Institute of Historical Studies
Institute of Historical Studies

Book Talk: "Respectability as Moral Map and Public Discourse in the Nineteenth Century," by Woodruff D. Smith, UMass Boston and University of Texas at Austin

Thu, February 15, 2018 | GAR 4.100

3:30 PM - 4:30 PM

Despite the fact that respectability is universally recognized as a feature of nineteenth-century society, it has seldom been studied as a subject in itself. In this book, Woodruff D. Smith interprets respectability as a highly significant cultural phenomenon, incorporating both a moral imaginary or map and a distinctive discourse. Respectability was constructed in the public spheres of Europe and the Americas and eventually came to be an aspect of social life throughout the world. From its origins in the late eighteenth century, it was a conscious response to what were perceived as undesirable aspects of modernity. It became a central feature of concepts of "the modern" itself and an essential part of the processes that, in the twentieth century, came to be called modernization and cultural globalization. Respectability – though typically associated with the bourgeoisie – existed independently of any particular social class, and strongly affected modern constructions of class in general and of gender. Although not an ideology, respectability was overtly embedded in several political discourses, especially those of movements such as antislavery which claimed to transcend politics. While it may no longer be a coherent entity in culture and discourse, respectability continues to affect contemporary public life through a fragmentary legacy.

Woodruff D. Smith is Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Boston and Senior Visiting Researcher at the Institute for Historical Studies, University of Texas at Austin.  Professor Smith received his B.A. from Harvard University and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.  He served as a founding faculty member and administrator at the University of Texas at San Antonio and later as professor and Dean of the Liberal Arts Faculty at the University of Massachusetts Boston.  He is the author of seven books and numerous articles on topics in the history of imperialism, German history, the history of social and cultural science, African history, economic and cultural history, and the history of higher education. Among his books are  Public Universities and the Public Sphere (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2010), Consumption and the Making of Respectability, 1600-1800 (Routledge, 2002), Politics and the Sciences of Culture in Germany, 1840-1920 (Oxford University Press, 1991), The Ideological Origins of Nazi Imperialism (Oxford University Press, 1986), and The German Colonial Empire (University of North Carolina Press, 1978). He has held NEH, Fulbright, DAAD, and American Philosophical Society fellowships.  

No RSVP needed, however please email to receive a copy of the reading selection to be discussed.

Sponsored by: Center for European Studies; International Relations and Global Studies; Institute for Historical Studies in the Department of History

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