“America during the nineteenth century was a society of island communities,” Wiebe begins. (1) If you don’t agree, you really don’t have to read any further (unless this is on your Orals list), because Wiebe’s argument (like that of many contemporary historians) depends on this prior condition. America had to be pre-commercial, traditional, and parochial, or it could not have changed into the market-oriented, modern, cosmopolitan place it became. And without this change, there would have been no displacement and anxiety, and no middle-class search for order. The issue isn’t only the antiquated, magisterial tone of the text, which seems to say to the reader, “this is the way it was, because I say so.” It would be one thing if the author was simply presenting uncontroversial facts in an excessively authoritative way. It’s something completely different to try to float an interpretation on nothing but a claim to superior (but unshared) knowledge.