Social and political history

Sean Wilentz won few friends with his aggressive championing of Hillary Clinton last year but I like this description of the historical project:

The radical historians who came out of the ‘60s had a very strong idea, and it was something that influenced my work as well—that history is not made by the presidents, it’s made by the paupers. So you read a book like Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States and it’s history, topsy-turvy. Everything that was popular is now less important. Everything that was bad is now good. Everything is just twisted around. Your heroes are now villains. That’s what happens if you concentrate too hard on one aspect of things. And you can’t understand how politics works in this country by doing that, nor can you understand politics in this country simply by writing a biography of Thomas Jefferson. As interesting and endlessly fascinating as that is that he’s being pushed, pulled, and finding all kinds of things, and changing by forces that are outside of his control…the distinction that is often made among historians, but also in people’s minds, is that there’s these two tracks of history: the history of great men and the history of social forces, or of not-so-great men, or however you want to put it—that they are somehow at loggerheads, that never the twain shall meet. Which is just wrong. In fact, it’s sort of crazy, because you cannot understand one without the other. And you have to understand the historical unfolding of any political movement, any political time, by looking at both and how they affect one another.

This is what I tried to do in Labor Dreams and my aspiration would be one day to fully succeed.

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