This week we read chapters four and five of The Transformation of the World—on “Mobilities” and “Living Standards” respectively—which raise some interesting questions about the state of social history in our current historiographical moment. A variety of empirical and materialist social history that the linguistic turn was meant to have swept away decades ago seems currently to be gaining a new lease of life (see, for instance, Sven Beckert’s 2014 Empire of Cotton, a story about the Industrial Revolution more Marxist than Eric Hobsbawm’s), and it’s striking in this context that Osterhammel chose to open the meat of his book with two chapters about demographics, population movement, and measures of welfare such as health and nutrition, long before getting on to any political factors. What do we make of this choice? Can a few tables of population statistics do the explanatory work Osterhammel seems to want them to do? Does this kind of data better enable comparisons across geographical and cultural distances, or is the sense of objectivity it promises false? What sorts of comparisons do these chapters generate to other, perhaps older, social histories of the nineteenth century, such as Hobsbawm’s?
And now, here are a few interesting articles and pieces we found around the web this week. If you come across something that other intellectual historians might enjoy, please let us know in the comments section!
Geoffrey Wheatcroft, Britain: The Implosion (NYRB)
Jenny Uglow, Here Comes Waterloo! (NYRBlog)
Dan-el Padilla Peralta, From Damocles to Socrates, on hip-hop and the classical tradition (Eidolon)
Stuart Whatley, Marginal Millennials (LARB)
Bruce Weber, Ronnie Gilbert, Folk Singer for the Weavers, Dies at 88 (NY Times)
In honor of Ronnie Gilbert, here is a wonderful documentary about The Weavers from the ’80s (YouTube; h/t Friend of the Blog Tony Grafton)