The Author’s Corner with Heather Haveman

Heather Haveman is Professor of Sociology at the University of California–Berkeley. This interview is based on her new book, Magazines and the Making of America: Modernization, Community, and Print Culture, 1741-1860 (Princeton University Press, 2015)

JF: What led you to write Magazines and the Making of America?

HHI struggled with the title.  It was hard to encapsulate the main argument of the book and to signal to potential readers why they might be interested in it, because the audience I am hoping for is broad –social/cultural/economic historians, organizational/economic/historical/cultural sociologists, & media scholars.  I asked several colleagues for suggestions.  The final title is a combination of my own words plus suggestions from Cristina Mora and Claude Fischer, both of whom have written historical sociology books.  

JF:  In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Magazines and the Making of America?

HH: Sorry, but it takes 3 sentences.  Over the first 120 years of their history, magazines connected people:  this “old” new media literally mediated between people, facilitating frequent interactions between them even when they were far apart and would otherwise never meet face to face, thus creating many distinct communities whose members had common interests, values, principles, ideas, and identities.  These included communities of faith (religion), purpose (social reform), and practice (commerce and specialized occupations).  Different communities often intersected, which fostered the pluralistic integration that was central to American public culture in this era & helped make an America that was distinct from European societies:  magazines both pushed American society toward a common center and pulled it apart into many distinct subgroups.

JFWhy do we need to read Magazines and the Making of America?

HHYou never HAVE to read anything.  But I hope people do read it because it’s different from most histories of magazines, in that it covers all magazines that I could find any trace of in the first 120 years of the industry’s history, rather than focusing on a short time period, a limited sector of the industry, or particular publishing communities, as previous histories have done.  I provide a picture of the coevolution of the industry and American society at 30,000 feet, rather than close up and on the ground.  Having data on (virtually — you can never be sure) every magazine allows me to draw conclusions that are more truly representative of the industry as a whole than can be drawn from the samples usually studied, which typically include the most prominent magazines. 

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (or in your case a sociologist who does history)?

HHI have an undergraduate degree in history from the University of Toronto, where I focused mostly on medieval and early modern Europe.  (So researching the early history of what became the United States was quite an education.)  I have always believed that general theories of social life, such as those developed and tested in sociology, need to be sensitive to history — to particular eras in time and particular locations in physical and social space.  My magazine project, which includes several journal articles in addition to the book, is my most complete effort to do that.

JFWhat is your next project?

HHI’m studying several contemporary phenomena — Chinese firms in the late 20th & early 21st century, the emerging cannabis market in several American states, the careers of American law professors – as well as one study that is historical, on American wineries in the post-prohibition era (1940 onward).  These are all collaborative, with current and past graduate students.

JF: Thanks Heather!