The American Intellectual Tradition Tradition

For the upcoming USIH conference in New York, I’m finishing off a paper that comments briefly on how U.S. intellectual historians have treated the early American republic. To provide a pithy illustration, I mention that the current edition of The American Intellectual Tradition, the widely used sourcebook by Charles Capper and David Hollinger, contains essentially nothing from the four decades between 1790 and 1828. (Other than some late letters of Adams and Jefferson, the only essay included from that period is William Ellery Channing’s “Unitarian Christianity,” which was preached in 1819 but is probably useful in the modern classroom mainly for understanding what the 1830s were like in Concord.)

To me, this seems like a useful little observation, but for safety’s sake, if nothing else, I’d also like to be able to compare the contents of the sixth edition with previous editions, which go all the way back to 1989. Unfortunately, the only other edition I have on hand at the moment is the second.

I see that Amazon does show the tables of contents for the third and fourth editions. It seems pretty clear that Channing first appeared in the fourth edition, in 2001 — meaning that AIT has grown more inclusive, not less, over the years. But I’d really like to see the full run.

It’s not worth my time right now. But at some point, I think, I should make a collation of the contents of all six editions. It could useful as one way to judge how the field has evolved — or not — since the late twentieth century.

In the meantime, there’s Hollinger’s own essay on the making and remaking of the book: “What Is Our ‘Canon’? How American Intellectual Historians Debate the Core of Their Field.”