042: Eric Rauchway, 36


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

42: Eric Rauchway, 1-29-07

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Professor, Department of History, University of California, Davis.
Area of Research: US political, cultural, and intellectual history
Education: PhD in History, Stanford University, 1996
Major Publications: Rauchway is the author of Blessed Among Nations: How the World Made America (Hill & Wang, 2006) Eric Rauchway JPG, Murdering McKinley: The Making of Theodore Roosevelt’s America (Hill & Wang, 2003), and The Refuge of Affections: Family and American Reform Politics, 1900-1920 (Columbia University Press, 2001). Rauchway is currently working on The Great Depression and the New Deal: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press), and The Gift Outright: The West, the South, and America, 1867-1937 (Hill & Wang).
Awards: Rauchway is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Murdering McKinley was named one the “Pittsburgh Post-Gazette” top ten for 2003;
Chancellor’s Fellow, University of California, Davis, 2003-2008;
MA by Special Resolution of Congregation, Oxford University, 1998.
Additional Info:
Rauchway formerly was University Lecturer, Faculty of Modern History, University of Oxford (1998-2001), and Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of Nevada, Reno (1996-1998).
Rauchway has written for “The American Prospect,” “The Financial Times,” “The Los Angeles Times,” “Newsday,” and other publications.
He currently writes for “The New Republic’s” “Open University” feature.
Rauchway has contributed commentary and book reviews to MSNBC.com’s “Altercation,” and has commented on television for the History Channel and C-SPAN, and appeared on both public and commercial radio programs in the U.S. and abroad.

Personal Anecdote

Lacking a piquant or plangent anecdote I thought I would provide a brief explanation of why I am a historian. As I wrote here I have always had a sense of being not-quite: neither Protestant nor Jewish, I’ve lived in North, South, West, and overseas, as well as in towns both small and enormous; I register as a no-party voter and I attended a school that is famously neither entirely public nor private. I can’t claim to contain multitudes — I’m still squarely a white male American of middle-class standing, and a family man at that. But neither can I honestly claim to belong to any single one of the traditions within that identity.

Therefore I hope, and strive, to have some qualities in common with historians who used a similar sense of insider-outsiderhood to fuel their work. (Like Richard Hofstadter, as above; or Charles Beard, the dirt-farmer Ivy League political-scientist historian Republican radical — I hasten to add I am as cool as neither, but one should aim high.)¹ They did not readily take sides, or come easily to any political position; even their scholarly conclusions they regarded as provisional and subject, always, to revision. Which is not to say that they were intellectually wimpy; on the contrary, I tend rather to think their working outside a fixed tradition made them feel especially responsible for defending the conclusions they reached.

I meant particularly my second and third books to reflect this ambition toward a strong insider-outsiderhood in different ways. Murdering McKinley is about the strength and weakness of social science — it’s about how by looking at age, race, work, belief, ethnicity, sexuality, education etc. we can tell so much about someone, while still failing to discover the most important thing (in this case, why they might shoot the President).² Blessed Among Nations is about the strength and weakness of American political tradition — it’s about how America’s characteristic institutions reflect, not so much an ideological commitment to small government, but rather practical adaptations to circumstances, and how American policies succeeded or failed as those circumstances changed.

I guess that books especially designed not to stick with any political or interpretive tradition run the risk of being disliked, or worse, ignored. But I hope these books also exhibit another virtue typical of, though certainly not limited to, those older scholars — they had, I think, a particular, emotional attachment to America as a country whose commitment to liberty didn’t demand that you take sides too easily or too often, allowing people to live and believe as they wished. Certainly, that is the America to which I feel myself attached, and which I hope to serve well by good scholarship.

¹I purposely avoid mentioning anyone living, though certainly I have role models among breathing historians.

²Lest anyone mention the singular “they,” see here.


By Eric Rauchway

  • The United States became the country we know today at the end of World War I, when it took over the role of “top nation” from Britain. The story of its rise to this position of strength began at the end of the Civil War…. With the winning of the West came the transformation of the United States into the world’s largest economy. By 1917 … America stood out among nations, its anomalously large economy yoked in uneven harness to an anomalously small government with unusually few powers…. We need neither admire nor despise these peculiarities to note them and assess how far they resulted from the impact of international factors. — Eric Rauchway in “Blessed Among Nations How the World Made America”
  • There is another way in which I hope this book will work like a lens. Like a lot of people, I need corrective lenses to see properly, and also like a lot of people I don’t like to go to the doctor very much. So people like me will wear a pair of glasses for years without seeing an optometrist. And during that time, those glasses, which were perfectly designed to help us see when they were made, get worse and worse at their job. The lenses aren’t changing, but our eyes are. We just don’t notice because it happens so slowly. Then, finally, we get tired of the headaches and the blurry vision and we go to the doctor and get a properly prescribed pair of spectacles. And we put them on, and suddenly we see the world as if it were new, and we realize we’ve been squinting through outdated lenses for far too long. I think that much of what we see nowadays when we look at American history is like this, a picture as seen through lenses that worked fine for us once, but don’t work so well now that we’ve changed. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with our old glasses; they were just meant for a different set of eyes, and too much of the world now looks out of focus.Blessed Among Nation JPGWhen you put on your new glasses after delaying a visit to the doctor for too long, you suddenly wonder how you could ever have stood to look through the old ones. I hope this book will help us see America’s place in the world with the same freshness, so that we can see the same old story with a new clarity and begin to wonder how we could ever have stood to look at the world through those quaint old spectacles, missing so much of such importance.Specifically, using globalization as a lens brings into focus the relationship between the United States and the rest of the world in the late nineteenth century, and how this relationship shaped American political development. Capital and labor from overseas pushed American political development in noticeably unusual directions during a particularly important growth spurt. This early formative influence bequeathed the United States some peculiar and lasting habits of government. The effects of globalization helped the country become a powerful nation without developing (in comparative terms) a powerful central government. In the United States, as in some other countries, we often argue over the appropriate size and authority of national government, and usually we argue from principle: a big government is better because it can provide security; a small government is better because it can allow freedom. These arguments from principle have what to a historian seems like an unfortunately timeless quality, as if government were some uniform product, of which you can have too much or too little, but which is always the same thing. If we look at how government grew in the first place, we might remember that it is a set of solutions to a set of problems—not theoretical problems, but practical problems—and that, in practice, not all peoples face the same problems. During its growth into a powerful nation, the United States faced a set of problems unlike those any other nation has encountered. Americans formed their habits of government by solving a set of problems specific to their circumstances. And we know that habits often outlast the circumstances that justified them, just as we often wear prescription eyeglasses long after our eyes have changed, and sometimes with bad consequences. — Eric Rauchway in “Blessed Among Nations How the World Made America”

About Eric Rauchway

  • “Provocative…Blessed Among Nations combines the same fluid writing style, bold interpretive approach, and ambitious agenda that made the work of mid–twentieth century historians like Richard Hofstadter, Arthur Schlessigner, Jr., and C. Vann Woodward so important and so broadly relevant.” — Joshua Zeitz in American Heritage reviewing “Blessed Among Nations How the World Made America”
  • “America’s rise to preeminence, the author argues, was the product of a perfect storm of foreign investment, luck, and global instability, and we forget at our peril the fickle nature of such forces. With hegemony comes responsibility, he suggests, responsibility that the U.S. may presently be all too willing to shirk.” — Atlantic Monthly reviewing “Blessed Among Nations How the World Made America”
  • “Written by an accomplished, imaginative historian who well understands those beginnings of modern America — the years of the Progressive Era — this book on one level suggests why socialism never took root in the United States, and why the supposed melting pot and the early Federal Reserve System worked as they did, but on quite another level develops a highly revealing argument how Americans’ faith in their “empire” and their exceptionalism shaped in often unexpected ways what we now call globalization and their part in it.” — Walter LaFeber, Tisch University Professor, Cornell University reviewing “Blessed Among Nations How the World Made America”
  • “I can always depend on Eric Rauchway to display the meticulousness of a careful historian with the literary flair of a fine novelist. Blessed Among Nations: How the World Made America adds to this admixture a powerful public voice as well; a tour de force.” — Eric Alterman, author of “When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences” reviewing “Blessed Among Nations How the World Made America”
  • “With his trademark lapidary elegance, Rauchway shows us that America’s position astride the currents of globalization is due not merely to a mysteriously voracious capitalistic impulse, but to often fortuitous effects of seemingly unconnected particulars, such as monopolies rather than government dominating lending, and the diversity of our immigrants impeding a socialist revolution. A flinty and compelling synthesis.” — John McWhorter, author of “Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America” reviewing “Blessed Among Nations How the World Made America”
  • “American ‘exceptionalism’ is one of those things often asserted, seldom convincingly proved. By setting the history of the United States in the context of the history of the first age of globalization, Eric Rauchway has come up with a powerful new argument about what exactly made the American experience different. Blessed Among Nations is both brilliant and convincing. For the breadth of his vision, the author deserves to be blessed among U.S. historians” — Niall Ferguson, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and author of “Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire” reviewing “Blessed Among Nations How the World Made America”
  • “A fascinating story of America at a crossroads . . . Murdering McKinley stands out as a well-reasoned and well-told chronicle about the dawn of modern America.” — Bob Hoover in the “Post-Gazette” reviewing “Murdering McKinley The Making of Theodore Roosevelt’s America”
  • Murdering McKinley JPG“A compact masterpiece that explains more about the late 19th Century than most historians know and yet is readable enough to take on an airplane . . . Accurate, comprehensive and cutting-edge history, it is also a rip-roaring tale…a book that holds high the standard for popular history. Illuminating the society that inspired a coldblooded murder, Rauchway’s Murdering McKinley is a brilliant trip through the heart of the 19th Century.” — Heather Cox Richardson in the “Chicago Tribune” reviewing “Murdering McKinley The Making of Theodore Roosevelt’s America”
  • “Eric Rauchway is that rare historian who is also a first-rate storyteller. Murdering McKinley is almost as impressive a literary feat as it is a scholarly one; a fascinating window on a turbulent time in our untold history and a damn good read to boot.” — Eric Alterman, author of “What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News” reviewing “Murdering McKinley The Making of Theodore Roosevelt’s America”
  • “Before Lee Harvey Oswald there was Leon Czolgosz (chol-gosh), the anarchist who shot and killed President William McKinley in 1901. Murdering McKinley tells the story of this assassin and the push he gave to progressivism by making Teddy Roosevelt president of the United States.” — Bruce Ramsey in “The Seattle Times” reviewing “Murdering McKinley The Making of Theodore Roosevelt’s America”
  • “Highly recommended, best prof I’ve had at Davis. Very interesting, well thought out lectures.”
    “He is an amazing professor. Though he talks very quickly he has such passion for the subject which encourages you. My best professor so far and if I could I would take his class again. History has finally become fun and you learn so much.”
    “Good professor. Lectures are interesting enough to get me out of bed in the morning.”
    “Simply fantastic professor. His lectures are highly lively and easy to understand… he will really highlight and increase your love of the subject, especially if you get involved in class. I highly recommend him.”
    “Rauchway was a wonderful professor. He talks fast during lectures, but he is very animated and always keeps you interested. I would reccommend him to anybody, I LOVED his class.”
    “Professor Rauchway is one of the few professors I really feel I have learned something from.”
    “One of the greatest history lecturers of all time. I highly suggest taking his classes… or even more classes if you previously have. He has an excellent knowledge of history, even though it seems boring, he somehow makes it interesting.” — Anonymous Students

Posted on Sunday, January 28, 2007 at 8:17 PM

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