So reading Leo Marx’s collected scholarship from 1950-1985 or so, I find this to be true. He’s most famous for his 1964 book Machine in the Garden which discusses the role of technology and industry in American literature/culture, and that book is an important touchstone in American Studies. But it’s also a good reminder that he was a teacher and a working critic who was an expert in writers like Hawthorne, Melville, Twain, and Emerson, and it’s easy to forget how instrumental those writers (and others like them) helped to both create and catalog a lot of American consciousness. It’s also nice sometimes to read older American texts with a scholar on board to guide you. So while sometimes the scholarship of this era feels overtly straight-forward, that’s not really a bad thing, even if literature scholarship has moved on in a lot of ways (not all of them good).
One of the things I try to teach my high school students taking college writing is that depending on the field of study and the research topic, that older scholarship sometimes needs to be handled as an historical document more so than a scholarly document. One of the things that’s great about English literature scholarship is that the window is much much wider for this gray area. I find that a lot of older scholarship, especially from the 1930s-1960s misses a lot of important later conversations, but are often very engaged with the idea of close reading. And given how important close-reading is as a skill, this still bears a lot of valuable fruit. It misses a lot of identity and cultural studies, and especially in the 1970s and 1980s is so put off by post-modernism and post-structuralism that it feels reactive at times, but in broad ways I still find this true.