Is it possible that one day in the near future, someone will write a vast study showing that mid-century American historiography (except Perry Miller's) was wrong about everything? This book will consist of two parts: one detailing outright errors obscured by a wholesale failure to cite sources, and the second mocking the tendency towards ungrounded generalization for the sake of moral condemnation. (Among the victims of the latter volume will necessarily be Hofstadter's "The Paranoid Style," which will subsequently drop off of all the dozens of college syllabi which it currently graces.) I'm not saying I will write this thing, but perhaps you will.
I'm reading this second-rate but mainstream history of American education, and have found some difficulties. In his "survey" of 17th century thought, the author attributes (without citation) a claim that children are "young vipers" to Cotton Mather that was actually made in the 18th century by Jonathan Edwards, helpfully instructs us that, "the fruits of [the Puritans'] labors in government are more to be avoided than imitated," and offers the following incisive analyses of the main elements in the socio/cultural/intellectual shift from the 17th to the 18th centuries: "Man's concept of himself also changes" and "Man also adds to his stature." And then he informs us that Locke "denied the existence of inborn tendencies to think, feel, and act in ways predetermined and unrelated to the experiences of individuals." John Locke: surprisingly indistinguishable from B.F. Skinner. And now I am putting this book back on the shelf.
Allowances can be made for the fact that, writing in 1964, Professor Thayer didn't have access to the great modern conveniences like central air conditioning and the online-searchable text of the Works of Jonathan Edwards, but he could at least have tried to read the things he thought he was citing in order to make sure they existed. Anyway, the point is not to pile on Thayer, whom no one has ever heard of, although they have heard of Vernon Parrington, from whom Thayer has cribbed the entire structure and argument of his own book (The inevitable result of a unified intellectual culture, you might say, is that you get 20 books a year pointing out that the Puritans had like a theocracy, which is like antithetical to our open, progressive, cold-warring democratic society of 1964 so we are obliged to continuously remind you to oppose it.)
The point is to wonder what I, in 2012, am supposed to do when I receive reviewer comments that all say entirely contradictory things about an article, and all demand that I deal more extensively with the secondary literature in the field and also that I espouse their own general conclusions about things (Locke was not important for American educational thought; William Godwin was)? What if the established secondary lit is wrong and it's the primary sources that require reconsideration (or even a reading in the first place)? What if the reviewers' conclusions are not espousable because the purpose of my article is to argue against them?
Also, why is my entire life plagued by the one person in a group who always pipes up to say, "But what about the women? You're not sufficiently accounting for the women." Maybe I will create a permanent headnote to all my files that will read, "Pre-emption: The women will be discussed in a separate, forthcoming study" and this study will simply never come forth.