Sean Wilentz

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Sean Wilentz

Sean Wilentz is the Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor in the American Revolution at Princeton, where he has taught since 1979. His many books include "The Rise of American Democracy: From Jefferson to Lincoln," which received the 2006 Bancroft Prize, and, most recently, "The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008." A contributing editor at the New Republic and occasional essayist at Newsweek and Rolling Stone, he writes widely on history, politics, and the arts.[1]

Wilentz lives in Princeton, New Jersey and is married to University of Chicago historian Christine Stansell.[2]


Born in 1951 in New York City, where his father Eli Wilentz owned a well-known Greenwich Village bookstore, the Eight Street Bookshop, Wilentz earned one B.A. at Columbia University in 1972, before earning another at Oxford University on a Kellett Fellowship. In 1980, he earned his Ph.D. at Yale University, under the supervision of David Brion Davis. His historical scholarship has focused on the importance of class and race in the early national period, especially in New York City. Wilentz has also co-authored books on nineteenth-century religion and working-class life. He has more recently turned his scholarship to modern U.S. history. His latest book is The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008, published in May 2008. A contributing editor at The New Republic.[3]

Cultural writing

Wilentz writes widely on music and the arts as well as history and politics, and has received a Grammy nomination, and a Deems Taylor Award for musical commentary from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers for his work on Bob Dylan.[4]

"Workers of Princeton unite"

Princetonian, May 1, 1980

In 1980, Princeton University's Progressive Forum and PULA/AFSCME sponsored a May Day rally opposite the Firestone library. An advertisement for the event in the Daily Princetonian, "Workers of Princeton unite for a May Day rally" said that speakers included Stanley Aronowitz, Jim Alt and Sean Wilentz.[5]

Kagan connection

Obama supreme court nominee Elena Kagan spent her senior year (1981) conducting research for her thesis, on socialism in NYC, under the direction of Sean Wilentz.

When controversy erupted in 2010, over Kagan's thesis, Wilentz defended Kagan against her critics, noting that she was adept at removing her personal beliefs from her academic research on labor and radical history. “Sympathy for the movement of people who were trying to better their lives isn’t something to look down on,” he explained. “Studying something doesn’t necessarily mean that you endorse it. It means you’re into it. That’s what historians do.”

According to Wilentz,

“Elena Kagan is about the furthest thing from a socialist. Period. And always had been. Period.

Wilentz reiterated that, , Kagan’s stellar mind ideally qualifies her for the Supreme Court nomination. “She’s not an ideologue; she’s very pragmatic,” he said. “She’s a woman whose ... deepest dedication is to the constitution of the United States. Which some people can think is a terribly radical thing, and some people can think is a terribly reactionary thing, but I think is exactly where she ought to be for the position she is being considered for.”[6]

"Socialism in America" conference

In late 1984, more than 700 people attended a conference at Princeton "Socialism in America" to mark the centenary of the birth of Norman Thomas.

The conference was organized by historians Gary Gerstle, Peter Mandler and Sean Wilentz.

Speaker included Michael Harrington, Maurice Isserman, Irving Howe, H. L. Mitchell, Millie Jeffrey, Harry Fleischman, Ben McLaurin, and Frances Fox Piven. [7]

"Dissent" magazine

In 2009 the Democratic Socialists of America aligned Dissent magazine masthead[8] Editorial Board members were;

Bernard Avishai, Joanne Barkan, David Bensman, Marshall Berman, Paul Berman , H. Brand, David Bromwich, Luther Carpenter , Jean L Cohen, Mitchell Cohen, Bogdan Denitch , Jeff Faux, Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, Todd Gitlin, Murray Hausknecht, Agnes Heller, Jeffrey Isaac, Michael Kazin , Martin Kilson, Erazim Kohak, William Kornblum, Jeremy Larner, Susie Linfield, Kevin Mattson, Deborah Meier, Harold Meyerson, Nicolaus Mills , Jo-Ann Mort, Brian Morton, Carol O'Cleireacain, George Packer, Martin Peretz, Anson Rabinbach, Ruth Rosen, James Rule, Alan Ryan, Patricia Sexton, Jim Sleeper, Ann Snitow, Cornel West, Sean Wilentz, Dennis Wrong.



  2. [1] Wilentz FaceBook bio, accessed June 28, 2010
  3. [2] Wilentz FaceBook bio, accessed June 28, 2010
  4. [3] Wilentz FaceBook bio, accessed June 28, 2010
  5. Daily Princetonian May 1, 1980
  6. [4] Reserved passion: Kagan ’81 By Ameena Schelling Senior Writer, The Daily Princetonian, May 3, 2010, accessed June 25, 2010
  7. Democratic Left, Nov./Dec. 1984, page 12