For several decades historians have expressed reservations about how scholars of American studies have embraced theory and its jargons. The program for a recent American studies convention seems to confirm the field's turn from history and its embrace of the paradigms and practices of cultural studies. The nature of this gap is complicated by comparing scholarly work published since 2000 on the Gilded Age and Progressive Era in the respective flagship journals of each field. Scholars in both fields are committed to the study of culture, but they differ in how they understand historical agency and subjectivity. A historical overview of American studies scholars' engagement with cultural critique as well as a critical analysis of how two exemplary books in the field engage with historical change offer historians a way to understand such work not only as complementary to their own objectives, but necessary for a full understanding of the past and our relation to it.