I am an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Vanderbilt University. My research explores rhetoric and intellectual culture in American history, particularly in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.

In Spring 2020 I published a book titled Intellectual Populism: Democracy, Inquiry, and the People (Michigan State University Press). Here’s a form you can use to save money on buying the book. Here’s a website about the book.

“Intellectual populism” basically refers to the idea that inquiry ought to be in the hands of ordinary people. The idea comes in response to denunciations of populism as undemocratic and anti-intellectual. My book argues instead that populism has contributed
to a distinct and democratic intellectual tradition in which ordinary people assume leading roles in the pursuit of knowledge. Focusing on the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, the book uses case studies of certain intellectual figures to trace the key rhetorical appeals that proved capable of resisting the status quo and building alternative communities of inquiry. Through these case studies, Intellectual Populism demonstrates how orators and advocates can channel the frustrations and energies of the American people toward productive, democratic, intellectual ends.

The case studies that structure the book center on five people you should know about (if you don’t already): Robert Ingersoll, Mary Baker Eddy, Thomas Davidson, Booker T. Washington, and Zitkala-Ša.

Learn more about Intellectual Populism here.

Before that book I wrote a book about William James, the great American philosopher and a brilliant communicator. Titled William James and the Art of Popular Statement, the book explores James’s career as a lecturer and public speaker.

Here you can read the introduction of the William James book if you want.

In the rest of the book I explore, among other things, James’s 1878 lectures in Baltimore and Boston, Talks to Teachers on Psychology, The Varieties of Religious Experience, and Pragmatism. I also explore James’s advocacy of psychical research, which remains an understudied aspect of his career.

I have also edited a book with my friend Angela Ray of Northwestern University about marginalized intellectual communities in the nineteenth century. The title of the book is Thinking Together: Lecturing and Learning in the Long Nineteenth Century. It’s a great book and you should buy it, especially considering that the paperback version is not prohibitively expensive.

We also created a snazzy, useful website for the Thinking Together book.

You can contact me if you really want: paul.stob@vanderbilt.edu.