HISTORY

Popularizing the Past: Historians, Publishers, and Readers in Postwar America

Univ. of Chicago Jul. 2023. 240p. ISBN 9780226826998. pap. $25. HIST
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post-1945 popular historical writing in the U.S., Witham (history, University College London; The Cultural Left and the Reagan Era) profiles historians Daniel Boorstin (1914–2004), John Hope Franklin (1915–2009), Richard Hofstadter (1916–70), Gerda Lerner (1920–2013), and Howard Zinn (1922–2010). Their topics ranged across culture, gender, politics, and race to extend visions of the United States and its political future, and they wrote for nonacademic audiences. They identified as writers and embraced the historian’s craft as a collaborative process to connect history with the politics of the present. Witham reconstructs the historians’ socially embedded writing processes via their draft manuscripts, editorial correspondence, and publicity materials and reveals how the writing, editing, design, and marketing of these popular-history books shaped the historians’ work and engaged readers. He also explores the interplay of historical writing with education, intellectual culture, publishing, reading, and social movements.
VERDICT Astute, informative, and skillfully researched, Witham’s thought-provoking analysis will appeal to historians (and aspiring historians) who want a better grasp on the challenges and opportunities of history as a profession and the business of popular-history books.
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