David Eisenbach, co-author of One Nation Under Sex: How the Private Lives of Presidents, First Ladies and Their Lovers Changed the Course of American History along with pR0n king Larry Flynt, has responded to my critique of his book, which was more a critique of the genre than of his book in particular. As some readers may recall, this was the nut of my comments:
It’s funny (and by funny, I guess I mean LOLSOB) how some analyses (like those offered by the feminists and queers) go from being dangerous, unsourced, risky, out-on-a-limb evidence problems, to being conventional wisdom in about 30 seconds these days. Too bad for you, historians of sexuality–it looks like you risked your careers, your fortunes, and your sacred honor only to get buried in a footnote in a book by Joseph Ellis or Robert Remini, because those are the only books any authors of popular histories will ever read or cite.
These comments are of course aligned with my overall critique of Founding Fathers/Presidential history, which I explained most recently last summer:
Here’s a suggestion, boys: just stop writing about the so-called “Founding Fathers!” Stop it! Stop! Go find something new, interesting, and utterly undiscovered in the archives, for a change!
Like I said: “the gamut from A to B” in early American history. It’s all the so-called Founding Fathers, all of the time. ((Yawn.))
I am the coauthor of One Nation Under Sex. I was disappointed to see your criticism of our alleged lack of feminist or queer studies analysis. My first book was Gay Power: An American Revolution which chronicles the history of the gay rights movement.
When you read the book you will notice many gay and female heroes from Frederick Von Steuben to Eleanor Roosevelt. We made a great effort to give women and and gays a central place in the history of the presidency and America. All I ask is that after you read the book to please offer a review. I promise you will not be disappointed.
I replied that I checked his footnotesfor the historians whose work I would think was foundational for his and Flynt’s book, especially the earlier chapters that are closer to my period of expertise, and was disappointed to see especially the slighting of women’s historians and feminist authors. Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, whose essay “The Female World of Love and Ritual,” isn’t cited, nor is the work of Leila Rupp and Martin Duberman (the author of an essay called “Writhing Bedfellows,” which is the first queer interpretation of a correspondence between two antebellum men that Eisenbach and Flynt discuss). Furthermore, Nancy Isenberg’s fascinating discussion of sexuality in the Early Republic in her recent bio of Aaron Burr is nowhere to be found, and I found only one citation to Blanche Wiesen Cook’s bio of Elenor Roosevelt, which was the first to explore her relationship with Lorena Hickock so far as I know. (But as many of you know, this is far afield from my research expertise, so I welcome corrections/elaborations in the thread below.)
Eisenbach in his reply points out that Cook’s bio is cited 7 times, not once, and critiques my critique on the basis of footnote citations. Go read the whole exchange, dear readers, and let me know what you think. It doesn’t look to me that this book is offering anything truly new that professional historians haven’t already debated for years. There is value in bringing this information to a wider reading audience, of course, but it’s not like the historians cited above didn’t publish their work (even in many cases like Smith-Rosenberg and Cook with trade presses.)
Do you think it’s dubious to offer opinions of a book one hasn’t read (in a blog post, of course–this is not a peer-reviewed journal) on the basis of the scholarship it engages? Do you think I’ve been unfair to Eisenbach and Flynt? I have to say that Eisenbach has been thoroughly decent in all of his comments, so let’s keep this discussion on the intellectual issues. I stand by my opinion that the worthiest scholarship is the scholarship based on archival sources that offers up something new and interesting we didn’t know before, but as we all know, opinions differ on this, especially in the world of trade presses!
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