, ed., Forms of Desire: Sexual Orientation and the Social Constructionist Controversy (New York, 1992); Ian Hacking, The Social Construction of What? (Cambridge, Mass., 1999), 1–34. 17
æ Carl N. Degler, In Search of Human Nature: The Decline and Revival of Darwinism in American Social Thought (New York, 1991). 18
æ Peter Novick titled chapters on the intellectual history of the historical profession during the 1970s and 1980s "Every Group Its Own Historian" and "The Center Does Not Hold." See Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The "Objectivity Question" and the American Historical Profession (New York, 1988), 469–572. Thomas Bender, "Wholes and Parts: The Need for Synthesis in American History," Journal of American History, 73 (June 1986), 120–36. On sociological holism, see Louis Dumont, Essays on Individualism: Modern Ideology in Anthropological Perspective (Chicago, 1986), 1–19. Emile Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society, trans. W. D. Halls (New York, 1997), 283–87. 19
æ E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (New York, 1964). On hegemony, see Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll, 25–49; and T. J. Jackson Lears, "The Concept of Cultural Hegemony: Problems and Possibilities," American Historical Review, 90 (June 1985), 567–93.
æ Nancy F. Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood: "Woman's Sphere" in New England, 1780–1835 (New Haven, 1977); Smith-Rosenberg, Disorderly Conduct, 53–76; Vincent Harding, There Is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America (New York, 1981); Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll, xvi; Steven Hahn, A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration (Cambridge, Mass., 2003). 21
æ Barbara J. Fields, "Ideology and Race in American History," in Region, Race, and Reconstruction: Essays in Honor of C. Vann Woodward, ed. J. Morgan Kousser and James M. McPherson (New York, 1982), 143–77; Joan W. Scott, "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis," American Historical Review, 91 (Dec. 1986), 1053–75; Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. I: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York, 1978); D'Emilio and Freedman, Intimate Matters; Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge, trans. Louis Wirth and Edward Shils (New York, 1936); Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (New York, 1966). 22
æ Noel Ignatiev and John Garvey, eds., Race Traitor (New York, 1996). The reference is to the tv program Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, prod. Dorothy Aufiera, Christian Barcellos, Francis Berwick, David Collins, Amy Introcaso, David Metzler, Michael Williams, Scout Productions (Bravo, July 15, 2003). 23
æ Ignatiev and Garvey, eds., Race Traitor, 10.
æ Karen Brodkin, How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says about Race in America (New Brunswick, 1998), 25; Jordan, White over Black; C. Wright Mills, "The New Left," in Power, Politics, and People: The Collected Essays of C. Wright Mills, ed. Irving Louis Horowitz (New York, 1963), 256. 25
æ Bryan D. Palmer, Descent into Discourse: The Reification of Language and the Writing of Social History (Philadelphia, 1990). 26
æ D'Emilio and Freedman, Intimate Matters, xii; Katz, Invention of Heterosexuality, 181, 41. For an earlier version that denies the capacity of language to invent or structure social and psychological "realities," see Jonathan Ned Katz, "The Invention of Heterosexuality," Socialist Review, 20 (Jan.–March 1990), 7–34. 27
æ The notion of marked and unmarked categories is more prevalent in sociological than historical analysis. For a sociological version of the inversion discussed here, see Wayne Brekus, "A Sociology of the Unmarked: Redirecting Our Focus," Sociological Theory, 16 (March 1998), 34–51; George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics (Philadelphia, 1998), 1. 28
æ Blassingame, Slave Community, 317; Suzanne Lebsock, The Free Women of Petersburg: Status and Culture in a Southern Town, 1784–1860 (New York, 1984), xiv–xvi. 29
æ Adams, Trouble with Normal, 170.
æ Gary Gerstle, American Crucible: Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, 2001), 14–43.
æ Stuart M. Blumin, The Emergence of the Middle Class: Social Experience in the American City, 1760– 1900 (New York, 1989); Martin J. Burke, The Conundrum of Class: Public Discourse on the Social Order in America (Chicago, 1995); Burton J. Bledstein and Robert D. Johnston, eds., The Middling Sorts: Explorations in the History of the American Middle Class (New York, 2001); Sven Beckert, The Monied Metropolis: New York City and the Consolidation of the American Bourgeoisie, 1850–1896 (New York, 2001); Werner Sollors, Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in American Culture (New York, 1986); Philip Gleason, Speaking of Diversity: Language and Ethnicity in Twentieth-Century America (Baltimore, 1992); John A. Andrew III, The Other Side of the Sixties: Young Americans for Freedom and the Rise of
Conservative Politics (New Brunswick, 1997); Mary C. Brennan, Turning Right in the Sixties: The Conservative Capture of the GOP (Chapel Hill, 1995); Rick Perlstein, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (New York, 2001); Lisa McGirr, Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (Princeton, 2001). 32
ĂŚ On this point, see Daniel Wickberg, "Intellectual History vs. the Social History of Intellectuals," Rethinking History, 5 (Nov. 2001), 383â€“95.