Thursday, January 22, 2009

What is Catherine Allgor reading?

The current featured contributor to Writers Read: Catherine Allgor, author of A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation and Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government.

Her entry begins:
The most intriguing thing I learned from P. M. Forni's Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct is on the front cover. A professor of Italian literature, Forni is also the co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project! Who knew there was such a thing?

This amazing fact does not mean you need to stop at the cover; Forni's small volume contains much wisdom and many insights. Choosing Civility, as Forni acknowledges, is just the most up-to-date version of a long-established genre--the courtesy book. As a historian of early America, I have had my own experiences with these manners manuals. Though they originated in European courts, courtesy books have an important place in American history. George Washington famously copied the dicta from one into his own little book; the nineteenth-century versions played an enormous role in the refinement movement in the United States.

When you read the old books--and even skim the rules that a young Washington chose to record--you understand how many of these "don't's" were about not intruding on another's space....[read on]
Catherine Allgor is the Visiting Croul Chair in American History at Claremont McKenna College.

The Page 99 Test: A Perfect Union.

Writers Read: Catherine Allgor.

--Marshal Zeringue