The American Historical Association Announces 2019 Prize Winners


Here are a few of the winners:

The Albert J. Beveridge Award on the history of the United States, Latin America, or Canada, from 1492 to the present

Nan Enstad (Univ. of Wisconsin–Madison) for Cigarettes, Inc.: An Intimate History of Corporate Imperialism (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2018)

The Raymond J. Cunningham Prize for the best article published in a history department journal written by an undergraduate student

Lena Giger (Stanford Univ., BA 2019) for “The Right to Participate and the Right to Compete: Stanford Women’s Athletics, 1956–1995,” Herodotus (Spring 2019); faculty advisor: Estelle Freedman (Stanford Univ.)

The John H. Dunning Prize for the most outstanding book in US history 

Christina Snyder (Penn State Univ.) for Great Crossings: Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in the Age of Jackson (Oxford Univ. Press, 2017)

The William and Edwyna Gilbert Award for the best article in a journal, magazine, or other serial on teaching history

Sam Wineburg (Stanford Univ.), Mark Smith (Stanford History Education Group), and Joel Breakstone (Stanford Univ.), for “What Is Learned in College History Classes?” Journal of American History 104 (March 2018)

The Littleton-Griswold Prize in US law and society, broadly defined

Martha S. Jones (Johns Hopkins Univ.) for Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2018)

The Roy Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History to a freely available new media project

Robert K. Nelson, Justin Madron, Nathaniel Ayers, and Edward Ayers (Digital Scholarship Lab, Univ. of Richmond) for American Panorama: An Atlas of United States History

The Herbert Feis Award for distinguished contributions to public history

Sonia Hernandez (Texas A&M Univ.), Trinidad Gonzales (South Texas Coll.), John Morán González (Univ. of Texas at Austin), Benjamin Johnson (Loyola Univ. of Chicago), and Monica Muñoz Martinez (Brown Univ.) for the Refusing to Forget project.

All the winners are listed here.

Enrollment in History Courses is Holding Steady


Here is the latest from the American Historical Association:

After years of declines, undergraduate enrollments in history courses held steady in the last academic year. Last summer, the AHA conducted its third annual survey of history departments and joint academic units, and received 120 complete responses for the past four academic years, the most recent of which was 2017–18. The responses suggest that the overall number of undergraduate students enrolled in history courses changed little from 2016–17. Enrollments slipped down less than 0.5 percent at US institutions. When Canadian institutions are included in the total, enrollments were almost identical (up less than 0.01 percent).

Read the rest of Julia Brookins‘s piece at Perspectives on History here.

It is Time for a President of the AHA Who Does Not Work at a Research University (#aha19)


NOTE:  This is a revised version of a post I wrote in January 2013.

What do all of these former American Historical Association presidents have in common?

2018: Mary Beth Norton, Cornell University

2017: Tyler Stovall, University of California-Santa Cruz

2016: Patrick Manning, University of Pittsburgh

2015: Vicki Ruiz, University of California-Irvine

2014: Jan Goldstein, University of Chicago

2013: Kenneth Pomeranz, University of Chicago

2012: William Cronon, University of Wisconsin

2011: Anthony Grafton, Princeton University

2010: Barbara Metcalf, University of Michigan

2009: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Harvard University

2008: Gabrielle Spiegel, Johns Hopkins University

2007: Barbara Weinstein, University of Maryland

2006: Linda Kerber, University of Iowa

2005: James Sheehan–Stanford University

2004: Jonathan Spence, Yale University

2003: James McPherson, Princeton University

2002: Lynn Hunt, UCLA

2001: William Roger Louis, University of Texas at Austin

2000: Eric Foner, Columbia University

1999: Robert Darnton, Princeton University

1998: Joseph C. Miller, University of Virginia

1997: Joyce Appleby. UCLA

Apart from the fact that they are outstanding and groundbreaking scholars, they were all teaching at research universities while they served as president of the American Historical Association.  In fact, the last president of the AHA who did not teach at a research university was Nellie Nielson. She was president in 1943.  Nielson, who also happened to be the first female president of the AHA, spent most of her career at Mt. Holyoke College, a liberal arts college for women in South Hadley, MA.

I can understand why so many AHA presidents come from research universities.  They have time to write, produce, and thus make a name for themselves in the profession.  But I wonder if it is time to buck this trend.

Back in 2012,  William Cronon urged the profession to reconnect with the public through teaching, the Internet, and other digital efforts.  I know that Cronon’s interests reflect the interests of the AHA staff.  They are building a larger tent that covers not just academics who write award-winning books, but professors from smaller institutions, public historians, digital historians, podcasters, K-12 teachers, park rangers, and a host of other non-academics who “do history.”

So why not think about an AHA president who lives and works in the trenches–a sort of “people’s president” who represents the vast majority of historians in America, both inside and outside the academy?  Why not have a president who is a professor at a liberal arts college who spends most of her or his time in the classroom, does her or his job well, and has few aspirations of working at a research university? Why not a public historian or a director of a historical society or history museum?  Why not a high school teacher?  It would be fun to imagine what kind of AHA presidential address these historians might deliver or what kind of initiatives they might promote.

What Happened to the History Major?

9288b-historymajorAccording to a recent report from the American Historical Association, the undergraduate history major is in steep decline.  In the last six years, the number of history majors in American colleges and universities has dropped by about 33%, more than any other discipline.   And this is in a period when university enrollments have grown.  Here is a taste of the report:

Optimists may look at the last year’s line in these charts and note that the rate of decline appears to have slowed. It is reasonable to hope that the trends of the last decade will eventually bottom out, perhaps even in the next year or two. At this point, though, it would take several unprecedented years of growth in history majors to return to mid-2000s numbers; departments should not expect a rapid rebound. While there are anecdotal accounts of students seeking out history in the current political climate, leading indicators of student interest are at best mixed; most notably, the AHA’s survey of course enrollments in a number of departments for the 2016–17 academic year found continued declines in credit hours. (Editor’s note: results of the AHA enrollments survey for 2017–18 will be published in the January issue of Perspectives.)

Those enrollment numbers suggest one possible long-term trend: that history departments will become more oriented toward introductory-level courses. Although I am not aware of good data on credit hours for the critical period 2010–12, it seems that the declines in enrollments since then may have been gentler than the drops in majors. Students still take history courses—but more often, apparently, as electives, as requirements for other majors, or as general education requirements. If major numbers do not recover, each of these areas will become more important. One common plan, for joint or hybrid majors, is peripherally tracked in the IPEDS data through reporting of second majors. These numbers capture students who major in fields like “Political science and history” where any other field might occupy the first position. They do not seem to offer great consolation; history’s share of second majors mirrors its overall trend in the last decade.

Ultimately, whether through majors or course enrollments, the long-term state of the discipline will rest on how it adapts to a cohort of students—and their parents—who are much less receptive to arguments for the liberal arts than previous generations have been. Many departments and organizations have worked out useful ways to articulate the purpose of the major. These are undoubtedly helping attract and retain students today. (The institutions that made up AHA’s Tuning project, an initiative to this end, are among those on the front lines; the first set of Tuning departments reported marginally better enrollments from 2014 to 2017, though not so strongly that I am confident in their statistical significance.) As the 2008 crisis moves farther into the past, we should attempt to identify departments that have had the most notable successes.

Read the entire report here.

No commentary yet.  I need to think through this report a bit more.

Correspondents Wanted: 2019 AHA Meeting in Chicago

AHA 2019

Is anyone interested in a writing a post or two (or three or four or five…) from the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in Chicago from January 3-6, 2019?

Once again The Way of Improvement Leads Home is looking for writers/correspondents to report from the conference.

What am I hoping for out of these posts/reports? Frankly, anything. Let the spirit move you. I would love to get general observations, reports on sessions you attend, job market updates, or any other kind of stuff you might have the time or inclination to write about.

Feel free to be as creative and journalistic as you want. My only requirement is that you write material while the conference is in session. I will try to get stuff posted here in real time (or thereabouts) during the conference.

Though we can’t pay you for writing, we can introduce you, your writing, and your online presence to a several thousand readers a day. Our posts on the AHA are regularly picked up at other sites and blogs as well.

If you are interested, shoot me an e-mail at jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu and we can get the ball rolling. In the meantime, check out our posts from other conferences to get an idea of what some of our previous correspondents have done:

2017 American Historical Association

2016 American Historical Association

The American Historical Association Will Launch *Perspectives Daily*


It will replace AHA Today.  Here is the press release:

In September 2006, AHA Today launched with a simple goal: to report on the latest happenings in the discipline of history that are too time-sensitive to wait a month or more for publication in Perspectives on History, the AHA’s print newsmagazine. 

Over the years, AHA staff members have worked hard to bring to our readers meaningful and diverse content on AHA Today—important announcements, Grants of the Week, Member Spotlight profiles, and posts about research, careers, graduate and undergraduate education, digital history, current events, and more. Today, we’re pleased to announce that AHA Today and Perspectives on History are merging. Perspectives will continue its highly regarded print and online editions, while Perspectives Daily will continue AHA Today’s tradition of featuring a wide variety of online-exclusive content.

These changes also bring a new publishing model to Perspectives—instead of dropping entire issues online at once, we will publish articles on a rolling basis. We hope that offering all print and online content regularly in one place will create a more enriching reader experience by eliminating the need to switch from one site to another. Expect a sleek new design, improved navigability, a biweekly newsletter (sign up here), and much more.

Around mid-June, links to all current content on AHA Today will be redirected to the new site. Thank you for your readership and see you soon at!

Where Do Historians Work?

Where historians work

The largest concentration of history Ph.Ds work along the northeast corridor between Boston and Washington D.C.

Check out Dylan Ruediger‘s blog post at AHA Today: “The Geography of History PhDs.”  A taste:

Knowing where historians live raises important questions about the relationship between mobility and careers, a perennial, controversial, and poorly understood aspect of PhD culture. PhD candidates have long been told that their ability to find employment rests on their willingness to move anywhere in pursuit of a tenure-track job. Without question, many history PhDs appear to follow this path. However, department-level data (available in the forthcoming version of Where Historians Work) shows that in many departments, graduates cluster in the cities and regions where they receive their degrees. These geographies no doubt reflect hierarchies of prestige within the discipline: earlier studies of historical careers done by the AHA have found that graduates from high-prestige programs scatter more widely than those from ones with regional reputations, a pattern that seems to still hold true. The geographical data also highlights the existence of regional employment patterns that complicate our sense of a single national academic job market. More importantly, they suggest that many PhDs have ties of family, friendship, and circumstance in the regions where they earn their degrees, and build careers that reflect those roots. Our data speak to outcomes rather than motivations, but knowing more about where historians live is a crucial step towards untangling the question of why.

Read the entire post here.

Learn more about “Where Historians Work” project.

“The Mechanics of Class Participation”


Yesterday we did a post on Lendol Calder’s use of “Point Paragraphs” in the history classroom.  Calder’s piece was a part of larger Perspectives on History forum titled “How to Get Students to Think, Talk, Share, Collaborate, Learn and Come Back for More.” Here is a taste of Elizabeth Lehfeldt‘s Introduction to the forum:

We’ve all been there. Our syllabus specifies that a percentage of the course grade will be based on participation. We’ve presented riveting material or assigned a provocative reading. We show up for class, stand at the front of the room, and begin lobbing questions at the students. And the silence is deafening.

Our intentions are good, but something is missing in the execution. The four pieces offered here offer strategies and ideas for lifting our class discussions out of the doldrums and making them meaningful and efficacious for students.

Check out the forum here.


How to Fix the U.S. History Survey Course: “Reimagine Everything”


Last month a group of Texas history teachers gathered at Houston Community College to talk about introductory history courses.  The event was sponsored by the American Historical Association and included keynote addresses by Steven Mintz (University of Texas at Austin), Andrew Koch (John Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education), and Nancy Quam-Wickham (California State University, Long Beach).

Jermaine Thibodeaux offers a report on the conference at AHA Today.  Here is a taste:

Steven Mintz (Univ. of Texas at Austin) kicked off the conference by offering a rather dire assessment of today’s US history survey course. Having taught the history survey for decades, Mintz cited historically low enrollments and lack of student interest or engagement in the classroom as reasons for the survey’s demise at four-year institutions. All is not lost, however, assured Mintz. The key to reigniting students’ interest in history courses, which for many begins with the survey, he said, is simply “reimagining everything.” By broadly rethinking pedagogy, assessment, and delivery modes, Mintz argued, the lackluster survey course can be saved, with great benefit to students and teachers.

While the gathered historians had likely heard sweeping diagnoses like Mintz’s before, he was able to offer a wealth of anecdotal evidence, best practices, and examples of engaging and exciting instruction that did not at all compromise higher order thinking. For example, in his own US history survey course, Mintz forgoes the standard midterm and final exam, opting instead for consistent formal assessment and weekly online modules that combine essay writing with content checks in the form of thoughtful multiple choice questions. Mintz encouraged history teachers to shun traditional models of instruction and instead embrace a combination of approaches that would make the introductory course more meaningful for students.

Read the entire post here.  I am not sure the survey course is broken, but I am confident that a lot of good ideas for improving it were bandied about at this conference.

An Undergraduate History Club Goes to the AHA Annual Meeting

Humboldt State

AHA Today has posted a great piece on the Humboldt State University History Club’s experience at this year’s annual meeting of the American Historical Association.

Here is a taste of Blanca Drapeau’s article:

There we were. A small group of Californian undergrads, winter layers piled over our business casual attire, perusing the AHA 2017 annual meeting program over coffee and pastries. We discussed panels that piqued our interests, excitedly pointing out historians we’d read for our courses and asking each other about unfamiliar terms. Last year was my senior year at Humboldt State University and the second year I attended the AHA annual meeting with our History Club. I was president of our club and the only student attending who had gone to another annual meeting. A semester of planning and fundraising efforts all came down to one incredible short week in Denver.

Humboldt State has a well-established tradition of history majors attending AHA annual meetings. The History Club, which organizes the trip, is open to all students, but a vast majority of its members are in the history program. The club meets once a week to discuss historical topics and provide academic support. Our elevator pitch to new members always includes the opportunity to attend the annual meeting. (Last year, it was simply, “we’re taking a trip to Denver this year for a history conference.”) As soon as the fall semester begins, members who wish to attend the annual meeting start fundraising for the trip.

We generally take a multi-pronged approach to fundraising. Last year, for four days a week, we organized a snack table in our department’s building. HSU (Humboldt State University) also stands for Hills, Stairs, & Umbrellas—most days walking to and from Founders Hall to any other snack shop between classes is an undertaking—and the ease of access served our snack table well. In our experience, the table has proved to be a reliable form of funding for our group. We also applied for grants through our school’s clubs office, successfully receiving the maximum amount of funds granted each year. Additionally, we held rummage/book sales—our professors were amazing and donated boxes of books!

Read the rest here.

A High School Student is Asking About Leopold von Ranke.


Apparently a high school student is sending e-mails to historians asking them about 19th-century German historian Leopold von Ranke.  The student is interested in whether or not these historians believe in “objectivity” in the writing of history.  As some of you know, von Ranke had a lot to say about the subject.

Here is what I wrote about him Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past:

p.49: One of the most important critics of a usable past was the nineteenth-century German historian Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886).  He introduced the concept of “historicism,” or the idea that historians should seek to understand the past on its own terms.  Historicism has since become a mainstay of the historical profession.  As Ranke put it, “History has had assigned to it the task of judging the past, or instructing the present for the benefit of ages to come.  To such lofty functions this work does not aspire.  Its aim is to know how things happened.”  Ranke wanted historians to study the past for its own sake, not because it has a usable function for guiding our lives in the present.  He rejected the notion that the past is useful in that it teaches moral lessons, inspires those who study it, strengthens civic bonds, or provides individuals and communities with a better sense of identity.  Rather, for him, history is a science, and historians can teach the Enlightenment ideal of objectivity in their work.  The task of the historian is a conservative one–to seek after objective truth and to narrate “what happened” in the past.  No more and no less.

Several historians have wondered whether the girl asking about von Ranke is a conservative activist of some kind. Here is a taste of Nick Roll’s piece at Inside Higher Ed:

Professors and graduate students at at least six institutions received correspondence from the same email address. Some professors and historians even think the student might be a fictitious character made up as part of a right-wing trolling scheme, or part of an effort to catch “liberal professors” in an embarrassing trap. Even if the student in question — who did not respond to multiple requests for comment at the Gmail address used to contact the professors — is just an kid doing research, in an age of “fake news” and partisan tension, historians are treading carefully.

James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, said that his organization had become aware of the emails over the holiday weekend, and was planning a review of the situation — and what to do when members are approached by unverified students and members of the public — when staff returned Tuesday.

“This is one more reminder of the caution with which everyone should approach email and social media,” he said in an email. “When I receive a query from someone claiming to be a student but without an institutional address, I ask the name of their school and teacher. If I do not receive a satisfactory response I end the conversation.”

It was on Facebook that Greenberg noticed his peers had received similar emails. In one instance, the student had even sent graduate students at Harvard a link (which, as of Monday evening, was available here) to a survey asking for more detailed responses.

“At first one of my [Facebook] friends who is also [University of Texas, Dallas] faculty and I were wondering if this email might have originally come from someone at UTD, since we both got the email, but then when I learned of all the other schools getting it, it seemed to me that someone elsewhere must be casting a wider net,” Lora Burnett, a teaching fellow in history, said in an email to Inside Higher Ed.

What’s even more curious, Burnett pointed out on her blog, where she wrote about the incident, is that the University of Texas, Dallas, doesn’t have a formal history major, instead offering “historical studies.” So why would Burnett be of interest to a prospective history major, which the student claimed to be, Burnett thought. Unless, of course, the email is “fishing/trolling by a [right-wing] outlet looking to create a fake-scandal headline: ‘Liberal Professors Don’t Believe in Objective Truth About Past’ or some such nonsense.”

Forgive me if I am not yet ready to believe that this is a conspiracy theory.  If this is indeed a high school student working on a paper, the historical profession is going to look awfully silly. (Does this really merit an AHA investigation?).  This kind of stuff is the reason academic historians have such a hard time engaging the public effectively.  I hope we don’t have to explain all of this to the hard-working teacher who encouraged his or her student to e-mail professors for help.

Of course I could be wrong.  But when it comes to high school students and history teachers I always want to err on the side of caution.

Let’s for a moment give the conspiracy theorists the benefit of the doubt and say that this e-mailer is indeed a “right-wing” troll looking for a “fake-scandal headline.”  This wouldn’t be the first time academic historians have been accused of something sinister by the political Right.  If such a scandalous headline did appear, I would post the piece at my blog and use it as yet another opportunity to educate the public about what historians do and how they work.

American Historical Association Announces 2017 Prize Winners


You can see the list of winners here.

Here are some of the winners that might be of interest to the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home:

The Albert J. Beveridge Award on the history of the United States, Latin America, or Canada, from 1492 to the present: David A. Chang (Univ. of Minnesota) for The World and All the Things upon It: Native Hawaiian Geographies of Exploration (Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2016)

The John H. Dunning Prize for an author’s first or second book on any subject relating to United States history: Matthew Karp (Princeton Univ.) for This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy (Harvard Univ. Press, 2016)

The William and Edwyna Gilbert Award for the best article in a journal, magazine, or other serial on teaching history: Laura K. Muñoz (Texas A&M Univ.-Corpus Christi) for “Civil Rights, Educational Inequality, and Transnational Takes on the US History Survey,” History of Education Quarterly 56, no. 1 (February 2016)

The Joan Kelly Memorial Prize for women’s history and/or feminist theory: Sarah Haley (UCLA) for No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2016)

The Littleton-Griswold Prize in US law and society, broadly defined: Risa Goluboff (Univ. of Virginia Sch. of Law) for Vagrant Nation: Police Power, Constitutional Change, and the Making of the 1960s (Oxford Univ. Press, 2016)

The George L. Mosse Prize in the intellectual and cultural history of Europe since 1500: James T. Kloppenberg (Harvard Univ.) for Toward Democracy: The Struggle for Self-Rule in European and American Thought (Oxford Univ. Press, 2016)

The James A. Rawley Prize for the integration of Atlantic worlds before the 20th century: David Wheat (Michigan State Univ.) for Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean, 1570–1640 (Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2016)

The Roy Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History to a freely available new media project: Keisha N. Blain (Univ. of Pittsburgh) and Ibram X. Kendi (American Univ.) for Black Perspectives (African American Intellectual History Society)

The Wesley-Logan Prize in African diaspora history: Sowande’ M. Mustakeem (Washington Univ. in St. Louis) for Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage (Univ. of Illinois Press, 2016)

The Eugene Asher Distinguished Teaching Award for outstanding postsecondary history teaching;; Laura M. Westhoff (Univ. of Missouri, St. Louis)

The Beveridge Family Teaching Prize for distinguished K–12 history teaching: Gustavo Carrera (Buckingham Browne and Nichols Sch.)

The Herbert Feis Award for distinguished contributions to public history: Lonnie G. Bunch III (Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture)

The Award for Scholarly Distinction to senior historians for lifetime achievement: Richard S. Dunn (Univ. of Pennsylvania) and John Merriman (Yale Univ.)

American Historical Association Issues Statement on Confederate Monuments


Here it is:

The American Historical Association welcomes the emerging national debate about Confederate monuments. Much of this public statuary was erected without such conversations, and without any public decision-making process. Across the country, communities face decisions about the disposition of monuments and memorials, and commemoration through naming of public spaces and buildings. These decisions require not only attention to historical facts, including the circumstances under which monuments were built and spaces named, but also an understanding of what history is and why it matters to public culture.

President Donald Trump was correct in his tweet of August 16: “You can’t change history, but you can learn from it.” That is a good beginning, because to learn from history, one must first learn what actually happened in the past. Debates over removal of monuments should consider chronology and other evidence that provide context for why an individual or event has been commemorated. Knowledge of such facts enables debate that learns “from history.”

Equally important is awareness of what we mean by “history.” History comprises both facts and interpretations of those facts. To remove a monument, or to change the name of a school or street, is not to erase history, but rather to alter or call attention to a previous interpretation of history. A monument is not history itself; a monument commemorates an aspect of history, representing a moment in the past when a public or private decision defined who would be honored in a community’s public spaces.

Understanding the specific historical context of Confederate monuments in America is imperative to informed public debate. Historians who specialize in this period have done careful and nuanced research to understand and explain this context. Drawing on their expertise enables us to assess the original intentions of those who erected the monuments, and how the monuments have functioned as symbols over time. The bulk of the monument building took place not in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War but from the close of the 19th century into the second decade of the 20th. Commemorating not just the Confederacy but also the “Redemption” of the South after Reconstruction, this enterprise was part and parcel of the initiation of legally mandated segregation and widespread disenfranchisement across the South. Memorials to the Confederacy were intended, in part, to obscure the terrorism required to overthrow Reconstruction, and to intimidate African Americans politically and isolate them from the mainstream of public life. A reprise of commemoration during the mid-20th century coincided with the Civil Rights Movement and included a wave of renaming and the popularization of the Confederate flag as a political symbol. Events in Charlottesville and elsewhere indicate that these symbols of white supremacy are still being invoked for similar purposes.

To remove such monuments is neither to “change” history nor “erase” it. What changes with such removals is what American communities decide is worthy of civic honor. Historians and others will continue to disagree about the meanings and implications of events and the appropriate commemoration of those events. The AHA encourages such discussions in publications, in other venues of scholarship and teaching, and more broadly in public culture; historical scholarship itself is a conversation rooted in evidence and disciplinary standards. We urge communities faced with decisions about monuments to draw on the expertise of historians both for understanding the facts and chronology underlying such monuments and for deriving interpretive conclusions based on evidence. Indeed, any governmental unit, at any level, may request from the AHA a historian to provide consultation. We expect to be able to fill any such request.

We also encourage communities to remember that all memorials remain artifacts of their time and place. They should be preserved, just like any other historical document, whether in a museum or some other appropriate venue. Prior to removal they should be photographed and measured in their original contexts. These documents should accompany the memorials as part of the historical record. Americans can also learn from other countries’ approaches to these difficult issues, such as Coronation Park in Delhi, India, and Memento Park in Budapest, Hungary.

Decisions to remove memorials to Confederate generals and officials who have no other major historical accomplishment does not necessarily create a slippery slope towards removing the nation’s founders, former presidents, or other historical figures whose flaws have received substantial publicity in recent years. George Washington owned enslaved people, but the Washington Monument exists because of his contributions to the building of a nation. There is no logical equivalence between the builders and protectors of a nation—however imperfect—and the men who sought to sunder that nation in the name of slavery. There will be, and should be, debate about other people and events honored in our civic spaces. And precedents do matter. But so does historical specificity, and in this case the invocation of flawed analogies should not derail legitimate policy conversation.

Nearly all monuments to the Confederacy and its leaders were erected without anything resembling a democratic process. Regardless of their representation in the actual population in any given constituency, African Americans had no voice and no opportunity to raise questions about the purposes or likely impact of the honor accorded to the builders of the Confederate States of America. The American Historical Association recommends that it’s time to reconsider these decisions.

This is a very useful statement.  I endorse it.  Thanks to the folks at the AHA for writing it.

What Might a Ph.D in History Look Like in 2022?


Jim Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical Association, has a vision.  In his recent piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education, he imagines what an orientation for new doctoral students might look like in 2022.

Here is a taste:

As academe moves (slowly but surely) to rethink doctoral training, I’ve been mulling the direction and implications of change.

Today, a new vocabulary has emerged in Ph.D. humanities education. Doctoral degrees are “malleable.” Their recipients are “versatile.” A discourse of “career diversity” will enable new cultures of “connected academics.”

Most graduate students today encounter that wider perspective of doctoral training as they near the finish line, yet they also inhabit an academic culture steeped in traditional norms of success and failure. Even graduate-program directors committed to a broad view of Ph.D. career options might include in their welcome messages the 40-year-old jeremiad about the narrowed academic job market — implying therein a standard of success. In a well-meaning attempt at transparency, they might include a reference to “placement rates” — underscoring the tenure track as the normative pathway even amid the rhetoric of “alternative” careers.

With resources from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation, new projects aimed at changing graduate-school training and culture are emerging — some initiated by scholarly societies like the American Historical Association (the organization I direct) and the Modern Language Association, and others led by humanities centers, graduate deans, and even individual departments.

With these expanded visions gaining traction, I am ready to indulge in fantasy: What might a graduate orientation for entering students in my discipline — history — look like in five years? Let’s pick up where we left off with our hypothetical director of graduate students in 2022 …

Read the entire piece here.

Collaborative History Blogging

Blog_(1)There are a lot of good history blogs out there and many of them are collaborative efforts.  Think Nursing Clio, Black Perspectives, U.S. Intellectual History, and The Junto. I am glad to see that the American Historical Association has taken notice of these blogs.

Here is a taste of Sadie Bergen’s piece at AHA Today, “From Personal to Professional: Collaborative History Blogs Go Mainstream.”

In 2012, when Jacqueline Antonovich, then a first-year graduate student at the University of Michigan, founded the blog Nursing Clio, maintaining it was as simple as “throwing stuff up online.” Five years later, Antonovich is finishing up her dissertation and overseeing an editorial team of seven as Nursing Clio’s executive editor. As she puts it, the blog, which connects historical scholarship on gender and medicine to current events, has become a “fine-tuned machine.”

This process of professionalization—the shift from blogging as a hobby to a line on your CV—is not unique to Nursing Clio. Over the past several years, collaboratively produced history blogs have blossomed into popular venues that give current historical scholarship an accessible public face. They have grown rapidly, formalized their editorial procedures into those of small publications, and recruited new historians to join their ranks of writers and editors.

Written and edited almost entirely by graduate students and early career historians without tenure-track positions, collaborative blogs have emerged as platforms to share and engage with scholarship in a discipline with high bars for professional advancement. No longer mostly within the realm of the personal, blogging now provides valuable writing and editing opportunities that enable early career historians to cultivate a wide range of skills, promote their work, and make valuable connections, all on the front lines of an emerging form of public history writing.

Read the entire article here.

I envy these collaborative blogs.  With multiple authors it alleviates a lot of the work of posting regularly.  There have been times throughout the eight-year run of The Way of Improvement Leads Home that I have thought about bringing-on other regular bloggers. This piece has made me think about it again.

But perhaps unlike the blogs mentioned in Bergen’s piece, The Way of Improvement Leads Home has really developed around my own interests, personality, and quirks.  I am not sure what a collaborative blog would look like here.

Recently my former student Drew Dyrli Hermeling (you may know him as the producer and co-host of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast) pushed me to have bigger dreams about the future of this blog.  He suggested a larger online presence that would include other writers and podcasters.  I am open to this idea and would love to hear what you, our faithful readers, think about it.  How would you feel if The Way of Improvement Leads Home became more collaborative?

The American Historical Association is Looking for Summer Bloggers


Here’s the skinny:

The AHA is seeking two aspiring graduate-student bloggers, each to write a series of posts on historical documents from their research projects. If you are looking to hone your blogging skills and share the process of doing history with a wide audience, consider applying to be a summer blogger on AHA Today, and show readers how historians’ habits of mind shape the way they see the world.

This year, we’re challenging our summer bloggers to select a historical document and write about its significance to their research. (Think of “document” expansively—it could be a letter, a memo, an article in a community newsletter, a photograph, a map, an oral-history interview, a sound recording, or a nontraditional primary source.) We especially want to hear about how engaging with this particular document led you ask different questions and how it took your research in exciting new directions. You might also consider these questions:

Read the entire call at AHA Today.