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Michael Kammen

My life and outlook have been shaped by living for lengthy periods of time in three places: Washington, D.C., Cambridge, Mass., and Ithaca, New York (since 1965). Spending academic years in Greece, Paris, Stanford and Pasadena, California, plus frequent return visits to Washington have also added in various ways to my perspectives on life, history, and culture. So, too, have numerous lecture trips abroad to western Europe, South America, China, Japan, and Israel.

As a historian and writer my interests have shifted and grown over a period spanning close to four decades. I began by writing about Anglo-American politics in the 17th and 18th centuries, and published several books and related articles about the period during the 1960s and early '70s. I then turned to the history of colonial New York, and first edited the classic history written by the last chief justice of the colony and then wrote my own Colonial New York--A History (1975; Oxford paperback 1996).

I then became quite interested in what the first half of American history had meant to people living during the second half, and especially during the past century. That led me to write A Season of Youth: The American Revolution and the Historical Imagination (1978) and A Machine That Would Go of Itself: The Constitution in American Culture (1986). The latter book involved an experiment: blending cultural with constitutional history, and even elements of legal history.

Subsequently, since 1987, I have been concentrating primarily on various aspects and phases of American cultural history. The major effort resulted in Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture (1991; Vintage paperback), but also Meadows of Memory: Image of Time and Tradition in American Art and Culture (1992). My interest in American art as a cultural phenomenon has led to other projects, including a forthcoming biography of the Social Realist Robert Gwathmey (1903-88), which will appear in September 1999 in conjunction with the first major museum retrospective of his paintings concerning African-American life in the rural South.

Since the early 1990s I have also been very much engaged by the history of cultural criticism, which led to The Lively Arts: Gilbert Seldes and the Transformation of Cultural Criticism in the United States (1996), and now a newly completed book concerning cultural stratification and changing levels of taste in the United States. That book will appear in the late spring of 1999 as American Culture, American Tastes: Social Change and the 20th Century (Knopf), and will emphasize the changing dynamics of popular and mass culture.

My work-in-progress continues to involve the history of cultural sites as well as museums of history and art. I also have a long-term project that traces the four seasons as a motif in art and literature, in Europe as well as in the United States.

For an autobiographical essay, see Contemporary Authors: Autobiography Series, vol. 23 (1996), 133-63, which includes a bibliography at the end.
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