I am an intellectual historian, interested in the ways in which history influences and interacts with the political imagination. My work focuses on the American revolutionary era, the Early Republic and the antebellum United States (circa 1760-1860), a time when the young United States particularly required the support of historical precedence to found and legitimize unprecedented national claims. My first book, Rome Reborn on Western Shores: Historical Imagination and the Creation of the American Republic, studies how the Roman republic provided revolutionary Americans with a historical model through which they could make sense of their unparalleled situation, hence with their place in history.
My second book, American Zion: The Old Testament as a Political Text from the Revolution to the Civil War (Yale University Press, 2013 (paperback 2014); see reviews in the Journal of American History, the Journal of the Early Republic, Reviews in American History, the New England Quarterly, Church History, Journal of Southern History, and Common-Place) uncovers the roles that the Old Testament (as omnipresent in the early United states, in the words of Perry Miller, as “the air that people breathed”) played in Americans’ political imagination and negotiation of nationhood between 1770-1860. By analyzing some of the most widespread – and overlooked – contemporary interpretations of the Hebrew Bible as a political text, or a text about national politics, the book reveals the extent of that biblicism in American culture and uncovers its distinct character. The book hopes to expand vastly our sense of the role of the Hebrew Bible, and particularly the role of biblical Israel, in the formation of an American national and political culture from the Revolution to the Civil War. Even more importantly, the book explores the idea of American chosenness and its corollary that the United States was the new Israel and finds in the early United States a deep ambivalence toward a secular vision of modernity and Enlightened politics grounded in human reason and will. American Zion unveils a lost world of biblical political imagination, one that deepens our understanding of some of the most profound aspects and enduring issues of the American experience.
In my next book, The Star Spangled Republic: Political Astronomy and the Rise of the American Constellation, I intend to examine the emergence of the image of the star-as-state and consequently of the New American Constellation of state-stars in the American political imagination.
For Freakonomics on Shalev and American political astronomy click here
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