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Publisher Description

Social history has often had its temperature taken. In the United States the first probes came in the 1960s, when social historians had to define their core interests against a skeptical history establishment, reluctant to accept new topics and approaches that did not necessarily aim to illuminate standard subjects. This stock taking evolved, by the 1970s, into seemingly endless needs and opportunities to define the "new social history" to teachers and others now a bit more willing to accept legitimacy but still unsure of what subjects and methods were involved. With the 1980s came the challenge of the "new cultural turn"--was it something different from social history, even a danger to it, or rather an innovation within it?--and also attacks from conservative historians like Gertrude Himmhelfarb, convinced that social history was unseating history's true purposes in uplifting youth and the general public through examples of heroic action and reemphasis on political ideals. Social historians themselves generated a new wave of self-examination, centered around a concern about the field as a multiplicity of topics without a coherent and unifying big picture of its own. Some attention also applied to issues of presentation and narrative. These discussions carried into the early 1990s, with particular reaction to the political attack on social history embodied in the hostile response to the national History Standards in 1994. (1) Since then, substantial silence has ensued on some of the big issues, which might of course imply that the field has faded sufficiently that general comment is no longer warranted, or that it has become sufficiently hegemonic that assessment seems superfluous. Recently, however, several voices have encouraged a new round of stock-taking. Europeans have taken the lead (and their voices are represented in the comments in this issue). The Journal of Social History now joins in, seeking a multi-faceted discussion over the next few years.

September 22
Journal of Social History

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