Saturday, December 01, 2007

What Hath Howe Wrought?

I mentioned a week ago that Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 was on my wish list. If you too are eying it, this interview with the author at NRO should whet your appetite even further. Excellent questions, interesting answers. A taste:
MILLER: You write about the period from 1815 to 1848. How was the America of 1848 different from the America of 1815?

HOWE: The America of 1815 was what we would call a third-world country. Most people lived on isolated farmsteads; their lives revolved around the weather and the hours of daylight. Many people grew their own food; many wives made their own family’s clothes. Only people who lived near navigable waterways could easily market their crops. Improvements in transportation such as the Erie Canal, the steamboat, and the railroad wrought enormous transformations by 1848. Americans were more and more integrated into a global economy. Revolutionary innovations in communication expanded the printed media, with consequences as varied as the rise of the novel in literature and the rise of mass politics and nationwide political parties. Together, the improvements in transportation and communication liberated people from the tyranny of distance. That is, they liberated people from isolation — economic, intellectual, and political. Meanwhile America was extending its territory westward until it stretched from sea to sea, creating a transcontinental empire that these improvements in transportation and communication could integrate. The America of 1848 was significantly more like the America of today. Like all conscientious historians, I seek to be faithful to representing the past, with its many differences from the present. Still, my book shows how the present came to be.


  1. Anonymous10:03 PM

    Howe's book is good, but it is remarkable for leaving out much of what transpired west of the Appalacian Mts., for some reason.

    John Maass

  2. John,

    You're way ahead of me. I haven't even bought it yet -- lest I get it as a gift. Your caveat won't deter me, but I'll certainly bear it in mind.


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