087: Doug Rossinow, 41


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

87: Doug Rossinow, 3-10-08

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Associate Professor of History, Metropolitan State University, 2002-present
Area of Research: Modern U.S. History, Political History, Intellectual History, Religious History
Education: Ph.D., The Johns Hopkins University, Department of History, June 1994
Major Publications: Rossinow is the author of Visions of Progress: The Left-Liberal Tradition in America, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008, released December 2007). Nominated for the Merle Curti Prize of the Organization of American Historians, the Ellis Hawley Prize of the Organization of American Historians, and the Bancroft PrizeDoug Rossinow JPG  in American History. The Politics of Authenticity: Liberalism, Christianity, and the New Left in America, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998; paper ed., 1999). Rossinow is the co-editor with Rebecca S. Lowen of The United States Since 1945: Historical Interpretations, (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2006.
Rossinow is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others: “The Radicalization of the Social Gospel: Harry F. Ward and the Search for a New Order, 1898-1936,” Religion and American Culture, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Jan. 2005); “‘The Model of a Model Fellow Traveler’: Harry F. Ward, the American League for Peace and Democracy, and the ‘Russian Question’ in American Politics, 1933-1956,” Peace and Change, Vol. 29, No. 2 (April 2004). Winner of the Peace History Society’s Charles DeBenedetti Prize for Best Article in Peace Studies for 2003 and 2004; “The New Left in the Counterculture: Hypotheses and Evidence,” Radical History Review, No. 67 (Win. 1997); “‘The Break-through to New Life’: Christianity and the Emergence of the New Left in Austin, Texas, 1956-1964,” American Quarterly Vol. 46, No. 3 (Sept. 1994); reprinted in American Radicalism, ed. Daniel Pope (Blackwell, 2001); “Letting Go: Revisiting the New Left’s Demise,” in Paul Buhle and John C. McMillian, eds., The New Left Revisited, (Temple University Press, 2003); “Mario Savio and the Politics of Authenticity,” in Robert Cohen and Reginald E. Zelnik, eds., The Free Speech Movement: Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s, (University of California Press, 2002); “The New Left: Democratic Reformers or Left-Wing Revolutionaries?” in David Farber and Beth Bailey, eds., The Columbia Guide to America in the 1960s, (Columbia University Press, 2001); “The Revolution Is about Our Lives: The New Left’s Counterculture,” in Peter Braunstein and Michael William Doyle, eds., Imagine Nation: The American Counterculture of the 1960s and ’70s,(Routledge, 2001).
Awards: Rossinow is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Charles DeBenedetti Prize for Best Article in Peace Studies, Peace History Society, 2003-2004;
Nominated for Excellence in Teaching Award, Metropolitan State University, 2003-2004;
National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Summer Stipend, 2003;
Pew Program in Religion and American History, Yale University, Faculty Fellowship, 1995-1996;
National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Predoctoral Fellowship, 1991-1992;
Butler Prize for best research paper by a first-year graduate student, Department of History, Johns Hopkins University, 1990;
Philip Washburn Prize for best undergraduate history thesis, Harvard University, 1988.
Additional Info:
Formerly Chair, Department of History, Religious & Women’s Studies, Metropolitan State University, 2000-2003, and Visiting Assistant Professor of History, The Johns Hopkins University, 1994-1996.
Rossinow has appeared numerous times as a guest on public radio stations discussing the following topics: the Christian left in America, perfectionism in U.S. history, 1960s radicalism, and Ronald Reagan and America in the 1980s. He has written numerous opinion pieces in a variety of newspapers on topics including: Ronald Reagan and popular memory, the red scare of the 1950s, and the historical lessons of the 2004 presidential campaign.

Personal Anecdote

Years ago, when I was a fellow at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, at work on a dissertation on 1960s radicalism, I heavily taxed the interlibrary loan services of the library there. One of the librarians told me at one point, in a confidential tone, that she had been wondering why I was ordering books that could be found only at places like Liberty University-the Lynchburg, Virginia institution founded and led by the Reverend Jerry Falwell.

I’m an historian of American politics. I never expected to be an historian of religion.

Actually, I never really did become an historian of religion, in any conventional sense. But I did acquire a lasting interest in the intersection of religion and political dissent-a connection I might have expected to encounter if I had undertaken a study of political radicalism in eighteenth- or nineteenth-century America, but one I did not anticipate exploring so deeply while investigating the political left in post-1945 America. Eventually I managed to compress about one-hundred pages on Christian existentialism down to a single chapter. I decided that was about what the topic deserved in the context of a study of white youth radicalism in Austin, Texas, which eventually took the form of a book, The Politics of Authenticity. However, religion is something that pops up in unexpected places when studying American history. I have continued to explore what I call the prophetic dimension of American political radicalism in twentieth-century America-radical politics typically directed toward very nonreligious ends. And I still teach a course on religion and politics in American history.

In my new book, Visions of Progress: The Left-Liberal Tradition in America, I’ve moved (for now) away from monographic research and toward a synthetic perspective. One of the things I learned in researching my first book is that radical and reform politics in U.S. history have sometimes had more in common than is usually recalled. The left and liberalism are neither mutually exclusive categories nor (as a Fox News viewer might think) identical categories; they are overlapping categories. I emphasize that American radicals, between 1880 and the present, frequently have done the work of liberalism, trying to realize the liberal ideals of constitutional government, natural rights, and other things, while, during at least some of that period, plenty of liberal reformers took a more critical stance toward American capitalism than recent history would lead us to believe. The prophetic stance is visible, too, but in ironic fashion: consciously religious social criticism was pervasive within American reform as well as among radicals in the Gilded Age, the Progressive Era, and even later; but it became the more exclusive province of radicals during the cold war and after, even though recent American radicals have usually been ardently secular people. Go figure.

I recently got a message from a student at a seminary in Austin, saying that some folks there are interested in establishing an intentional religious study community. He had read about another such community in the 1950s in The Politics of Authenticity, and wondered if I could send him some documents I had cited in my book. Now I’m glad I held onto those dissertation research files.


By Doug Rossinow

  • “Liberalism and the left, for all their differences, sprang from common Enlightenment sources, and this ensured that conflicts between liberal reformers and leftist radicals tended to take on a distinctively Visions of Progress The Left-Liberal Tradition in America JPG intimate quality. In fact, from the nineteenth century to the present, although American radicals and reformers criticized each other harshly, their disputes were often-although not always-bounded by bedrock liberal assumptions about the nature of a good society. Left-wing radicals were those who placed extremely high value on equality and who subjected capitalism to severe moral criticism over its allegedly exploitative and dehumanizing aspect. A leftist was not necessarily a socialist. Liberals’ essential commitments were to individual freedom, natural rights, constitutional government, and the sovereignty of ‘the people’-concepts that, not only in the United States but also in world history, linked the anti-government liberalism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to the welfare-state liberalism of the twentieth century and beyond. As these definitions suggest, the line separating leftists from liberals often was smudged or downright invisible, no matter how often people to either side tried to mark it clearly and impassably….Many of the dissenting forces in American politics were inhabitants of a deep liberal near-consensus-one also broad enough to include many conservative opponents of twentieth-century liberalism and the left.” — Doug Rossinow in “Visions of Progress The Left-Liberal Tradition in America”

About Doug Rossinow

  • “Rossinow represents a new generation of historians that offers a fresh perspective on this controversial era. His book is an intricately interwoven tapestry of regional case study, cultural analysis and a rather deft handling of New Left politics that traces the emergence, development, and decline of left-wing radicalism. It is thorough, insightful, and well-written.” — Robert H. Craig, on “The Politics of Authenticity”
  • “A beautifully, elegantly written work, which will change the writing of U.S. history textbooks and the content of lectures in the U.S. history surveys.” — Daniel Horowitz, on “The Politics of Authenticity”
  • “Brilliant….The most persuasive interpretation yet of this particular vision of authenticity, democracy, and individual freedom.” — Sara Evans, on “The Politics of Authenticity”
  • “A search for authenticity in industrial American life”–that’s what historian Rossinow (history, The Politics of Authenticity JPGMetropolitan State Univ.) has identified as the main thrust of the New Left movement that powered the youth-driven political and social revolutions of the 1960s. He argues that the New Left resulted from a reaction to traditional American liberalism, which was seen by New Leftists as “elite-based,” and from the influence of Christian existentialism, which redefined “sin” as “alienation” and “salvation” as “authenticity.” Rossinow meticulously analyzes the interplay of academic politics and Texas state politics on the campus of the University of Texas, Austin, and shows how the New Left formed its organizational structure and ideological basis. This is a carefully researched, creative, and intriguing reinterpretation of American history. — Jack Forman, Mesa Coll. Lib., San Diego
  • “Visions of Progress is an ambitious and brilliant book. Doug Rossinow interprets a broad swath of political and intellectual history in a wonderfully provocative fashion. The book should inspire debates among activists and politicians, as well as among his fellow historians. — Michael Kazin, on “Visions of Progress”
  • “A fresh and highly learned examination of an essential part of U.S. political history; one that offers illuminating insights for students into the important but frequently neglected topic of liberals, leftists, and the tortured relations between the two.” — Eric Alterman, author of “What Liberal Media? and When Presidents Lie,” on “Visions of Progress”
  • “Visions of Progress is a forceful, deeply informed account of left-liberal political thought since the 1880s written from a fresh, appreciative perspective. Tracing his subjects’ common belief in the progressive transformation of capitalist society and the shifting nomenclature of “liberal,” “progressive,” “radical,” and “left” that marked their differences, Rossinow gives us a new map of how liberal and left reformers came together through the 1940s and moved apart thereafter. He makes a persuasive case that the American reform tradition owed its vitality to the cooperation and synergy between its liberal and left wings.” — Dorothy Ross, on “Visions of Progress”
  • “”This instructor epitomized what a good teacher is. He focuses his teaching on the encouragement of critical thinking….He is very respectful of his students and…very humble.”… “The instructor helped you learn and was very passionate about the subject. Mr. Rossinow made you learn, I don’t think anyone could fail with his teaching methods.”… “Doug Rossinow is a master at his subject….He stimulated the class by providing thought provoking questions. His perceptions and thought on this class caused a personal awakening in me and helped me to ‘open’ some of the lost memories transpiring during this important period of history. I respect and admire his opinions regarding the period.” — Anonymous Students

Posted on Sunday, March 9, 2008 at 11:46 PM

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1 Comment

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