In its place Becker proposed a vision of history that was both more relativistic and more populist. His address was greeted with a standing ovation and has been celebrated in the ensuing decades as both laying the foundations for, and anticipating, many of the changes in history writing that would take place over the course of the next several decades. But Becker himself expressed disappointment in his speech shortly after giving it. Smith a bill for coal. Brown, whom Mr. Everyman subsequently pays.
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It is an extension of social memory. To illustrate his argument, Becker told a story about a character he called Mr. Everyman is a dutiful, if somewhat colorless, figure who works in an office, enjoys playing golf, and on a certain day wakes up with a nagging sense that there is something he has forgotten. After returning from the Country Club that evening, he digs more deeply into his own records and finds the original invoice from Brown.
That Mr. My engineer husband reinforced my sense that 20 tons was an awful lot of coal, the equivalent today of 3, gallons of heating oil, enough to heat a four-bedroom house in New England four times over. Pouring through Mr. Everyman either had a very large house or a very inefficient furnace.
So what was Becker up to? In fact, there is a rift right down the middle of the essay between the story of Mr. One astonishing paragraph begins by turning Mr. Everyman into Mr. By the end, Becker has pulled off his stiff collar and picked up a drum.
We are Mr. We are thus of that ancient and honorable company of wise men of the tribe, of bards and story-tellers and minstrels, of soothsayers and priests, to whom in successive ages has been entrusted the keeping of the useful myths. Which drum is Becker beating? Is history really an extension of social memory, or is it something more systematic, like the methodical pursuit of a man determined to pay a bill?
But it is nevertheless filled with contradictions, as any essay that attempts to summarize the essence of history must surely be. That is especially so when we try to play out its implications for our own time. Others praise his openness to lay participation. He is best known, however, for his assault on the notion that historians are primarily gatherers of facts.
Everyman supposedly paid for his coal. Not only did this invented character buy more coal than even a well-to-do householder could reasonably use. Unless we want to assume that neither Becker nor his audience knew the price of coal, we have to conclude that his exaggerations were deliberate. From beginning to end, the story of Mr. Everyman was a spoof. To situate Mr.
Everyman in a country club was outrageous, and his audience knew it. Notes 1. Becker delivered his address on December 29, in Minneapolis. It can be found in the American Historical Review, January , — and on-line at www.
Mr. Everyman Buys Coal
Life[ edit ] He was born in Waterloo, Iowa. He enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in as an undergraduate, and while there, he gradually gained an interest in studying history. Remaining for graduate work, Becker studied under Frederick Jackson Turner , who became his doctoral adviser there. His assertion that philosophies , in the " Age of Reason ," relied far more upon Christian assumptions than they cared to admit, has been influential, but has also been much attacked, notably by Peter Gay. Interest in the book is partly explained by this passage p. In the eighteenth century the words without which no enlightened person could reach a restful conclusion were nature, natural law, first cause, reason, sentiment, humanity, perfectibility This isolation of vocabularies of the epoch chimes with much later work, even if the rest of the book is essayistic in approach.
Everyman His Own Historian
Becker uses a narrative and facts to support his position. Becker begins by dissecting the textbook definition of history. For example, Becker replaces knowledge with memory. His argument is that memory is needed in order to recollect knowledge. I agree that theses two aspects work hand in hand.
Becker studied at the University of Wisconsin B. In The Beginnings of the American People , he elaborated on his doctoral work by advancing the thesis of a dual American Revolution —the first being the struggle for self-government and the second the ideological battle over the form such government should take. In The Eve of the Revolution and The Declaration of Independence , he further probed the relationship between 18th-century natural-rights philosophy and the American Revolution. The interwar period was a time of dejection and increasing philosophical skepticism for Becker.