Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Gilded Read

The Incorporation of America (25th anniversary edition)
by Alan Trachtenberg

This is one of those books that are really only read by academics such as myself. Since my dissertation covers the overlapping time periods variously known as "the Gilded Age", "Victorian America", and "The Progressive Era", I more or less have to read various works of cultural studies and history dealing with those same eras. This one is a classic work that covers the Gilded Age. Written when "American Studies" was in its most nascent form, this book helped define that academic discipline and served as a model for many, many later studies.

That said, it really is only for academics who must read it in order to deal with what has already been said about this era. A large part of academic writing is acknowledging that you've read whatever tome other academics consider important.

For example, an academic journal recently told me that they would publish an article by me if I did some significant revision. One of their revisions was that I include information from around half a dozen landmark academic studies. Well, I had read all of those studies, but the information in them didn't really apply at all to what I was discussing. My dissertation director said that all I needed was to be able to include the book in the bibliography, so I just needed to pull out a quote from each book, stick them in footnotes somewhere, and I would be fine. Apparently, many reviewers go straight to the bibliography before reading the actual article, and if certain books aren't listed, the article is already damned from the beginning.

This is one of those books. It's interesting enough in an academic way, and I'm actually using quite a bit of it in my dissertation, but the general reader likely won't find anything interesting here. I enjoyed the book for what it was (though the gratuitous Bush hate that permeated the "25th anniversary" introduction made the book harder to enjoy. People really need to learn to let go).


Friar Tuck said...

Ahhhh the academic game. Sometimes I think I want in it. Sometimes I think I never want to be a part of it.

Ivan Wolfe said...

Your second impulse is the better one.

Wm said...

My undergraduate degree focused on the Gilded Age. I think it's a fascinating period.

And I just started reading The Education of Henry Adams.