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Robert H. Wiebe was not only "present at the creation," but he was a major creator of a deeper and more valid historical understanding of the U.S. in the Progressive Era, and hence of modern U.S. history more broadly, an understanding that went beyond, and freed our thinking from, a venerable Populist Captivity, which however, is making a strong, if retrogressive, comeback among more recent scholars.
At the time of publication of Wiebe's pathbreaking essays on "Business Disunity in the Progressive Movement," 1958, and "The House of Morgan and the Executive," 1959, the leading works on, or dealing significantly with, the Progressive Era were remarkably few in number. The obligatory bibliographical footnote near the start of almost any scholarly article on the subject today cites more secondary works than those cited in entire articles, even in entire issues of journals, published in the 1950s and 1960s. By the time of the publication of Wiebe's two equally pathbreaking books, Businessmen and Reform , 1962, and The Search for Order, 1967, the list was not much longer. It is only since the mid-1960s that the quantity of the literature has grown prodigiously.
It is indicative of the profound and lasting importance of Wiebe's work that each of us here today can easily make a list of not several but several dozen outstanding scholars whose work has significantly intersected with, or drawn upon, Wiebe's work, and who would just as well be members of this panel.
Wiebe's works remain as relevant today, indeed as indispensable today, to the study and understanding of the course in U.S. history in the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era (and by implication, since then), as they were when first published, 30-40 years ago. I believe and say this, as someone whose own understanding not only agrees with, but also differs from, Wiebe's significantly, and in both ways intersects with, and draws upon, his work. Some of these agreements and differences are indicated in the presentation offered here today, for the consideration of those in attendance.
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