Book Review: Gary Gerstle’s Working-Class Americanism (1989)

The Power of Americanism

How should we understand the labor movements of the mid-twentieth century? Were they ultimately radical or conservative in nature? In Working-Class Americanism, Gary Gerstle looks at how progressive working-class leaders in Woonsocket, Rhode Island were more pragmatic than radical while their traditionalist counterparts were more innovative than conservative.[1] By presenting a community study with a close analysis of political language, Gerstle illuminates the conception of Americanism, underscores the diversity in mid-twentieth century labor unions, and demonstrates the transformative ideological nature of the 1940s. In the end, Gerstle’s work raises significant questions about the construction of political language.

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Review: Lizabeth Cohen’s A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America, 2003.

Lizabeth Cohen connects a number of elements to illustrate what she understands to be America’s postwar obsession with mass consumption. By examining government documents, sociological surveys, marketing research, and historical monographs, Cohen shows how the Progressive and New Deal eras’ emphasis on consumerism as the cornerstone of citizenship changed in post-World War II America. Cohen ties together federal policy, business cycles, reform movements, marketing strategies, and the local history of northern New Jersey to chart the rise of mass consumerism in American society. In the end, Cohen presents a history of mass consumerism’s effects on race, gender, class, and politics.

Put simply, Cohen’s overreaching thesis is that the way we buy shapes the way we understand ourselves as citizens. As Cohen maintains, “I am convinced that Americans after World War II saw their nation as the model for the world of a society committed to mass consumption…consumption did not only deliver wonderful things for purchase…It also dictated the most central dimensions of postwar society.” Consumerism, Cohen contends, influences public life as much as it responds to private needs. For Cohen, American values, attitudes, and behaviors are attached to consumerism; moreover, she argues that public policy and mass consumption mutually reinforce each other. Ultimately, Cohen suggests that communal identities spring from modes of consumption, and not modes of production.

Read moreReview: Lizabeth Cohen’s A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America, 2003.

D-Day 70th Anniversary

By the end of 1943, Allied forces had succeeded in stopping the Axis powers’ advancement both in Europe and in the Pacific. Over the next two years, Allied forces seized the offensive and launched a series of powerful drives that helped them defeat the Axis powers.

Early in 1944, United States and British bombers began attacking German industrial installations and other targets almost round the clock. These attacks hampered German production and transportation. In addition, the massive bombing campaigns of the Allied forces devastated German cities such as Leipzig, Dresden, and Berlin. For example, a February 1945 incendiary raid on Dresden created an immense firestorm that destroyed three-fourths of the previously undamaged city. The Dresden bombing killed approximately 135,00 people, almost all civilians.

Almost two years before the Dresden bombing, an enormous invasion force had started to gather in England. This force consisted of almost 3 million troops and a great array of naval vessels and armaments. On June 6, 1944, D-Day, General Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces, sent this vast armada into action. The invasion force included British, American, and Canadian troops and they landed not at the narrowest part of the English Channel, where the Germans had prepared for them, but along sixty miles of the Cotentin Peninsula on the Coast of Normandy.

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Announcement: Degas and Cassatt Paired at the National Gallery

For those visiting or living in the Washington DC Metro Area, check out this fascinating exhibit at the National Gallery. The “Degas/Cassatt” exhibit will run through October 5th.

If you go see the exhibit, please feel free to share your experience in the comments section of this post. I plan to visit and write a review of the exhibit sometime this summer.

For more information on the exhibit see the following art review— Karen Rosenberg, “Friendship Was their Medium” New York Times 29 May 2014.

Draft Syllabus—Social Forces that Shaped America (Summer 2012)



Esteemed political scientist Benedict Anderson wrote that a nation is more than a political entity with geographic boundaries; it is an imagined community. As Anderson explains, it is “imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.”[1] For Anderson, a nation is a state of mind. Following Anderson’s definition, this course looks at the social forces that have shaped the imagined community that is America.

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