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Edward Linenthal
Editor, Journal of American History

Last modified: Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Journal of American History: security, breast-feeding, food stamps

March 29, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Americans have become used to metal detectors, orange alerts and "taking off half our clothes at airports" in the past decade, says Elaine Tyler May in the March 2011 issue of the Journal of American History. But our national obsession with security, she argues, didn't start with the 9/11 attacks -- it dates from the Cold War belief that freedom was always perpetually under attack.

"In the United States since World War II, security and democracy have been on a collision course," May says in the Organization of American Historians presidential address. "Misguided ideas about security, along with an investment in private life at the expense of public life, have muted efforts to expand and strengthen democracy, resulting in a nation that is not as democratic, nor as secure, as it could be."

JAH 3/11

The New Deal food-stamp program brought buyers into grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods like the one in this 1940 photograph, giving a boost to consumer capitalism.

May, Regents Professor of American Studies and History at the University of Minnesota, explains in "Security against Democracy: The Legacy of the Cold War at Home" that Cold War ideology wove together several strands of American political culture, including individual freedom, unfettered capitalism, and the sanctity of the home.

She argues that the obsession with personal security may be more corrosive of democracy than policies promoted to protect national security. "If, in the name of security, Americans distrust each other and the government, and value private protection at the expense of the public good, then the basic social and political practices that ensure a healthy democracy cannot survive," she says.

The quarterly Journal of American History is published by the Organization of American Historians, based at Indiana University Bloomington. Also in the March 2011 issue:

  • In "Breast-Feeding and the Sentimental Maternal Ideal in America, 1750-1860," Nora Doyle of the University of North Carolina argues that the rhetoric of pleasure in 18th-century manuals promoting breast-feeding contributed to a long-lasting sentimental culture of motherhood.
  • Nicholas Guyatt of University of York, in "Race, Reconstruction and the Santo Domingo Debate," recasts the post-Civil War debate over whether to annex the Dominican Republic as a central episode in the history of Reconstruction, revealing divisions over black rights and citizenship.
  • Rachel Louis Moran of Penn State University argues in "Food Stamps and the New Welfare of the New Deal" that a late 1930s federal food-stamp program ushered in a vision of a capitalist welfare state that fit with the interests of the emerging liberal order.
  • In "The National Federation of the Blind and the 'Right to Organize' in the 1950s," Felicia Kornbluh of the University of Vermont shows that advocacy for the rights of people with disabilities emerged independently in the 1940s rather than following from the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and '70s.

The March issue also includes a section on "Textbooks & Teaching," along with reviews of recent books on American history. In the JAH Podcast for March, associate editor Stephen D. Andrews speaks with Moran about her article on food stamps and the New Deal.

For more on The Journal of American History, including online articles from the current and past issues, see