Is History Hot?

Anxious-Bench-squareOver at The Anxious Bench, Chris Gehrz responds to Jason Steinhauer‘s recent piece for Inside Higher Ed about how history can contribute to public life.

Here is a taste of Gehrz’s piece:

I’m glad that more and more of us seem to take an interest in helping the public to think historically about the past. (All the more so when one alternative is a politician encouraging frightened voters to think nostalgically about the past.) This is no accident: in many corners of the guild, we’ve received encouragement to move out of our comfort zones and use new and old media to communicate with wider audiences.

Indeed, Steinhauer has elsewhere urged at least some historians to take on the role of “history communicators” and

advocate for policy decisions informed by historical research; step beyond the walls of universities and institutions and participate in public debates; author opinion pieces; engage in conversation with policymakers and the public; and work diligently to communicate history in a populist tone that has mass appeal across print, video, and audio. Most important, History Communicators will stand up for history against simplification, misinformation, or attack and explain basic historical concepts that we in the profession take for granted.

Indeed, blogs like The Anxious Bench have sprung up in large part because more and more historians want to “communicate history in a populist tone that has mass appeal….” As many of us continue to wrestle with Alan Jacobs’ widely-discussed Harper’s essay, “The Watchmen,” I’d point to AB colleagues like Philip Jenkins, Tommy Kidd, and John Fea as sustaining a (vanishing?) tradition of “serious Christian intellectuals who occupied a prominent place on the national stage.”

At the same time, I also think it’s important that historians and other Christian intellectuals continue to take up what Tracy McKenzie has called our “vocation to the church.” In my Trump post, I quoted John Hope Franklin’s famous claim that historians can serve as “the conscience of his nation, if honesty and consistency are factors that nurture the conscience.” By the same token, I think Christian historians might sometimes serve as the “conscience of the church,” helping fellow believers to confess and learn from those moments when we fall short of our calling as the Body of Christ. For example, Justin Taylor has been doing a nice job of this at the new Gospel Coalition history blog he shares with Kidd, writing multiple posts on racism and segregation in the history of evangelicalism and fundamentalism.

A lot of good stuff here.  Read the entire piece.

And Gerhz is right when he says that some of us “continue to wrestle” with Alan Jacobs’s Harper‘s essay “The Watchmen.”  I hope to get some posts up on the Jacobs piece soon.  Stay tuned.

Should Liz Covart Start a History Podcast Network?

BF WorldI love it when Liz Covart, host of the popular Ben Franklin’s World podcast, thinks in public on her blog.  In her most recent ruminations she writes about the potential of a history podcast network.  I think it’s a great idea, and Liz has the entrepreneurial spirit to pull it off, but I also agree with her when she worries about the time commitment.

Here is a taste of her post “A Podcast Network for Historians?“:

Will I follow the podcasters’ advice and use Ben Franklin’s World to start a historian-driven podcast network?

I don’t know.

I have the knowledge and a well-established first show. I also know I could help historians learn how to podcast and produce great, compelling content.

But, starting a network would require me to place my current research and publication plans largely on hold for an unknown period of time. Sure, I could create opportunities to blend my research agenda with that of the network, but it may take several years before I could really go back into the archives and work on a book-length project.

There is also the fact that starting a network would multiply the business/administrative aspects of producing a podcast that I don’t always enjoy.

Network creators are both the face of the network and its “janitor.” I would be responsible for finding and training new talent, creating or finding new shows, managing network hosts and show edits, show promotion, finding and securing advertising partners, and solving problems that arise.

With that said, I love the idea of building something that would allow historians to expand the reach and impact of their important research. And I think I could find a partner or two to assist with the administrative work.

Now is also the perfect time to start a network.

Historians are embracing the history communications movement and podcast networks and digital content providers are beginning to bring order to the “Wild West” atmosphere of digital media. Starting a network now will be easier than it will be two years from now. And starting now would give historians the opportunity to help shape the order content providers and networks are applying to the digital media landscape.

Over the last six months or so, I have felt like I am standing at a crossroads with my work, but I couldn’t articulate why. The idea of starting a network has forced me to figure out why I have this feeling. It’s because I need to make a choice about the type of scholarship I want to produce over the long term.

Do I want to be a historian who dabbles in digital media and researches and writes books and articles that contribute to the historiography?

Or do I want to be a historian who uses their training to shape the way historians utilize new media to present their scholarship to the world?

I have been podcasting long enough, and I see the landscape well enough, to know that I have to make this choice and I must make it soon. If I wait too long, I will miss this opportune moment.

Read the entire post here.

History Communicators

I think you will enjoy Episode 1 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast when it drops on January 16, 2016. (In the meantime, check out our introductory Episode Zero here or on ITunes).  The highlight of the episode will be our interview with James Grossman, Executive Director of the American Historical Association.  Jim is history communicator.  His passion for bringing the past to public audiences really shines through in this interview.  Stay tuned.


We have been trying to communicate history to a public audience for the past seven years here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home and have developed a loyal and ever-growing readership.

I am thus excited to learn about a new initiative from the Library of Congress called “History Communicators.”  The phrase was created by Jason Steinhauer, a public historian at the Library of Congress.  The movement also has the support of the History Department at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Purdue University, and the National History Center.  The goal is to raise up a group of historians with an interest in communicating history to the public.

Here is a taste of Steinhauer’s recent post at History@Work:

We see this project as a way both to strengthen communications training in traditional history graduate programs and to lay the foundations for innovative new curricula. Just as today you can concentrate in Science Communication at many universities worldwide, so, too, we hope that one day historians from all backgrounds will be able to pursue History Communication at universities in the US and elsewhere. Much like Science Communication programs, these History Communication programs and courses will prepare historians for roles as journalists, writers, television producers, and personalities in social media, academia, government, and museums, as well as roles and professions that do not yet exist.

As I’ve repeatedly said, “History Communicator” is not a job title; it’s an identity. Though it engages the writing of history for general audiences–something many historians already do and do well–it also encompasses other ways historical insight is conveyed today: visually, aurally, virally on the Internet, and through policymaking. The most successful use of history in those arenas is often not by professionally trained historians but by celebrities, authors, radio personalities, and storytellers. “Hardcore History” from former news broadcaster and radio host Dan Carlin is one of the most downloaded podcasts in the country. Author John Green’s US History Crash Course video series on YouTube has been viewed 15 million times. The Bowery Boys, self-described as “home-schooled historians,” have 20,000 listeners and a blog with 100,000 hits per month. Michael Beschloss, who has an MBA from Harvard Business School, is the contributing history columnist for the New York Times.

My goal is to see professionally employed historians with these levels of social clout. Several laudable projects offer good models, including Backstory Radio, Past Present, and Rebecca Onion’s The Vault at Slate. But we need more, and more public and academic historians who are trained, encouraged, and financially supported to do this type of work and do it well. It is a type of training and thinking that will ultimately infuse more good historians and more good history into society, the media, and the policy-making landscapes. We as public historians are concerned with this already; the introduction of this framework into our thinking will enable us to do it even more.

Sign us up!

Read the entire post here.