Kammen, Michael G. 1936- (Michael Gedaliah Kammen)
Kammen, Michael G. 1936- (Michael Gedaliah Kammen)
Born October 25, 1936, in Rochester, NY; son of Jacob Merson and Blanche Kammen; married Carol Koyen (an historian), February 26, 1961; children: Daniel Merson, Douglas Anton. Education: George Washington University, A.B. (with distinction), 1958; Harvard University, M.A., 1959, Ph.D., 1964.
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, instructor, 1964-65; Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, assistant professor, 1965-67, associate professor, 1967-69, professor of American history, 1969-73, Newton C. Farr Professor of American History and Culture, 1973—, chair of history department, 1974-76, director of Society for the Humanities, 1977-80. Fellow of Humanities Center, Johns Hopkins University, 1968-69. Directeur d'Etudes Associe, École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociale, Paris, France, 1980-81. Host and moderator for The States of the Union, a series of fifty one-hour radio programs broadcast by National Public Radio, 1975-76. Member of the board of directors, Social Science Research Council, 1980-83.
International Commission for the History of Representative and Parliamentary Institutions, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Society of Legal History, American Historical Association, American Antiquarian Society, Society of American Historians, Organization of American Historians (member of executive board, 1989-92; president, 1995-96), Institute of Early American History and Culture, Massachusetts Historical Society, Colonial Society of Massachusetts, New York State Historical Association (trustee, 1981-94), Phi Beta Kappa.
National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, 1967, 1972-73, 1984-85, and 1997-98; Pulitzer Prize for history, 1973, for People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization; George Washington University Alumni Achievement Award, 1974; Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences Fellowship, 1976-77; Guggenheim fellow, 1980-81; Francis Parkman Prize and Henry Adams Prize, 1987, for A Machine That Would Go of Itself: The Constitution in American Culture; Smithsonian Institution Regents fellow, 1990; Times-Mirror Foundation Research Professor of American Studies, Huntington Library, San Marino, California, 1993-94; guest scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center, 1997-98.
(Coeditor) The Glorious Revolution in America: Documents on the Colonial Crisis of 1689, Institute of Early American History and Culture (Williamsburg, VA), 1964, revised edition, 1972.
A Rope of Sand: The Colonial Agents, British Politics, and the American Revolution, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1968.
Deputyes and Libertyes: The Origins of Representative Government in Colonial America, Knopf (New York, NY), 1969.
Empire and Interest: The American Colonies and the Politics of Mercantilism, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1970.
People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization, Knopf (New York, NY) 1972, reprinted, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1990.
Colonial New York: A History, Scribners (New York, NY), 1975, reprinted, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1996.
(With J.P. Greene and R.L. Bushman) Society, Freedom, and Conscience: The Coming of the Revolution in Virginia, Massachusetts, and New York, Norton (New York, NY), 1976.
Perspectives on the American Revolution: Lectures Presented at the York Campus, the Pennsylvania State University, April-May, 1976, The University (York, PA), 1976.
(With Kenneth E. Boulding and Seymour Martin Lipset) From Abundance to Scarcity: Implications for the American Tradition, Ohio State University Press (Columbus, OH), 1978.
A Season of Youth: The American Revolution and the Historical Imagination, Knopf (New York, NY), 1980, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1988.
Literature and Society: The Lawrence Henry Gipson Symposium, 1978, Lawrence Henry Gipson Institute (Bethlehem, PA), 1981.
Spheres of Liberty: Changing Perceptions of Liberty in American Culture, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 1986, Banner Books/University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 2001.
A Machine That Would Go of Itself: The Constitution in American Culture, Knopf (New York, NY), 1986, Transaction Publishers (New Brunswick, NJ), 2006.
Selvages and Biases: The Fabric of History in American Culture, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1987.
Constitutional Pluralism: Conflicting Interpretations of the Founders' Intentions, The Committee (New York, NY), 1987.
Sovereignty and Liberty: Constitutional Discourse in American Culture, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 1988.
Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture, Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.
Meadows of Memory: Images of Time and Tradition in American Art and Culture (the Tandy Lectures in American Civilization, Amon Carton Museum of American Art), University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1992.
In the Past Lane: Historical Perspectives on American Culture, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1997.
(Contributor) Unknown Terrain: The Landscapes of Andrew Wyeth, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1998.
Carolyn Plochmann: Fantasies and Realities, Kennedy Galleries (New York, NY), 1998.
American Culture, American Tastes: Social Change and the 20th Century, Knopf (New York, NY), 1999.
Robert Gwathmey: The Life and Art of a Passionate Observer, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1999.
Visual Shock: A History of Art Controversies in American Culture, Knopf (New York, NY), 2006.
Politics and Society in Colonial America: Democracy or Deference?, Holt (New York, NY), 1967, second edition, Krieger (Melbourne, FL), 1978.
The Contrapuntal Civilization: Essays toward a New Understanding of the American Experience, Crowell (New York, NY), 1971.
William Smith, Jr., The History of the Province of New-York, two volumes, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1972.
"What Is the Good of History?" Selected Letters of Carl L. Becker, 1940-1945, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1973.
The Past before Us: Contemporary Historical Writing in the United States, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1980.
The Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History, Viking (New York, NY), 1986.
(With James A. Henrietta and Stanley N. Katz) The Transformation of Early American History: Society, Authority, and Ideology, Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.
Contested Values: Democracy and Diversity in American Culture, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Contributor to Studies Presented to the International Commission for the History of Representative and Parliamentary Institutions, 1970, and to numerous periodicals and journals.
Michael G. Kammen, a professor at Cornell University, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who has also written a series of wide-ranging books investigating American cultural history, particularly during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. "The most prolific among present-day historians of early America, Michael Kammen has commanded attention and respect with bold generalizations; a wide-ranging and imaginative use of sources; a working familiarity with the theories and concepts of behavioral and humanistic fields of scholarship; a keen eye for anomaly, irony, and paradox; and a sprightly, clear, and concise prose style," wrote John K. Nelson in the South Atlantic Quarterly.
In his 1973 book, People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization, Kammen studies the American character in terms of contradictions and unresolved tensions that he finds in the nation's origins. Many critics found favor with the manner in which Kammen approaches the familiar yet elusive problem of defining a nation's character. Claiming "it might seem as easy as falling off a log to produce yet another book about American national character," New York Times Book Review contributor Marcus Cunliffe explained instead the difficulties inherent in such a task, praising People of Paradox as "a lively, wide-ranging book" and Kammen's attempt as "a brilliant stab at reforming some ancient yet perennially intriguing problems." In comparing Kammen's observations to the work of others, Cunliffe added: "Kammen has … taken the idea further than anyone else: He has been more systematic, shown more intellectual curiosity, and written with greater gusto." It was for People of Paradox that Kammen received the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for history.
Also well received was Colonial New York: A History, Kammen's 1975 study of cultural and political life in old New York from its initial settlement by the Dutch in the early seventeenth century to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In Colonial New York, Kammen uses a broad method of investigation to study the importance of ethnic, linguistic, and regional heterogeneity in shaping the colony's early social and political development. Washington Post Book World contributor George Dangerfield extolled Colonial New York's accessibility, calling it "scholarly, but eminently readable." Even higher praise came from Times Literary Supplement critic Jack P. Greene, who maintained: "Certainly [Colonial New York is] the best available one-volume history of the colony and as good a one-volume account as exists for any of Britain's American colonies."
In A Season of Youth: The American Revolution and the Historical Imagination, Kammen turns to studying the imaginative impact of the American Revolution on our national culture. He examines Americans' attitudes toward this event from 1776 to the present, drawing from a wealth of sources—histories and biographies, newspaper articles and broadsides, historical novels, orations, theatrical productions, and even film. Critical reaction to A Season of Youth was generally positive. In his South Atlantic Quarterly review of the work, John K. Nelson lauded Kammen for his "stimulating observations, … sensitive reading of a vast array of sources," and his "vivid illustrative materials." John Leonard, writing in the New York Times, praised Kammen's "pleasantly conversational" tone as well as the book's "lively narrative." However, while most critics admired the scope and thoroughness of Kammen's research, some found fault with his methods of analysis. Leonard, for instance, considered much of what the author does in A Season of Youth to be a reiteration of observations made by others, notably French writer and politician Alexis de Tocqueville. However, Leonard declared: "I have my qualms about the glossing of popular culture, especially when you know just what you're looking for in advance. Such detritus is particularly susceptible to manipulation and coercion by other social agencies more deserving of study than the pulp they leave behind, e.g. the legal, educational, medical and historical professions; the advertising and newspeak ministries of business and the state." Despite such criticism, however, most critics seemed to agree with the appraisal of Washington Post Book World critic George Dangerfield when he suggested that Kammen's book "is a work of rich and imaginative scholarship, exciting and important for what it explicates and deeply disturbing for what it implies."
In Kammen's work A Machine That Would Go of Itself: The Constitution in American Culture, the author offers a cultural history of the U.S. Constitution by examining the role this document has played in the national psyche. Chosen by the editors of the New York Times Book Review as one of the best books of 1986, A Machine That Would Go of Itself met with widespread acclaim. In his Washington Post Book World review of the title, Stanley Katz praised Kammen's "intriguingly detailed revelations" and deemed the work "the best Bicentennial book to date." Chicago Tribune contributor Jess Bravin commended the scholarship in A Machine That Would Go of Itself, finding the book "packed with research and an unending amount of trivia." Bravin went on to call the work "an important chronicle of how Americans have come to understand and misunderstand [the Constitution]."
In his 1991 title, Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture, Kammen "traces American collective memory and patriotism" from the late-nineteenth century to the present, noted a Virginia Quarterly Review critic. Examining the public myths, legends, and stories that Americans have told themselves during the last century, Kammen charts the manner in which Americans' sense of their past has shaped—and been shaped by—their country's culture. Before 1870, according to Kammen, the lack of a collective past due to the large number of immigrants in America kept the country's culture future-based. Between 1870 and 1915, however, historical events such as the Civil War became a shared national memory, one that was kept alive in schools, churches, and other public institutions. The period between 1915 and 1945 saw this traditional historical focus invigorated by new cultural forms. Finally, since 1945, Americans' historical amnesia, reinforced by increased commercialism and government influence, has "level[ed] the hierarchies of memory, so that Graceland and Cooperstown [have] become indistinguishable from Mt. Vernon and Independence Hall," remarked Wilson Carey McWilliams in Commonweal. McWilliams, while commenting that Kammen "may give contemporary culture a higher tone than it deserves," called Mystic Chords of Memory "a remarkable book." Discussing Kammen's focus on America's cultural past, McWilliams concluded that Kammen's writings "are always warmed by his warts-and-all love for the place."
The Lively Arts: Gilbert Seldes and the Transformation of Cultural Criticism in the United States is a biographical study of Seldes, a highly influential cultural critic during the early and middle part of the twentieth century. Seldes was chiefly responsible for forcing cultural criticism to examine pop culture alongside more highbrow fare, and thus he had an important impact on Kammen's own views and methods as a critic.
The Lively Arts was generally well received by reviewers. Michael Wreszin in American Historical Review pointed out: "On all the relevant issues, Kammen provides much detail and often insightful commentary. He appears to share with Seldes an infinite capacity to wade through banality." The chapters addressing the introduction of television were of particular interest to critic Stuart D. Hobbs, who, writing in the Historian, argued that Kammen "challenges the standard model" of the emergence of mass media and that he "posits a more nuanced approach." In the New York Times Book Review, however, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. lamented that the author does not provide more information on his subject's private life: "One wishes that Michael Kammen had given more attention to Seldes as a personal- ity." While finding a frequent "lack of substance" to the book, Wreszin asserted that as the first study of Seldes, it "fills the gap." Schlesinger averred that "in the main ‘The Lively Arts’ is a rich and stimulating work and a long overdue account of the intelligent and energetic man who almost singlehandedly changed American attitudes toward the popular arts."
"Life is too short to devote an entire career to one period or one particular type of history," Kammen commented in a Publishers Weekly interview with Rick Perlstein. Indeed, American Culture, American Tastes: Social Change and the 20th Century covers new ground for Kammen, as he differentiates between "popular culture" and "mass culture" and demonstrates how the latter has led to personal isolation, passivity, and homogeneity in the American populace since the 1960s. To quote New York Times Book Review correspondent Thomas Hine, "By plowing through nearly a century's worth of cultural criticism and opinion polls, [Kammen] tries to chronicle shifting perceptions of culture and to provide a safe, well-marked way for the discussion to go forward." Unfortunately, the critic added, "his book itself, while it provides a compendium of 20th-century commentary, does not provide useful new ways to understand pop culture and connect it to other events and forces." Conversely, a Publishers Weekly reviewer found favor with Kammen for exploring "how our endless cultural skirmishes not only reflect but also change how we view citizenship and democracy…. Kammen's writing is clear and his insights illuminating and provocative." Commenting on American Culture, American Tastes in Library Journal, Scott H. Silverman concluded: "Kammen's liberal reasonableness counts as a new contribution to the school of consensus, an unfashionable approach in American historiography for decades."
While researching Mystic Chords of Memory, Kammen began to collect the paintings of Robert Gwathmey, a social realist who was particularly interested in depicting black Americans in the rural South. Himself white and Virginia-born, Gwathmey brought a sensitivity to his genre scenes and portrait-painting that reflected his concerns for civil rights and racial discrimination. According to Rick Perlstein in Publishers Weekly, Kammen's Robert Gwathmey: The Life and Art of a Passionate Observer "seems to offer an object lesson to back up the argument of American Culture, American Tastes. This is the kind of work that Kammen thinks is much harder to find now, because it feeds off a regional distinctiveness that has all but disappeared." In a Publishers Weekly review of the biography, a critic noted that Kammen "captures the evolution of the artist's work as it registered the seismic shifts of the civil rights movement," adding that Gwathmey "proves worthy of this major reappraisal."
Kammen tackles the subject of controversial artworks in Visual Shock: A History of Art Controversies in American Culture. As he shows in the book, controversies about art have been frequent throughout U.S. history. The photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe, for example, have caused scandal because of their supposed pornographic content, but the sculptures of Rodin—hailed by modern critics as fine art—were also once considered indecent. In his broad overview, Kammen includes similar examples from centuries of art history in the United States. He argues that, in general, artistic license should be respected, and that disagreements over art works are a sign of a healthy democracy. Though critics noted his nonjudgmental approach to most art controversies, Kammen does sometimes fault individual artists for making poor choices when they fulfilled public commissions. A major example is Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, who was hired by Nelson Rockefeller in 1931 to create a large mural for Rockefeller Center. Rockefeller—one of the most important business leaders of the time—accepted the basic design, which illustrated Rivera's staunch anti-capitalist ideals and idealization of labor. Rockefeller demanded only that the artist remove the portrait of Russian communist leader V.I. Lenin, placed at the center of the composition. When Rivera refused, Rockefeller ordered the partly-completed mural destroyed. A "major burden of the responsibility" for this action, according to Kammen, should belong to Rivera.
This case, however, was not typical. As Kammen shows, most art controversies in the United States did not precipitate such extreme action. Instead, many initially-reviled artworks became accepted in time, and even admired; controversies that captured public attention, Kammen suggests, brought more people into galleries and museums and were therefore good for art. Though Reason contributor Cheryl Miller acknowledged that fine art has become more accessible, she rejected the argument that controversy stimulates public interest in particular art works. "It isn't shock art that's drawing the biggest crowds," Miller wrote. "The most popular exhibits offer more traditional fare."
Critics appreciated Visual Shock's breadth and scope. In fact, America contributor Charles R. Morris commented that Kammen's material is so diverse "that the book often reads more like a chronologically organized encyclopedia of American art controversies than an integrated historical narrative." A Kirkus Reviews writer, on the other hand, deemed Visual Shock a "prodigiously researched, well-illustrated and very balanced" work that serves as a "fine introduction to the many fiery debates about art that have occasionally burst into cultural conflagration."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America, March 12, 2007, Charles R. Morris, "Radical Expressions," p. 23.
American Historical Review, April, 1997, Michael Wreszin, review of The Lively Arts: Gilbert Seldes and the Transformation of Cultural Criticism in the United States, p. 555; October 1, 2005, Elizabeth Blackmar, review of A Time to Every Purpose: The Four Seasons in American Culture, p. 1164.
American Literature, June 1, 1998, review of In the Past Lane: Historical Perspectives on American Culture, p. 432.
American Political Science Review, March 1, 1990, Michael W. McCann, review of Sovereignty and Liberty: Constitutional Discourse in American Culture, p. 282.
American Prospect, March 1, 2007, "How America Does Art," p. 41.
Antioch Review, summer, 2004, Catherine Kord, review of A Time to Every Purpose, p. 582.
Booklist, September 15, 1997, Jay Freeman, review of In the Past Lane, p. 204; September 1, 2006, Donna Seaman, review of Visual Shock: A History of Art Controversies in American Culture, p. 27.
Books, November 26, 2006, "A Who-what-why of Controversial Art: Clashes More Frequent, Intense than in the Past," p. 5.
Books & Culture, November 1, 2004, Cindy Crosby, "For Everything There Is a Season," p. 34.
Chicago Tribune, October 2, 1986, Jess Bravin, review of A Machine That Would Go of Itself: The Constitution in American Culture.
Choice, November 1, 2004, J. Sochen, review of A Time to Every Purpose, p. 547; May 1, 2007, W.B. Maynard, review of Visual Shock, p. 1520.
Chronicle of Higher Education, September 25, 1991, Raymond Chris, review of The Transformation of Early American History: Society, Authority, and Ideology, p. 15.
Commonweal, April 10, 1992, Wilson Carey McWilliams, review of Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture, p. 20.
Contemporary Review, June 1, 1998, review of In the Past Lane, p. 334.
Contemporary Sociology, July 1, 1993, Kurt Lang, review of Meadows of Memory: Images of Time and Tradition in American Art and Culture, p. 596.
Historian, winter, 1998, Stuart D. Hobbs, review of The Lively Arts, p. 392; January 1, 1992, Michael G. Hall, review of The Transformation of Early American History, p. 383; summer, 1999, Ellen M. Litwicki, review of In the Past Lane.
History Today, September 1, 1992, J.E. Morpurgo, review of The Transformation of Early American History, p. 55; November 1, 1992, David Lowenthal, review of Meadows of Memory, p. 52.
History and Theory, February 1, 1999, review of In the Past Lane, p. 141.
Internet Bookwatch, January 1, 2007, review of Visual Shock.
Journal of American Culture, December 1, 2005, Ray B. Browne, review of A Time to Every Purpose, p. 437.
Journal of American History, March 1, 1990, Peter S. Onuf, review of Sovereignty and Liberty, p. 1244; June 1, 1993, Karal Ann Marling, review of Meadows of Memory, p. 249; December 1, 1998, Edward T. Linenthal, review of In the Past Lane, p. 1043; June 1, 2005, David Bjelajac, review of A Time to Every Purpose, p. 181.
Journal of American Studies, December 1, 1992, Robert M. Bliss, review of The Transformation of Early American History, p. 450; August 1, 1999, Paul Grainge, review of In the Past Lane, p. 377; April 1, 2006, George Conyne, review of A Time to Every Purpose, p. 179.
Journal of Interdisciplinary History, September 22, 1992, Ned Landsman, review of The Transformation of Early American History, p. 395.
Journal of Popular Culture, spring, 2000, Ray Browne, review of In the Past Lane.
Journal of Social History, winter, 2005, Zachary J.S. Falck, review of A Time to Every Purpose.
Journal of Southern History, May 1, 1990, Peter Hoffer, review of Essays on Liberty and Federalism: The Shaping of the U.S. Constitution, p. 343.
Journal of the Early Republic, fall, 1989, Avern Cohn, review of Sovereignty and Liberty; spring, 1993, Robert McColley, review of Meadows of Memory.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2006, review of Visual Shock, p. 617.
Library Journal, September 15, 1980, "The Past before Us," p. 1860; August, 1999, Scott H. Silverman, review of American Culture, American Tastes, p. 113.
Nation, October 30, 2006, Peter Plagens, review of Visual Shock, p. 27.
New England Quarterly, September 1, 2005, Priscilla Paton, review of A Time to Every Purpose, p. 464.
New York Times Book Review, October 1, 1972, Marcus Cunliffe, review of People of Paradox; December 17, 1978, John Leonard, review of A Season of Youth; May 5, 1996, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., review of The Lively Arts, p. 7; August 29, 1999, Thomas Hine, review of American Culture, American Tastes, p. 13.
Publishers Weekly, February 5, 1996, review of The Lively Arts, p. 73; July 21, 1997, review of In the Past Lane, p. 191; June 14, 1999, review of American Culture, American Tastes, p. 58; August 2, 1999, Rick Perlstein, interview with Michael Kammen, p. 56; August 9, 1999, review of Robert Gwathmey: The Life and Art of a Passionate Observer, p. 336; June 19, 2006, review of Visual Shock, p. 49.
Reason, January 1, 2007, Cheryl Miller, "Crying Censorship: Shocking the Bourgeoisie—It's Nice Work If You Can Get It," p. 74.
Reference & Research Book News, February 1, 1998, review of In the Past Lane, p. 32; February 1, 2007, review of Visual Shock.
Reviews in American History, December 1, 1993, David Leviatin, review of Meadows of Memory, p. 717; December 1, 1998, Tamara Plakins Thornton, review of In the Past Lane, p. 793.
Social Science Journal, July 1, 1993, David Lowenthal, review of Meadows of Memory, p. 298.
South Atlantic Quarterly, autumn, 1979, John K. Nelson, review of A Season of Youth.
Times Literary Supplement, September 2, 1977, Jack P. Greene, review of Colonial New York.
Virginia Quarterly Review, spring, 1992, review of Mystic Chords of Memory, p. 63.
Washington Post Book World, November 30, 1975, George Dangerfield, review of Colonial New York; September 10, 1978, George Dangerfield, review of A Season of Youth; October 5, 1986, Stanley Katz, review of A Machine That Would Go of Itself.
William and Mary Quarterly, October 1, 1992, Richard S. Dunn, review of The Transformation of Early American History, p. 703; October 1, 1993, David M. Lubin, review of Meadows of Memory, p. 796.
H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online,http://www.h-net.org/ (August 1, 2004), David Scofield Wilson, review of A Time to Every Purpose.