History Limited: The HiddenPolitics of Postwar Popular Histories
Gilbert, James B
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation examines popular history and collective memory in the mid-20th century. Each chapter studies a different source of politicized history, exploring who created the history to be disseminated, what their goals and motivations were, why the historical trope particularly suited their needs and objectives, how they managed to convey ideologies through representations of the past, and how this popular history related to contemporary social and political issues. All of these "historians" - DuPont's radio and television show, Cavalcade of America; the History Book Club; CBS's historical news program, You Are There; the American Heritage Foundation's "Freedom Train"; and the Smithsonian Institution - attempted to mold collective memory into an ideological foundation for their agendas. During a tumultuous period, at home and abroad, the past became a safer forum for political discourse, and reexamining these sources of historical information and interpretation sheds new light on postwar politics. Surprisingly, deep ideological divisions persisted well into the age of apparent consensus. However, despite significant differences, the key people in all of these cases shared the same basic assumption about the relevance of history to contemporary society. The widespread acceptance of a strong relationship between past and present in postwar American society contrasts with later attitudes toward the past. The new technologies that enabled the communication of particular historical representations and interpretations changed too, and rapidly matured into forms less suited to the dissemination of historical lessons. As these attempts to control the public's views of the past began to fail, popular history was increasingly driven by marketplace considerations and was less confined to perspectives carefully chosen by a particular group of elites.