Ben Keppel (B.A, Phi Beta Kappa, University of California, Davis, 1984; PhD, 1992, MA, 1986, University of California, Los Angeles) studies the development of the political culture of the United States. In his writing and research he is particularly concerned with those points at which popular culture and political culture merge. His most recent book, Brown v. Board and the Transformation of American Culture: Education and The South in the Age of Desegregation (Louisiana State University Press, 2015) exemplifies this interest. In this book, Keppel construes the term “public education” to include not only debates over formal educational institutions and policies but also efforts in the broader popular culture to formally and informally educate citizens in an effort to change long-standing patterns of culture.
This research has also required Keppel to explore the role of social scientific knowledge in general public discourse and to scrutinize how far removed social science actually is from the assumptions which infuse American politics and popular culture. His most important single contribution on this subject was collaborating with Jonathan Scott Holloway on the anthology, Black Scholars on the Line: Race, Segregation and American Social Thought in the Twentieth Century (Notre Dame University Press, 2007).
His first book, The Work of Democracy, Ralph Bunche, Kenneth B. Clark, Lorraine Hansberry and the Cultural Politics of Race (Harvard University Press, 1995) explored the complexities involved in the recreation of living public figures into “participant symbols” in the legitimation of social change. Keppel is currently working on an examination of policing as a subject of American culture in the 1970s. His most recent exploration of the points of interplay between political culture and popular culture is a website which considers how Frank Capra’s holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life” illuminates American responses to both the Great Depression and the more recent Great Recession, whose impact was deepened by the exponential growth of subprime mortgages in fist years of the twenty-first century. You may join this experimental collaboration between OU’s Department of History and OU’s Digital Scholarship Lab by visiting the website of The Capra/Bailey Project, which Professor Keppel founded in 2017 and curates.