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"As clucks of disapproval about Americans' political apathy have grown louder in recent years many historians have looked for contrast to the decades before the Civil War as a time when Americans were enthusiastically engaged in politics."

I am non-native speaker, and I am confused with the interpretation of the sentence "look for contrast to the decades". "look for contrast to something" implies that historians do not want to look for something (I think that is why historians look for contrasts to decades instead of "look for decades"). That is, historians do not want enthusiastic politics. If it is the case, the sentence doesn't make sense because it first says "there is disapproval about political apathy", and it follows that "historians do not look for enthusiastic politics".

Please give some any comment.

Thank you in advance!

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    ' ... many historians have looked to the decades before the Civil War as a time when Americans were enthusiastically engaged in politics, in order to find contrast.' – Edwin Ashworth Apr 10 '18 at 23:26
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    "historians have looked, for contrast, at the decades before the Civil War . . ." – Weather Vane Apr 10 '18 at 23:29
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    You ask about "look for contrast to something". That something is the apathy in recent years, contrasted with the time when Americans were enthusiastically engaged in politics. – Weather Vane Apr 10 '18 at 23:34
  • Please accept “look for contrast to decades” is no kind of sentence. If it was, it wouldn’t mean “looked for contrast to the decades”. That said, could you re-phrase your Question, please? – Robbie Goodwin Apr 26 '18 at 22:35
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I see a general lack of punctuation in this long sentence.

  1. There is a very long introductory phrase: "As clucks of disapproval about Americans' political apathy have grown louder in recent years" at the beginning of the sentence.

  2. There is also a small but nonessential prepositional phrase: "for contrast" in the middle of the sentence.

Both of these should require the use of commas for clarity. I think this may help to resolve the intended meaning of the sentence:

"As clucks of disapproval about Americans' political apathy have grown louder in recent years, many historians have looked, for contrast, to the decades before the Civil War as a time when Americans were enthusiastically engaged in politics."

The sentence appears to mean: The historians are looking to the past time (before the Civil war) where there was political enthusiasm, and comparing that to (in contrast to) more recent years where there has been increasingly loud talk (clucks) of disapproval about political apathy.

Two helpful links are below.

https://www.grammarly.com/blog/commas-after-introductory-phrases/

https://www.englishgrammar101.com/module-6/prepositions/lesson-11/commas-with-prepositional-phrases

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If anyone looks for contrast to anything, it is because they wish to emphasize differences.

I believe the original text would be more clear if it were completely re-phrased. The sentence attempts to contrast political attitudes in different historical time periods, but the point gets lost the longer the sentence runs. I believe the sentence reads better as two separate sentences:

Many historians have looked to the decades before the Civil War as a time when Americans were enthusiastically engaged in politics. This time period contrasts with recent years, where clucks of disapproval about American's political apathy have grown louder and louder.

These two sentences better emphasize the contrast between the historical time periods and their respective political attitudes.

  • This is right, but it doesn't explain why that's what it means, and is therefore of limited use. User 22542's answer explaining the commas does a much better job. – AndyT Sep 19 '18 at 10:13

protected by MetaEd Sep 19 '18 at 15:56

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