History to the People

Readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home may recognize the name Cali Pitchel McCullough.  She is the author of our “Dispatches from Graduate School” feature.  I know a lot of you have said that you miss Cali’s weekly updates.  Perhaps she will return to blogging soon.  I know that she has been swamped with finishing her coursework at Arizona State and putting together a fascinating new website, which will launch next Spring, called “History to the People.” (HTTP).  (Cali discusses HTTP in this post).

HTTP now has a landing page and the creators have put out a call for submissions.  I know that Cali and her partner, Brianna Theobold, want to reach high school and undergraduate students.  Here is their mission:

We believe  history is directly relevant to our daily lives and the skills that a historian must cultivate are skills that are demanded in many facets of our lives. Historical inquiry is a journey of exploration and discovery; it is not a simple matter of memorizing facts and figures, and history should be accessible to all, especially the twenty-first century learner.

History to the People is a website that provides academically produced information on American history to a popular audience, with a particular goal of attracting high school and undergraduate students. The site will provide accessible and engaging entries on key historical events, themes, and questions and will also experiment with creative ways of presenting historical information, such as videos, podcasts, and interactive infographics.

I am thrilled to see two doctoral students in American history thinking creatively about how to reach a larger public with the importance of historical thinking. We need more of this.  I hope that you will consider contributing to History to the People, contacting Cali about your ideas, donating money to keep Cali and Brianna going, or simply “liking” their Facebook page.

Dipatches from Graduate School–Part 34: HISTORY TO THE PEOPLE

Cali Pitchel McCullough is a Ph.D student in American history at Arizona State University. In this Dispatch she calls our attention to a new initiative in public history that she is getting off the ground. For earlier posts in this series click  here. –JF

I recently read (an all too familiar) article on Slate.com about the current state of higher education in the Humanities. William Pannapacker, a professor at a liberal arts college, laments the plight of the untenured Ph.D.—underpaid, overworked, and inexperienced—teaching high volume undergraduate courses while the increasingly small cohort of advanced researchers pen monographs from their comfy chairs.

He paints a grim picture of my potential future, one of joblessness and severe debt. In fact, Pannapacker recommends graduate school in the humanities only “if you are independently wealthy,” or possibly “well-connected in the field you plan to enter (e.g., your mom is the president of an Ivy League university).” He offers six solutions to the problem, perhaps the most provocative being to simply walk away. Essentially, he’s advocating for a strike, a walk out. He advises not “to return to school this fall,” despite the fact that “the academic labor system depends on it.”

I most appreciate solution number five: train students for real careers. Dr. Fea strongly advocates for this position (make sure you check out his series of blog posts on what you can do with a history major). I really like what Pannapacker has to say here: 

Graduate programs must stop stigmatizing everything besides tenure-track positions at research universities that almost no one will get. They should cultivate an “alternative academic” sensibility by redesigning graduate school as professional training, including internships and networking opportunities, and working with other departments and programs, including partnerships with other institutions, granting agencies, government, and business to cultivate humanists who are prepared for hybrid careers in technology (“the digital humanities”), research, consulting, fundraising, publishing, and ethical leadership. They should cultivate new ways for people with humanities sensibilities to build entrepreneurial projects outside of traditional academe, and make these alternative paths the norm, without shame. Successful programs should be celebrated as credible alternatives to traditional programs with poor academic placement records.

I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I have taken it upon myself to start thinking more seriously about my future. Would I love the aforementioned tenure-track position at a small liberal arts college in Grantham, Pennsylvania (hint, hint)? Of course, but I also need a reorientation of the way I think about this Ph.D. Rather than envision a career outside of the academy as the runner-up, I want to celebrate the skills and training I’ve I received that can translate anywhere—classroom or cubicle.

Enter: History to the People: Helping you think historically since 2011.

Earlier this week I purchased historytothepeople.org from GoDaddy. I had been thinking about the name for a few months and after reading Pannapacker’s article, I decided to spring for the $70 URL. (Some people call me compulsive, I prefer easily excitable with a strong propensity for launch.)  I have pretty grand visions for this project—k-12 resources, regular blog posts, videos and podcasts, perhaps some book reviews, and certainly a store for History to the People swag like coffee mugs and canvas tote bags.

Most of this is conception at this point, but the gist is this (and I know Dr. Fea can attest to his own interest in this subject): the walls between academic history and “the people” needs to come down. Fostering a sense of historical thinking in all people is crucial to making the world we live in a better place. In Dr. Fea’s own words, “when taught correctly, history will teach the virtues necessary to end the culture wars, transform our ways of thinking about others, and, in some small way, bring meaningful change to the world.”

What better way to do this than to bring history to the people? Free of cost and jargon, historytothepeople.org will be a place for people like my dad to engage in dialogue, to ask questions about the past, and to walk away with a greater understanding of how a more intimate knowledge with the past makes for a better future.

The possibilities are endless, and I respect and appreciate this community tremendously. But now I’m going to ask something of you. I need your feedback. What would you or your friends and family like to see on historytothepeople.org? Are you interested in contributing? Do you know a K-12 teacher that might want to help us think about our resources page?

Any thoughts or suggestions help. We want to make this the best it can be and can only do so with the support of people who already have a deep passion for the study of history.