When we attend academic history conferences, it has become common to hold sessions honoring important books of the moment. This makes considerable sense, as authors get to engage with thoughtful critics in a process that, we hope, advances the discipline.
What, then, might be the point of holding a session in honor of a book published long ago—indeed, one as ancient as fifty years old? The minimalist reason might be that we are historians, and so we naturally look to the past for interest and inspiration. That would make sense, except that historians, ironically more than scholars in related disciplines, tend to cannibalize their predecessors. Sociologists, of course, still actively engage Weber, Durkheim and Marx, and even—looking to the American midcentury— Richard Hofstadter's Columbia University colleagues, C. Wright Mills and Robert Merton.