Two earlier Corners took up the question of biography and the Christian historian, with the focus on contrasting interpretations of the life of Theodore Roosevelt. A massive new biography suggests it's time to revisit the subject, with a twist.
"You're obviously right that the several topics I take up in the paper have been dealt with elsewhere," I wrote to a critic of an article I had submitted to a scholarly journal for publication. "The point of the piece was to bring that material together in a single place. To the extent that readers may not be inclined to look up small details in 60 or more secondary sources, I thought that it would be useful to present the scattered literature in a single paper. To my knowledge, no such paper exists, and it seems to me that synthesis has its value. In this way, the paper does something 'new.'"
As of this writing, whether that embattled article will survive remains an open question, but the "problem" that put its future in the balance is well known to graduate students and harried college professors: publish something "new" or perish—or, even worse, find yourself cast into the outer darkness inhabited by mere teachers, writers, and (most ghoulish) popularizers, a la Stephen Ambrose.
These thoughts came to me while reading Princeton University historian Christine Stansell's acidic review, published in the New Republic (Dec. 10, 2001), of Theodore Rex, Edmund Morris's best-selling sequel to his universally acclaimed biography of the young Theodore Roosevelt. Insofar as academic bile can be measured (gallons? oceans?), Stansell's piece is more subdued than a similar one by her colleague Sean Wilentz, who some months earlier, also in the New Republic, went out of his way to stick two full ...1