Publication Date

May 30, 2011

Perspectives Section

Perspectives Daily

Post Type

American Historical Review

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In This Issue
The June issue includes two stand-alone articles—one on Argentine popular music and national identity at the turn of the twentieth century, the other on the responses to and effects of the earliest images of Earth from space—as well as an AHR Roundtable containing ten essays on “Historians and the Question of ‘Modernity.’” There are also three featured reviews, followed by our usual extensive book review section. “In Back Issues” draws attention to articles and features in the AHR from one hundred, seventy-five, and fifty years ago.

In “Between the Gaucho and the Tango: Popular Songs and the Shifting Landscape of Modern Argentine Identity, 1895–1915,” Brian Bockelman draws on a rich collection of popular Argentine songbooks to explore a case of the “reformation” of national identities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This reorientation involved the rise of urban popular culture as a new source of stories and images about the nation, as well as the simultaneous promotion of multiple national icons. Although they had little in common with one another, the rural gaucho and the urban tango were increasingly popular symbols of Argentine identity in the early twentieth century. Examining the history of only one of these icons can lead to a distorted understanding of the cultural effects of modernization—in particular, an exaggerated emphasis on either the “invention of tradition” or the replacement of tradition by modernity. Through an examination of the hybrid output of an outwardly rustic but essentially urban group of Argentine singer-songwriters called payadores, Bockelman explains the shifting sands of modern Argentine identity. The article shows the utility of working with popular songs as a source base and argues for the reconceptualization of otherwise idiosyncratic national icons in terms of the competing cultural landscapes they represent.

Hear the word “Earth,” and the images likely to flash through the mind are descendants of two views afforded by the Apollo missions. One, a photograph called “Earthrise,” shows Earth half-cloaked in shadow above a lifeless moonscape. A second, known as “Blue Marble,” reveals our planet suspended alone in the void. It is reputed to be the most widely disseminated photograph in history. Such views of Earth, it has been argued, prompted a revolution in the global imagination. In “Earthrise; or, The Globalization of the World Picture,” Benjamin Lazier questions whether the Apollo images did indeed prompt such a revolution, and if so, he asks, to what ends? He supplements accounts of the Cold War origins and environmentalist afterlives of the “Earthrise era” with a history of philosophical responses to the earliest images of Earth from space. Lazier focuses on a group of thinkers troubled by the displacement of local, earthbound horizons with horizons that are planetary in scope and scale. Have the Earthly visions and global vocabularies of the Earthrise era inadvertently accelerated our planetary emergency as much as they have inspired us to slow it down?

AHR Roundtable
It is difficult to imagine the grammar of history without the vocabulary of modernity. The ascription “modern” is virtually ubiquitous in historical discourse. It appears everywhere, from textbooks, monographs, and scholarly articles, to course syllabi, journal titles, and the names of institutes of historical research, to descriptions of job offerings. It drives a whole range of historical “advents”: think of the rise of the modern family, or the making of the modern self, or the emergence of the modern nation-state. Yet “modernity” and its associated narratives, as well as the kindred concepts of modernism and modernization, have been seriously called into question. There is a sense of disconnect between how historians think about modernity and how they teach, discuss, and even write history.

For this AHR Roundtable on “Historians and the Question of ‘Modernity,’” we invited nine scholars to share their reflections on modernity as a problem. In “Modernity: The Sphinx and the Historian,” Zvi Ben-Dor Benite takes as his point of departure the Greek myth of the Sphinx and its riddle about the “ages of man” to explore aspects of the meaning of modernity as a “period,” asking in particular how and why it was that this period came to be associated with “progress” while others were rendered “degenerate” or “regressive.” “Historical Sociology, Modernity, and Postcolonial Critique,” by Gurminder K. Bhambra, assesses four developments in sociology and history that take into account the world beyond the West in our understandings of modernity: third wave cultural historical sociology, multiple modernities, microhistories, and global history. Dipesh Chakrabarty, meanwhile, observes “The Muddle of Modernity” by tracking some of the conceptual and historiographical problems that dog “early modernity” when applied to South Asia, and recommends a greater reflexivity to the normative dimensions of periodizing terms. In “The End of Elsewhere: Writing Modernity Now,” Carol Gluck identifies modernity as a condition and turns to Japanese history as empirical grounds for thinking about the processes of becoming modern. Mark Roseman examines the important historical case of Nazism in “National Socialism and the End of Modernity” and uses the debates of the last two or three decades to explore how and why the concept of modernity is unhelpful as diagnosis or explanation. Dorothy Ross draws our attention to “American Modernities, Past and Present” to suggest that the concept of modernity may be useful for enlarging merely nationalist perspectives, and that, used properly reflexively, it can in fact clarify master narratives. In “When We Talk about Modernity,” Carol Symes observes modernity as an essential element of historical narratives since humans first began to tell stories about their past. If medieval and other putative “un-Modern” eras have come to function as colonies of modernity, or as modernity’s subalterns, she asks, what would it mean for modernity and for history-writing to decolonize the medieval past? Lynn M. Thomas explores the particular contributions that Africanists can make to discussions in “Modernity’s Failings, Political Claims, and Intermediate Concepts.” Finally, in “‘Modernity’: The Peregrinations of a Contested Historiographical Concept,” Richard Wolin reexamines European heritage itself to combat the value-laden and teleological Eurocentric biases of the idea.

October Issue
The October issue will feature articles on charter state collapse in Southeast Asia in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, on negotiations between British officials and Creek Indians in South Carolina in the mid-eighteenth century, and on transnational organizing of the homophile movement in the mid-twentieth century.

This is the final issue under acting editors Konstantin Dierks and Sarah Knott. Editor Robert Schneider will return from sabbatical this summer.

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

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