<i>The Age of Reform</i> and Its Critics

in Richard Hofstadter

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print April 2006 | ISBN: 9780226076409
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226076379 | DOI:
The Age of Reform and Its Critics

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This chapter discusses Richard Hofstadter's book The Age of Reform. The Age of Reform's focus on the illiberal side of the Populist/Progressive tradition inaugurated a sea of change in American historical writing. Published in the autumn of 1955, The Age of Reform electrified the critical community. Hofstadter's attention to the mental rather than material world of the reformers offered historians innovative strategies that made reading the monograph a revelatory experience. However, the critics of the book declared that the book had both minimized the hardships of agrarian life and put the McCarthy movement into the recent past. The chief figures in the Immigration Restriction League were eastern academics and Brahmins and much of its literature was highly racist in character. Hofstadter received a taste of this criticism shortly after the book's release when Curti questioned his account of ethnic baiting among rural folk. Hofstadter admitted that anyone who read The Age of Reform without a background in Populist studies would be misled by his overemphasis on the anti-Semitism of the reformers. But the omission in the professional literature of Populist anti-Semitic symbolism, he concluded, was so striking that a forceful counterblow had to be made in order to correct the historical record.

Keywords: The Age of Reform; monograph; McCarthy movement; immigration Restriction League; anti-Semitism; reformers

Chapter.  8665 words. 

Subjects: Theory, Methods, and Historiography

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