|Julian Zelizer, Princeton University|
On Saturday afternoon I attended a session at AHA 2015 entitled “Being a Public Intellectual: Historians and the Public.” There were some high-powered historians on this panel, including Peniel Joseph, Claire Potter, Julian Zelizer, Eric Foner, and Michael Kazin. The place was packed–standing room only.
I thoroughly enjoyed this session–even found it inspiring.
In the end, the members of the panel seemed to have differing views on what the role and responsibilities of a “public intellectual.” Peniel Joseph and Claire Potter were clearly historian-activists. Zelizer called himself more of a “commentator” than an “activist.” (Joseph insisted that we can do both–comment and act). Foner approached his role as a public intellectual from a more traditional historical perspective. He believed that good scholarship could lead to social change. Kazin seemed to be somewhere between Joseph/Potter and Foner.