My dissertation dealt with the Gadsden Purchase region in the US Southwest, in the southern parts of today’s Arizona and New Mexico during the roughly half-century from its purchase by the United States until the onset of World War I. The resulting book, Wires That Bind: Nation, Region, and Technology in the Southwestern United States, 1854–1920 was published in 2017.
My current research project analyzes popular non-fiction books diagnosing the state of society in the United States and Germany from 1968 through 1989. I contextualize them as cultural and economic products of their era. My project is located at the juncture of the history of ideas and an analysis of the cultural and economic contexts that translated these ideas to a mass audience.
The two decades following the societal upheavals of the 1960s led to feelings of rootlessness and uncertainty about the future for many in the middle classes, both in Germany and the United States. Newly emergent as well as newly perceived threats to home, hearth, and country filled the headlines and the abundant newscasts. A generation that had grown up believing in constant progress was taken aback by the change of direction. Elites who had so far been personally unaffected by the abundance of problems in their respective societies began to take notice.
In this climate, a streamlined and consolidated publishing industry sold this multitude of crises to concerned consumers in the form of popular books that translated academic debates about the ills of the world into sensationalist, reductive – and sometimes wildly speculative – but convincing jeremiads that left little room for hope if people, societies, or even the world did not change its ways.
Both in Germany and the United States, concerns over environmental issues found fertile ground. American publishers especially also sold tracts on the psychological problems and erosion of family values that postindustrial society seemingly brought with it. Books like Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock (1970), Christopher Lasch’s Haven in a Heartless World (1977), or the Club of Rome’s study on The Limits to Growth (1972) were both contributions to debates in the public sphere, as well as their originators; they were located at the intersection of academic debate and public outrage, and thus helped set the tone for an era that has been appropriately termed “The Age of Fracture”.Kathke_Research_Books_on_Society