Try to tell the story of America’s drive for liberty from two battered silver teaspoons. Toggle between an eight-year-old’s question about New England’s colonial slaves, and a veteran teacher’s query about the Declaration’s oddball archivism. Pilot classes through the ratification debates, antebellum reform movements, and get to the Civil War by lunch. Public history is nonstop teaching. We work with and for visitors to reinvent the syllabus daily. After nearly a decade of work at the Massachusetts Historical Society—the oldest organization of its kind in America—I’d like to reopen the public history playbook and talk pedagogy. How and why we should teach the American past (especially narratives of war and peace) in museums, libraries, archives, and galleries is rarely part of the graduate history curriculum. Yet, our humanities hubs often serve as arenas for some of our most difficult social dialogues. Rangers and curators impart much of the same survey material that professors do, by working on a different canvas. Functioning as the world’s classroom, public history deploys manuscripts and artifacts, piling the past onto your weekday. War stories—even sagas as well-documented as the American Revolution—flex to undergo our modern rewrites. Working with their audiences, public historians who retell stories of revolution and civil war must find an ideological key to put artifacts in context. I start small, with a spoon or two, and build. Continue reading
Marking nearly a decade of gathering diverse scholars in dialogue, program plans for the 2017 Society for U.S. Intellectual History’s annual meeting in Dallas are well underway. (A friendly reminder: There’s still time to send in your proposals, due by 15 April). Given our conference theme of “Histories of Memory, Memories of History,” we hope to bring more librarians, museum professionals, and archivists into the discussion. With that in mind, we’re delighted to announce that we’ll kick off the proceedings on Thursday, Oct. 26th, with an opening plenary session on “Public History and the Future of the Past.” Continue reading
Two important history conferences were held this weekend: the Future of the African American Past Conference, hosted by the American Historical Association; and the Memphis Massacre Conference, commemorating the events of 1866 in Memphis, Tennessee. Both conferences were important for two broad reasons. One, they both indicate a continued interest by some historians—especially those focused on the African American experience—to speak to the public about history. Second, they both speak to Emily Rutherford’s concerns about opening up intellectual history to groups traditionally marginalized within the field. An intellectual history from below, as it were, would provide the fodder for more questions to be asked within American intellectual history. As this week’s conferences prove, a general concern about history from below—and its connections to current events from below—engulf the historical profession in new, and intriguing ways.
The following post comes from Rebecca Denne and Rachel Fulk. Denne is a first year graduate student in IUPUI’s Departments of History and Library Science. She is interested in public history and archives. Fulk is a first year graduate student in IUPUI’s Department of History. She is a teaching assistant with interests in post-1945 American history and women’s history. They were both students in Ray Haberski’s spring semester course on post-1945 United States history.
Immediately after the Cold War came to a surprisingly quiet end, many conservatives (and not a few liberals) attempted to cement the Cold War as a “good war” in the minds of the American public and proclaim a specific place for it in American collective memory. But the American people did not buy into this historical narrative. Instead of acceptance, the public condemned and questioned Cold War decisions and strategies. As a result, historical sites around the United States with the job of explaining the Cold War often apologize for actions of a nation that, at least in the conservative view, “won” the Cold War. Continue reading
Last week the city of Columbia hosted a symposium on the Reconstruction era. Headlined by a talk by Eric Foner at a local church Thursday night, the symposium attempted to both present current trends in Reconstruction historiography and also show how these trends affect the public history of the Reconstruction period. The symposium was a melding of academic and public histories of Reconstruction. The history of the Reconstruction era in South Carolina has undergone a dramatic public re-interpretation in recent years, following up on decades of changing academic scholarship on the Reconstruction period. Today’s post is a reflection on where Reconstruction historiography is going, with special care paid to what intellectual historians, in particular, can contribute to this still-vibrant field.
Almost seven years ago, my friend and I went to Moscow. For four days. For spring break. In March. Moscow was the only destination, and we had no business that brought us there. Months before, we had been sitting outside a café on a warm Central Valley night deciding where our next traveling adventure should take us when the idea of Moscow suddenly popped into my head. We became immediately smitten with the idea.
Admittedly, it was an odd choice – but that’s why we liked it so much. Although going to Moscow would require a considerable financial investment, a cumbersome amount of bureaucratic paperwork, and once we got there, at the beginning of the end of winter, the weather would be less than spring-break-ideal, the counterintuitive non-sense of picking this place for our destination appealed to our then predilection for a lifestyle filled with apparently absurd, spontaneous, and carefree adventures. As for the incredibly short duration of our stay – all the way to Russia and back, for only four days! – it wasn’t up to us, limited as I was by an academic schedule and we both were by the depth of our pocketbooks. But, as I said, everything that seemed to suggest against going to Moscow only served to make it more attractive to us.
Another factor, however, also made the trip irresistible – and that simply was the history. I had met my traveling partner in our senior thesis seminar, and much of our friendship had been forged on our shared identities as history nerds. In college, I had taken several courses in Russian history and had developed a love, in particular, for the history of the Revolution – one of the many signs, in retrospect, that my then-ambiguous politics were long overdue for a transformation. In any case, Moscow was an important place – and to top it all off, the moment I learned that you could view the pristine, wax-like remains of Lenin’s body at Red Square, one day gazing at the corpse of the great revolutionary with my own two eyes went immediately on my bucket list. So we went.
I made this montage of photographs we took on our trip shortly after arriving home.
Editor’s note: It’s my great pleasure to announce that Sara Georgini will be joining us for for a four-post extended guest-blogging gig starting with this post. She’ll be posting every other Monday. Sara is a Ph.D. candidate in American history at Boston University, and assistant editor of the Adams Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society, an editorial project that has published nearly 50 scholarly editions of the personal and public papers written, accumulated, and preserved by President John Adams and his family. Her dissertation, “Household Gods: Creating Adams Family Religion, 1583-1927,” is a history of faith and doubt in one American family, charting the cosmopolitan Christianity that the Adamses developed while acting as transnational agents of American politics and culture. She is a founding contributor to The Junto: A Group Blog on Early American History. You can hear some of Sara’s thoughts about public history and historical editing here and here. The following post is based on a paper she gave at this year’s S-USIH Conference. Please join me in welcoming her to the blog! — Ben Alpers
Nearly once a month, researchers contact the Adams Papers editors with a routine query: “I think I’m related to John Adams, and is there a way for you to check?” We check them all, starting with the printed genealogical tables of presidential families. Then we turn to the Adamses’ own family research, and review six decades’ worth of reference files. There, knee-deep in the glebe lands of Puritan England, I glimpsed the Cold War origins story of historical editing, and the public rise of modern American interest in the founders’ intellectual genealogy. Continue reading
As I imagine has been a common experience for historians and educators, I have been a bit distracted in the past week by the events unfolding at Yale and the University of Missouri. Consequently, I don’t have much to offer today – everything that desperately needs to be said is being said, not only by commentators, writers and historians but most of all by the students of Yale and Mizzou who are daily enduring the frenzied attempt of white America to delegitimize their concerns, their activism, and their claims about the reality of institutionalized racism itself.
And so I thought instead just to direct your attention to one of the events leading up to the resignation of Tim Wolfe. A month ago, student activists staged a protest when they blocked Wolfe’s car from moving forward during the Homecoming parade by joining together and linking arms. Starting in 1839 (the year the university was founded), each student came forward to relate a historical event that illustrates the deep foundational relationship the University of Missouri, higher education, and by implication the entire United States has with white supremacy. Watching the entire demonstration, and the outpouring of emotion that followed, is well worth your time – as the students illustrations of oppression inch closer to the present, the discomfort of the surrounding crowd grows, and it is an amazing thing to watch the activists push forward with their story as the auditory and physical resistance around them mounts.
Our discipline is currently engaged in a long debate about the meaning of public intellectuals and the responsibility of the historian to create publically accessible scholarship. Watching these students bravely connect the past to the present and personal experiences to policy, it occurred to me that such hand wringing, in light of this, seems a bit myopic. Where are our public intellectuals? They are right here – disrupting the easy and celebratory routines of white Americans’ every day lives with the reminder that, as they eloquently put it, all of this was built on their backs.
A gallery located in the campus center at IUPUI has recently become home to an exhibit on the work of Ray Bradbury. Among the items are copies of his most famous books (including Fahrenheit 451), screenplays (including the one he wrote for John Huston’s Moby Dick), posters of movies made from his original stories, and a treasure trove of personal material from scrapbooks he kept as a teenager to the desk he used almost until the day he died. Jon Eller, Bradbury’s most thorough and capable biographer, has assembled these pieces from the collection he maintains as director of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at IUPUI. The physical centerpiece of that collection and of the exhibit is Bradbury’s desk, arranged to reflect roughly what Bradbury saw when he sat down to write. Playing upon one of Robin Marie’s recent post on the aesthetics of scholarship, I suppose this desk might reflect an aesthetic of Bradbury’s mind. The fact that Eller has kept this desk as a testament to Bradbury’s work suggests his intention to link the physical environment in which Bradbury wrote to the work that millions of people have come to know. That link is rich with potential for analysis and artful narrative. This post is a plea to discuss how to create a material exhibit about a person’s mind. Continue reading
For several weeks, I’ve been trying to formulate a post on the Confederate monument issue, but I’ve had a hard time formulating my thoughts. But Tim’s recent, thoughtful post on the issue made me feel that I should just put my thoughts down, however imperfectly.
To cut to the chase: I am less convinced than Tim that simply eliminating Confederate monuments is the right course of action. I sympathize with Tim’s view that these monuments constitute bad history, that bad history, in general, deserves to be corrected, and that these monuments are continuing sources of pain, especially for African American citizens of the states in which they appear. This last point I take particularly seriously. And yet… Continue reading