Interpreting American Progressivism

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Interpreting American Progressivism

The period referred to as the Progressive Era in American history is one which historians often disagree over, and as in all areas of history, there are many theories surrounding the era which sometimes contradict each other. Historians are always aware of prominent theories within the field, and they often participate in an ongoing dialogue concerning their research. One of the first historians to make a major mark regarding the Progressive Era was Richard Hofstadter in his book The Age of Reform, published in 1955. Other prominent works include Peter G. Filene’s “Obituary for the Progressive Movement” , published in 1970, Richard L. McCormick’s “The Discovery that Business Corrupts Politics” , published in 1981, and Paula Baker’s “The Domestication of Politics” , published in 1984. While there are recurring themes throughout these four works, clearly the historians do not agree on all aspects of the period. However, together their different views help to expand knowledge on what is often referred to as the Progressive Era.

In The Age of Reform, by far the most comprehensive work discussed, Richard Hofstadter argues that the Progressive movement occurred in cities and was led by the middle class, specifically men who were used to leadership positions and were formerly considered civic leaders within their communities. However, these middle class men, whom Hofstadter refers to as mugwumps, were “Progressives not because of economic deprivations but primarily because they were the victims of an upheaval in status that took place” during the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. More specifically, this was “a changed pattern in the distribution of deference and power” often re...

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...xpect nor want historians to agree in their interpretations of the past, for then new discoveries would never be made and our knowledge would be limited. It is through this synthesis of knowledge and constant dialogue between historians that the most comprehensive representation of the Progressive Era, and ultimately history in general, is created.

Works Cited:

Baker, Paula. “The Domestication of Politics: Women and American Political Society, 1780-1920.” American Historical Review 89, no. 3 (1984): 620-647.

Filene Peter G. “An Obituary for the Progressive Movement.” American Quarterly 22, no. 1 (1970): 20-34.

Hofstadter, Richard. The Age of Reform. New York: Random House, 1955.

McCormick, Richard L. “The Discovery that Business Corrupts Politics: A Reappraisal of the Origins of Progressivism.” American Historical Review 86, no. 2 (1981): 247-274.

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