Journal of American History

Presidential Address

A Commemoration and a Historical Mediation

Richard Hofstadter speaks from a lectern at Columbia University, c. 1968.
Courtesy Richard Hofstadter Papers, Columbia University.

History has no monopoly on the past. Like memory, public commemorations, and monuments, history mediates between past and present. But as a mediation, it can achieve only temporary success because the world changes too fast. It outdistances our histories. In his presidential address to the 2007 Organization of American Historians convention, Richard White puts forth a brief history of the mediation of American historians and their attempts to connect their American presents to their American pasts. (pp. 1073–81) Read online >


The Labors of Liberality: Christian Benevolence and National Prejudice in the American Founding

Pastor of the First, or Benevolent, Congregational Society in Providence, Rhode Island, from 1783 to 1803, the Reverend Enos Hitchcock was one of the most prominent—and agreeable—supporters of the federal Constitution in a strongly Antifederalist state. Anonymous pastel on paper, c. 1775–1780, attributed to William Blodgett.
Courtesy Rhode Island Historical Society.

An ongoing debate over the moral and political values of late eighteenth-century America focuses on the meaning and implications of what people of the era called “liberality.” Far from being an excuse for interest-driven behavior, J. M. Opal argues, liberality combined Enlightenment and Christian principles of broad-mindedness and tolerance. It evoked the humanitarian dream of “universal benevolence” and authorized early efforts to abolish the Atlantic slave trade. During the 1780s, liberal ideas also enabled supporters of the federal Constitution to disdain and deflect Antifederalist claims that the document was “narrow” and “bigoted” by portraying it instead as a blueprint for a more just and humane world. Opal seeks to clarify the complex interplay of religion, politics, and ethics in post-Revolution America and to consider America’s liberal tradition in terms that the Founders would have understood. (pp. 1082–107) Read online >

“The Slightest Semblance of Unruliness”: Steamboat Excursions, Pleasure Resorts, and the Emergence of Segregation Culture on the Potomac River

The Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department’s patrol boat Vigilant began plying the Potomac River in 1897. The use of this new, faster boat coincided with a dramatic expansion of the city’s police force and with increased surveillance over African American activities on the river and at the city’s wharves.
Courtesy Frederick Tilp, This Was Potomac River.

The early twentieth century has been called the golden age of public amusements in America, but that golden age was predicated on the exclusion of African Americans from the era’s new public leisure spaces. Black entrepreneurs, such as Lewis Jefferson in Washington, D.C., responded to African Americans’ demands for their own places of amusement. By the late 1890s, black excursion boats floated alongside segregated steamers on the Potomac River, and black parties flocked to their own riverside resorts. But, as Andrew W. Kahrl shows in the essay that won the 2007 Louis Pelzer Award, the dignity and autonomy guests sought at Jefferson’s Notley Hall resort contrasted with frightening new caricatures of African American leisure in mass-culture publications and increasingly sophisticated forms of surveillance and harassment. Kahrl explores the politics of leisure at the dawn of the Jim Crow era and the strategies African Americans employed to circumvent exclusions, combat stereotypes, and capitalize on segregation. (pp. 1108–36) Read online >

“Not Marriage at All, but Simple Harlotry”: The Companionate Marriage Controversy

Josephine Haldeman-Julius and Aubrey Clay Roselle (photographed after their honey­moon) became lightning rods for a national debate over modern morals when they celebrated their “companionate marriage” in 1927 in Girard, Kansas.
Courtesy Library of Congress.

The phrase “companionate marriage” figures prominently in historians’ descriptions of the middle-class marital norms that accompanied the emergence of sexual modernism in the early twentieth-century United States. Rebecca L. Davis shows that rather than characterizing an accepted social ideal, the term “companionate marriage” provoked widespread outrage. By focusing on how the term was popularized and interpreted following the publication of Judge Ben B. Lindsey’s book The Companionate Marriage in 1927, Davis shows how the era’s anticommunist politics, gender conservatism, and religious tensions constrained companionate marriage’s meanings and limited its reformist scope. Debates over what companionate marriage implied contributed to a rhetorical tradition, well-established today, that links marital reform to godless, antidemocratic radicalism. (pp. 1137–63) Read online >

Americans, Germans, and War Crimes: Converging Narratives from “the Good War”

Lt. Gen. George S. Patton Jr. strikes a commanding pose, Sicily, July 1943. The U.S. Army’s Inspector General’s Department investigated Patton’s role in the murders of some seventy Axis prisoners of war by American troops in Biscari, Sicily, that month. But no charges were brought against him, and he became an iconic figure in American memory of World War II.
Image courtesy Library of Congress.

Following World War II, the United States conducted trials intended to bring Axis personnel to justice for violating international law in their treatment of both prisoners of war and civilians. But was the United States willing to hold itself accountable to the same standard that it applied to its recent enemies? Nothing in the wartime record of the United States equaled German genocidal barbarity, but all participants in World War II committed smaller-scale atrocities against enemy troops and civilians. James J. Weingartner explores the reaction of the U.S. Army to two such war crimes, one committed by Germans and one by Americans, and the way those crimes have been processed in the collective memories of the two peoples. (pp. 1164–83) Read online >

Textbooks & Teaching

To consult syllabi for courses described in this “Textbooks & Teaching” section, along with other supplementary material and the full text of the articles, visit

  • “Beyond Best Practices: Taking Seriously the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning,” by Gary J. Kornblith and Carol Lasser (pp. 1356–57) Read online >
  • “Starting Places: Studying How Students Understand History,” by Scott E. Casper (pp. 1184–85) Read online >
  • “‘Famous Americans’: The Changing Pantheon of American Heroes,” by Sam Wineburg and Chauncey Monte-Sano (pp. 1186–202) Read online >
  • “A Place for Regions in the Modern U.S. Survey?” by David M. Wrobel (pp. 1203–1210) Read online >
  • “The History Learning Project: A Department ‘Decodes’ Its Students,” by Arlene Díaz, Joan Middendorf, David Pace, and Leah Shopkow (pp. 1211–24) Read online >

Book Reviews

March 2008, Vol. 94 No. 4

Alphabetical by the last name of the book's first author or editor.


Web site Reviews

Web site reviews are available without a subscription.

  • Digital History: Using New Technologies to Enhance Teaching and Research, by Simon Appleford and Vernon Burton (pp. 1329–30) Read online >
  • Military Campaign Maps, by Christopher Hamner (pp. 1331–32) Read online >
  • Immigration to the United States, 1789–1930, by Tara Kathleen Kelly (p. 1332) Read online >
  • Adoption History Project, by Laura Briggs (pp. 1332–33) Read online >
  • Linus Pauling and the Race for dna: A Documentary History, by Daniel J. Cohen (pp. 1333–34) Read online >

Letters to the Editor


Recent Scholarship

Browse “Recent Scholarship” listing >

Recent Scholarship is available as a searchable database, Recent Scholarship Online >

Contents of Volume 94

Index to Volume 94

cover image

On the cover:

Judge Ben B. Lindsey, pictured here in Denver, Colorado, c. 1920, with an unwed mother, her child, and the grandmother, portrayed himself as a champion of sexual tolerance and a solver of social problems. Best-known for establishing one of the first juvenile courts, Lindsey also strove to free premarital sex and single motherhood from social stigma, doing battle with traditional moralists. Courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-70604. See Rebecca L. Davis, “‘Not Marriage at All, but Simple Harlotry’: The Companionate Marriage Controversy,” p. 1137.

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