Sara Paretsky is a best-selling mystery writer and creator of the female private eye V I Warshawski. This interview is based on her new book Words, Works, and Ways of Knowing: The Breakdown of Moral Philosophy in New England Before Civil War (University of Chicago Press, 2016).
JF: What led you to write Words, Works and Ways of Knowing?
SP: This was originally my doctoral dissertation at the University of Chicago in 1977.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Words, Works and Ways of Knowing?
SP: Scottish Realism provided the underlying framework for intellectual discourse in northern colleges in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Words, Works and Ways of Knowing explores how that philosophy was irrevocably changed by what we, today, would call scientific inquiry. These changes began when Calvinist scholars began exploring new learning in geology and philology in the 1820s. By the time Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859 there were already deep fissures in the American Academy over questions of biblical inerrancy brought about by the new learning.
JF: Why do we need to read Words, Works and Ways of Knowing ?
SP: This book explores the underpinnings of what became current day fundamentalism.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
SP: I worked in the Civil Rights movement in Chicago in the 1960s and I wanted to study American history to understand what lay behind the violence and the hatred that I saw playing out in Chicago and across the nation. However, at the time that I completed my Ph.D. there were no job openings. I worked in business for 15 years and currently am a writer of crime fiction. I believe the history work I did gave me commitment to accurate research and to providing a historic context for the events that take place in my novels.
JF: What is your next project?
SP: I am finishing a novel whose working title is Fall Out. It is set against the backdrop of the Cold War and how that played out in rural America.
JF: Thanks, Sara!