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Catholics in the American Century

Recasting Narratives of U.S. History

Edited by: R. Scott Appleby and Kathleen Sprows Cummings

Over the course of the twentieth century, Catholics, who make up a quarter of the population of the United States, made significant contributions to American culture, politics, and society. They built powerful political machines in Chicago, Boston, and New York; led influential labor unions; created the largest private school system in the nation; and established a vast network of hospitals, orphanages, and charitable organizations. Yet in both scholarly and popular works of history, the distinctive presence and agency of Catholics as Catholics is almost entirely absent.

In this book, R. Scott Appleby and Kathleen Sprows Cummings bring together American historians of race, politics, social theory, labor, and gender to address this lacuna, detailing in cogent and wide-ranging essays how Catholics negotiated gender relations, raised children, thought about war and peace, navigated the workplace and the marketplace, and imagined their place in the national myth of origins and ends. A long overdue corrective, Catholics in the American Century restores Catholicism to its rightful place in the American story.

Contributors: R. Scott Appleby, University of Notre Dame; Lizabeth Cohen, Harvard University; Kathleen Sprows Cummings, University of Notre Dame; R. Marie Griffith, Washington University in St. Louis; David G. Gutiérrez, University of California, San Diego; Wilfred McClay, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; John T. McGreevy, University of Notre Dame; Robert Orsi, Northwestern University; Thomas Sugrue, University of Pennsylvania

Author Information

ApplebyR. Scott:

R. Scott Appleby is Professor of History and the John M. Regan Jr. Director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence, and Reconciliation and "Church and Age Unite!": The Modernist Impulse in American Catholicism.CummingsKathleen Sprows:

Kathleen Sprows Cummings is Director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism and Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of New Women of the Old Faith: Gender and American Catholic Identity in the Progressive Era.


"The overall impact of the book is a valuable one: in this day and age when the hierarchy is extremely vocal about its version of American Catholicism, in truth, Catholics have always had to forge their own vision of what it is to be Catholic in America—sometimes creating something entirely new, sometimes in sharp contrast to others of their same faith."

Leslie Woodcock Tentler:

"Catholics in the American Century, the most recent volume to appear in the Cushwa twentieth-century series, addresses the problem of Catholic omission head-on. Five of its six essays are by prominent American historians who seek to reimagine their particular areas of expertise once the Catholic presence is taken seriously..Suffice it to say that every historian with an interest in American Catholicism should read and ponder it."

""This book is another example of the prolific output of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame... All six essays explore the interaction of Catholicism with American culture. Robert Orsi provides an innovative perspective on U.S. Catholic assimilation arguing that the U.S. Catholic emphasis on suffering, pain, sacrifice, and persecution has put Catholics at odds with 'modernity' and with American society even as they became a part of both. Orsi demonstrates how Catholics developed their own narrative that allowed them to adapt to U.S society without sacrificing their distinctiveness...There is much food for reflection in these essays as the authors lay down the challenge for mainstream historians of U.S. Catholicism to take one another’s works more seriously, and thereby enrichen both fields." —Jeffrey M. Burns, American Catholic Studies, Vol. 125, No. 1"

Thomas J. Carty:

"Historiography-lovers, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, should ?nd this edited volume a welcome challenge to standard accounts of American history.... Catholics in the American Century raises important questions for the graduate students and history professionals who will create the next generation of scholar ship and textbooks explaining the American past. Historians of Catholicism in particular will bene?t from the arguments this book presents about why their subject deserves more respect and attention within the profession."

"A decade ago Cushwa leaders Scott R. Appleby, Timothy Matovina, and Kathleen Sprows Cummings, the current director, along with historian John McGreevy, launched a project to encourage further research on the lives of American Catholics in the twentieth century. One of the goals of the project was to correct the lack of attention given Catholics in the work of many American historians. What would happen if historians paid attention to Catholics, with their distinctive ideas, imaginations, and practices? Now Catholics in the American Century brings together essays exploring how Catholic experience and perspectives enrich our understanding of the broader American experience."

"These six wide-ranging and impressive essays do indeed 'recast narratives of US history' through the lens and critique of Catholicism.... Taken together, these essays challenge well-trodden tales of Catholics in America becoming American Catholics. Deftly tying [them] together... coeditor Appleby's conclusion gestures to future research prospects that more fully integrate Catholic history into US history, perhaps even seeing the two as intertwined. This book would be a great addition to not just collections on Catholicism in the US, but also, taking up the book's charge, collections on US history. Summing Up: Highly recommended."

""Those with a specific interest in the field of twentieth-century American Catholic history will be impressed by the literature surveyed by the contributors.... As well, the authors have an argument that is directed towards a more general readership.... This volume will be valuable reading for a large audience and should provide good library support for courses focusing on twentieth-century American history." —Christopher Hrynkow, Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d'histoire"

Jeffrey M. Burns:

"There is much food for reflection in these essays as the authors lay down the challenge for mainstream historians and historians of U.S. Catholicism to take one another's works more seriously, and thereby enrichen both fields."

Audience: General/trade;