American Historical Association James Grossman on Research Access and Scholarly Equity

Here is Grossman at Perspectives on History:

Access to research materials—both print and digital—is crucial for any historian engaged in scholarship and teaching. For historians working outside of well-resourced colleges and universities, gaining access to these materials has become increasingly difficult, particularly with the increasing breadth and depth of commercial databases often accessible only to scholars affiliated with a well-resourced university.

This trend is an often-overlooked aspect of the changing landscape of historical research. More and more research material has been digitized by commercial database companies, who then control its dissemination. These firms rely on institution-to-institution contracts with large, well-funded university libraries. Historians working within these universities have full access, while those on the outside are excluded, placing them at a severe disadvantage in their ability to produce first-rate scholarship and excel as teachers. For a complex set of reasons, providers rarely offer individual subscriptions to scholarly databases. At the same time, contracts with vendors often make it difficult (or even impossible) for libraries to grant access to individuals outside these institutions. These structural barriers create difficult challenges for many historians.

And this:

The AHA encourages history departments to provide full library access to their own scholar alumni and to unaffiliated historians in their regions. History departments and academic units can play a positive role by supporting the scholarship of their alumni and by bringing more unaffiliated scholars into their orbit. Providing these historians a university affiliation—whether as a visiting scholar or by whatever means is feasible—will help close the gap between those with and without adequate research access. These actions will enable every historian to fully realize their potential as scholars and contributors to our discipline.

Read the entire piece here.

I can really relate to this post.  For the past two or three years, I have been trying to work with the Adam Matthew digitized CO5 files from the National Archives, UK.  This database offers access to thousands of documents on North America from 1606-1822.  I can’t afford to go to London to view these documents, so the database is my only option.  These documents are absolutely essential for my current book project.  At some point I am going to have to bite the bullet and go to London or find a research university who will let me use their collection on site or give me a password.

I realize that I have been blessed at Messiah College.  Early in my tenure, the college library purchased the Readex Early America Imprints I, Early American Imprints II (Shaw-Shoemaker), and Early American Newspapers.  This gives my students access to thousand and thousands of primary sources.  These databases have been amazing resources for my own work as well.  Messiah’s library staff has also managed to get trial access to the Adam Matthew CO5 files, but the trials are limited in time and scope and it is always hard to find time to do research during the academic year. The college cannot afford to purchase this database and Adam Matthew will not allow an individual subscription.

I also realize that I am privileged to have an academic job that gives me access to library resources.  I regularly use the databases, e-books, search engines, and interlibrary loan services that the Murray Library offers to the Messiah College community.  Grossman calls attention in the piece to adjunct and contingent faculty who lose access to these resources when they stop teaching or are not rehired.

I appreciate Grossman’s call for Research I History Departments to grant access to alumni.  Unfortunately, my Ph.D-granting institution doesn’t even own the databases I have noted in this post.

I’ll keep working on this one.  If anyone can help, please let me know: jfea(at)messiah(dot)edu.

AHA Executive Director Jim Grossman Invited Max Boot to the Annual Meeting

AHA2020 Carousel Slide test

Some of you have been following Max Boot’s recent comments about historians and the public.  You can get up to speed here and here.

Over at the blog of the American Historical Association, Jim Grossman, the Executive Director of the AHA (and our first guest on The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast!), has invited Boot to come to the next annual meeting to see what historians are up to these days.  Here is a taste of this piece:

Boot’s praise of the “prominent exceptions” and public historians who “do a wonderful job” leaves aside the hundreds of historians working in the academy who have been publishing in local venues and in blogs about all sorts of important contemporary topics, such as a scholar of early modern Europe who helped readers of a Cleveland newspaper place a papal election in context. Had Boot consulted the AHA, as many reporters do on a regular basis, including his colleagues at the Washington Post, we could have delivered numerous such sources, including a substantial bibliography of AHA members’ commentaries relating to Confederate monuments: work written by historians coming from specializations in politics, gender, race, regional culture, and all sorts of other angles.

Boot is not wrong about the lack of incentive for academic historians to reach wider publics, an issue frequently discussed in this magazine. Had Boot read even a few of these pieces, however, he would know that this is related less to what historians study than to traditional definitions of scholarship itself. Our discipline does have to rethink its definition of scholarship to consider whether and how to include scholarly interventions in public culture.

Talk to historians, Max. I asked you to do that on Twitter, and I’ll ask you again. I’m happy to organize a session at our next annual meeting where you can discuss these issues with the people whom you admire and the people you dismiss.

Read the entire piece here.

Confederate Monuments Get Their Day in Congress

MHC_Confederate_Statue_Hill

Over at AHA Today, Dane Kennedy reports on a congressional briefing about what to do with Confederate monuments.

Here is a taste:

A standing-room-only crowd gathered at the Rayburn House Office Building to hear three leading authorities on the subject—David Blight, director of the Gilder Lehrman Center at Yale University; Karen Cox, professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; and Gaines Foster, LSU Foundation Professor of History at Louisiana State University. James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, chaired the event….

How, asked a congressional staffer, does one respond to those who argue that the removal of Confederate statues erases history? It isn’t history that the statues’ defenders want to preserve, Blight insisted, but a memory that distorts or denies history. Cox made a similar point, noting that these monuments celebrate a sanitized version of history that obscures the centrality of slavery and white supremacy to the “Lost Cause.”

Another person asked, so what should be done with the monuments? Options include placing them in museums, contextualizing them with historical labeling, and collecting them at a single site, such as Stone Mountain. James Grossman pointed out that the Russians adopted the latter strategy with their Fallen Monument Park, where they relocated statues of Soviet leaders. In response to a related question about how public arts programs can alter historical narratives, Grossman recommended monuments that present the Civil War as a war of liberation for blacks. Blight suggested memorials to the black churches that sustained African American communities in the South and “elegiac” monuments that highlight the horrific slaughter of the Civil War. But he also cautioned against any precipitate action, urging deliberation in dealing with Confederate monuments. Foster struck a similar note, pointing out that public opinion on the issue needs to change. Cox was blunter: the removal of these monuments, she stated, will not bring an end to the systemic racism that inspired them.

Read the entire piece here.

A High School Student is Asking About Leopold von Ranke.

Stamp_Germany_1995_MiNr1826_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.

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

Professors

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.

Put Some Windex On It

Check out Ernie Smith’s “A Brief History of Window Cleaning” at Atlas Obscura.  Indeed, as American Historical Association Executive Director (and guest on Episode 1 of our podcast) Jim Grossman likes to say, #everythinghasahistory.

Here is a taste:

But as glass evolved as part of the 20th-century home, it suddenly became important to keep those panes of glass clean. And that meant there was an opportunity for the Philip W. Drackett Company to come about and make it easy.

That manufacturer’s product? Windex, of course, which was invented in 1933 and, 69 years later, famously called a wonder drug in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

“My dad believed in two things: That Greeks should educate non Greeks about being Greek and every ailment from psoriasis to poison ivy can be cured with Windex,” Nia Vardalos’ character says in the movie. People these days, meanwhile, have taken to “drinking” it for YouTube views, highlighting that, somewhere along the way, Windex became something more than simply a way to keep our windows clean. (For the record, we don’t recommend using Windex as a treatment for anything, other than dirty windows.)

It was the Drackett Company that started it all, in a time when new consumer chemicals were being rolled out at a rapid pace. Indeed, the 1933 invention of Windexwasn’t even the first major innovation to come from Drackett—that was Drano, the powdery lye-and-aluminum-and-dyed-salt solution that came about in the early 1920s. That once-a-week drain concoction was invented by Philip and his son, Harry. (The elder Drackett died just a few years later, in 1927.)

Read the entire piece here.

 

What is Going on at Colonial Williamsburg?

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Don’t forget the hatchet-throwing site, Jim!

Colonial Williamsburg appears to be in trouble.  The mecca of American history tourism is laying off workers and outsourcing its operations.  Last year it lost $148,000 a day.

Here is a taste of the AP report that American Historical Association Director Jim Grossman references in the tweet above.

The foundation that operates the eastern Virginia attraction is in final negotiations with four companies that will manage its golf operations, retail stores, much of its maintenance and facilities operations and its commercial real estate, President and CEO Mitchell Reiss said.

“For a variety of reasons – business decisions made in years past, less American history being taught in schools, changing times and tastes that cause us to attract half the visitors we did 30 years ago – the Foundation loses significant amounts of money every year,” he wrote in a letter shared publicly.

The foundation’s operating losses last year totaled $54 million, or $148,000 per day. It also borrowed heavily to improve its hospitality facilities and visitors center and ended 2016 with more than $300 million in debt, Reiss said.

Combined, those factors put pressure on the foundation’s endowment, with withdrawals reaching as high as 12 percent per year. At that rate, the approximately $684 million endowment could be exhausted in just eight years or perhaps sooner.

Reiss said in an interview that the foundation’s financial straits meant its mission of historic preservation “was at risk, quite frankly.”

Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum, with costumed interpreters who re-enact 18th century life amid more than 600 restored or reconstructed original buildings.

Read the entire piece here.  We asked this same question back in October.

I am not expecting a search for Philip Vickers Fithian anytime soon.

 

From the Archives: Messiah College History Department in *The American Scholar*

9e36b-boyerThis post originally ran at The Way of Improvement Leads Home on December 14, 2014–JF

Anthony Grafton (Princeton University) and James Grossman (American Historical Association), the authors of the “No More Plan B” proposal that challenged graduate programs in history to think about training Ph.D students for careers outside of the academy, have now turned to the pages of the prestigious American Scholar to extol the value of undergraduate historical research.

I think I will just let them explain. But before I do, I am proud to say that Grafton and Grossman use the Messiah College History Department as an example of a department in which students are engaged in extensive student research.  We are indeed a department that uses the study of the past to help students build “a self and a soul and a mind” that they can take with them wherever they go.

Here is a taste of their article, “Habits of the Mind“:

Students of history learn how to do research in institutions of many kinds…Go, for example, to the webpage of the history department at Messiah College, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and you’ll read about students doing every kind of research you can imagine, from working with a museum professional to excavate and restore a historic cemetery, to pursuing the family histories of African Americans in the documents at the Schomburg Center of the New York Public Library, to developing a digital archive on the history of Harrisburg. Go to the webpage of the history department at the University of California, Berkeley and you’ll find a student-edited journal, Clio’s Scroll, showcasing detailed and imaginative historical research—often drawn from senior theses—on subjects such as drama, landscape, and political thought.

Why do we teach these students—fresh, bright young undergraduates—to do research? Why take people who are forming themselves, who should be thinking about life, death, and the universe, and send them off to an archive full of dusty documents and ask them to tell us something new about the impact of the Civil War in a country town in Pennsylvania or Virginia, or the formation of Anglo-Norman kingship, or the situation of slaves in the Old South?

The answer is so simple that we sometimes forget to give it, but it matters. We teach students to do research because it’s one powerful way to teach them to understand and appreciate the past on its own terms, while at the same time finding meaning in the past that is rooted in the student’s own intellect and perspective. Classrooms and assigned readings are necessary to provide context: everyone needs to have an outline in mind, if only to have something to take apart; and everyone needs to know how to create those outlines and query them constructively. Reading monographs and articles is vital, too. To get past the big, generalized stories, you have to see how professional scholars have formed arguments, debated one another, and refined theories in light of the evidence.

But the most direct and powerful way to grasp the value of historical thinking is through engagement with the archive—or its equivalent in an era when oral history and documentary photography can create new sources, and digital databases can make them available to anyone with a computer. The nature of archives varies as widely as the world itself. They can be collections of documents or data sets, maps or charts, books with marginal notes scrawled in them that let you look over the shoulders of dead readers, or a diary that lets you look over the shoulder of a dead midwife. What matters is that the student develops a question and then identifies the particular archive, the set of sources, where it can be answered.

Why do this? Partly because it’s the only way for a student to get past being a passive consumer and critic and to become a creator, someone who reads other historians in the light of having tried to do what they do. Partly because it’s the way that historians help students master skills that are not specific to history. When students do research, they learn to think through problems, weigh evidence, construct arguments, and then criticize those arguments and strip them down and make them better—and finally to write them up in cogent, forceful prose, using the evidence deftly and economically to make their arguments and push them home.

The best defense for research, however, is that it’s in the archive where one forms a scholarly self—a self that, when all goes well, is intolerant of weak arguments and loose citation and all other forms of shoddy craftsmanship; a self that doesn’t accept a thesis without asking what assumptions and evidence it rests on; a self that doesn’t have a lot of patience with simpleminded formulas and knows an observation from an opinion and an opinion from an argument.

This self, moreover, is the student’s own construction. Supervision matters: people new to historical work need advice in framing questions, finding sources, and shaping arguments. In the end, though, historical research is always, and should always be, a bungee jump, a leap into space that hasn’t been mapped or measured. The faculty supervisor straps on the harness and sees to the rope. But the student takes the risk and reaps the rewards. This isn’t just student-centered learning, in which the student’s interests are put first; it’s student defined and student executed, the work of a self-reliant, observant, and creative person.

A self like this can seem unworldly, especially if the “real world” resembles a political culture that dismisses complexity and context as “academic.” But in a deeper sense, this is a worldly education, in the traditional way that humanistic education has always embodied. A good humanities education combines training in complex analysis with clear communication skills. Someone who becomes a historian becomes a scholar—not in the sense of choosing a profession, but in the broader meaning of developing the scholarly habits of mind that value evidence, logic, and reflection over ideology, emotion, and reflex. A student of history learns that empathy, rather than sympathy, stands at the heart of understanding not only the past but also the complex present.

That is because in the archive the historian has the opportunity and the obligation to listen. A good historian enters the archive not to prove a hypothesis, not to gather evidence to support a position that assumptions and theories have already formed. But to answer a question. It’s an amazing experience to see and talk with and learn from the dead. As Machiavelli said so well, you ask them questions about what they did and why, and in their humanity, they answer you, and you learn what you can’t learn any other way.

History has many mansions nowadays. Historians work on every period of human history, every continent, and every imaginable form of human life. But they all listen to the dead (and yes, in some cases, the living as well): that’s the common thread that connects every part of history’s elaborate tapestry of methods. All historians muster the best evidence they can to answer their questions. They offer respect and admiration to those who show the greatest ingenuity in raising new questions, bringing new characters onto the stage of history, and finding new evidence with which to do so.

As for talking with people who don’t work in universities—a student who writes a good history paper has learned how to communicate knowledge to anyone. History has been a form of narrative art, as well as of inquiry into the past, since the first millennium BCE, when Jewish and Greek and Chinese writers began to produce it. That’s why Herodotus could read his history of the Persian Wars aloud at the Olympic Games—a performance for which he received the large sum of 10 talents. Historians care about clear speech and vigorous prose, and believe that even complex and technical forms of inquiry into the past can be conveyed in accessible and attractive language. Accordingly, we don’t separate research from writing. Just ask the students whose papers and chapters we send back, adorned with marginalia in blue pen or the colors of Track Changes.

When a student does research in this way—when she attacks a problem that matters to her by identifying and mastering the sources, posing a big question, and answering it in a clear and cogent way, in the company of a trained professional to whom she and her work matter—she’s not becoming a pedant or a producer of useless knowledge. She’s doing what students of the humanities have always done: building a self and a soul and a mind that she can take with her wherever she goes, and that will make her an independent, analytical thinker and a reflective, self-critical person. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?

Obama the Historian

obama-and-historyCheck out Jennifer Schuessler’s New York Times piece on Barack Obama’s use of history during his presidency.   Here is a taste:

True, Mr. Obama may be unlikely to emulate Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and follow his years in the Oval Office with a stint as president of the American Historical Association. But some scholars see in him a man who used the presidency not just as a bully pulpit but also as something of a historian’s lectern.

And he wielded it, they say, to tell a story more strikingly in sync with the bottom-up view of history that dominates academic scholarship than with the biographies of great leaders that rule the best-seller list.

“Obama had these confabs with the presidential historians, but I don’t think he thinks like a presidential historian,” James Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical Association, said, referring to the regular dinners Mr. Obama held with leading historians in the early years of his presidency. “I think he thinks like a social historian.”

Obama should be praised for his use of history in his speeches.  His usable past is a complicated one.  Grossman is correct.  Obama thinks like a social historian.  He gave a lot of attention to what happened at Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall.  But Obama also thinks like an American intellectual historian.  He is a historian of ideas and ideals.  When he talks about the common good he sounds a lot like Gordon Wood and the civic humanist tradition.  He calls for sacrifice and what the founders called virtue.

In the end, Obama used the past a lot.  But let’s remember that he was a politician and a POTUS who used the past to serve his progressive agenda. The fact that most of the historical profession believes that Obama’s progressive approach to history is correct does not make this point any less irrelevant.

Finally, I think we need to acknowledge the great irony of the Obama presidency as it relates to history and history education.  For all his magnificent invocations of the American past, Obama did virtually nothing practical to promote the teaching and learning of history.  Let’s face it, Barack Obama was a STEM president and the history community and the American democracy that he loves so much is weaker because of this.

Historically Black University Ends Its History Program

Lincoln U

Lincoln University, a historically-black university in Jefferson City, Missouri, has decided to temporarily end its history program due to low enrollments.

You can read all the details in this piece at Inside Higher Ed, but a couple of paragraphs in caught my eye:

Kevin D. Rome, university president, said in a statement, “Our students deserve academic offerings that allow them to be competitive with their peers as they move from our campus into a career.”

Although eliminating or restructuring programs is a “difficult decision,” he continued, “we can better use the resources from those programs to strengthen those degrees with a higher demand from the student and global standpoint. … We must make decisions like these as we look toward the future and the needs of the changing workforce.”

I could respond to this, but James Grossman, Executive Director of the American Historical Society, beat me to the punch:

James Grossman, executive director of the organization, on Tuesday said he agreed with Rome, Lincoln’s president, that a college education should prepare students for a career. AHA has worked with employers through its Tuning Program and learned that they value skillslearned by history majors, he said.

“A history major prepares some students for a specific job,” Grossman said, and “prepares all students for a career.”

Like other critics of Lincoln’s plan, Grossman said that an HBCU “ought to be especially aware of the centrality of history to the intellectual vitality of any institution.” Quoting the provost’s statement, he asked how “‘students, the taxpayers and the university as a whole’ understand the role and identity of an institution that defines itself in part by its history if the institution doesn’t think history is important?”

 

This is sad news indeed.  Some historians on the faculty will be retained to teach general education courses in history.

 

History Isn’t a “Useless Major”

keep-calm-and-study-history-36Glad to see Jim Grossman, Executive Director of the American Historical Association, take to the pages of the Los Angeles Times to defend the history major today.

Here is a taste of his op-ed:

Yes, in the first few years after graduation, STEM and business majors have more obvious job prospects — especially in engineering and computer science. And in our recession-scarred economic context, of course students are concerned with landing that first job.

Over the long run, however, graduates in history and other humanities disciplines do well financially. Rubio would be surprised to learn that after 15 years, those philosophy majors have more lucrative careers than college graduates with business degrees. History majors’ mid-career salaries are on par with those holding business bachelor’s degrees. Notably these salary findings exclude those who went on to attain a law or other graduate degree.

The utility of disciplines that prepare critical thinkers escapes personnel offices, pundits and  politicians (some of whom perhaps would prefer that colleges graduate more followers and fewer leaders). But it shouldn’t. Labor markets in the United States and other countries are unstable and unpredictable. In this environment — especially given the expectation of career changes — the most useful degrees are those that can open multiple doors, and those that prepare one to learn rather than do some specific thing.

All liberal arts degrees demand that kind of learning, as well as the oft-invoked virtues of critical thinking and clear communication skills. History students, in particular, sift through substantial amounts of information, organize it, and make sense of it. In the process they learn how to infer what drives and motivates human behavior from elections to social movements to board rooms.

Employers interested in recruiting future managers should understand (and many do) that historical thinking prepares one for leadership because history is about change — envisioning it, planning for it, making it last. In an election season we are reminded regularly that success often goes to whoever can articulate the most compelling narrative. History majors learn to do that.

Read the entire piece here.

Why Historical Thinking Matters

If you still need to be convinced why the study of history is absolutely essential to American democracy, check out Mark Oppenheim‘s interview with Jim Grossman.

Oppenheim runs m/Oppenheim Associates.  He has a 30-year organizational consulting and search track record that includes managing transformation service groups for the Child Welfare Administration of New York City, Ernst & Young, Price Waterhouse, Oppenheim CMP, and the Oracle Corporation.

Grossman is Executive Director of the American Historical Association.

The business world and the world of historical thinking collide.  As they should.

If you want to hear more from Grossman, check out Episode 1 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

“Again” is a Historical Claim

Great Again“Make American Great Again.”

As AHA Executive Director Jim Grossman reminds us in his column in the May issue of Perspectives on History, Donald Trump’s use of the word “again” in this sentence suggests that he is making, whether he realizes it or not, a historical claim.

Here is Grossman:

Indeed, history lies at the center of the narrative itself. What has been so striking during the campaign is the invocation of history, even if only by implication. “Make America Great Again” is a historical claim as much as a campaign slogan and vague policy agenda. What is the bygone era to which it refers in the invocation of “again”? What did that period actually look like? The first question can be answered only by the candidate; the second needs to be addressed by historians, and based on evidence.

Earlier this election cycle, an immigrant in Florida summarized her support for Marco Rubio with the sentence “Marco wants the country I came to 30 years ago.” What was that country? Another historical question for which empirical evidence abounds, begging fresh scrutiny. When Hillary Clinton begins a sentence with “I,” followed by a verb in the past tense, that autobiographical claim should be subject to biographical research. For its part, the media has largely confused history with analogy: anyone who played a role in either of the last two contested Republican conventions is therefore in demand despite the massive changes in rules and culture. One of those conventions was held in 1952, so the pool of experts is small—but not nonexistent.

I end with my usual plea to colleagues. Find a way to enter these conversations as historians. Point out in local press and radio, social media and other online spaces, at the dinner table, in bookstores and bars, the PTA and public meetings, that history’s relevance need not be proven by imperfect analogies or mere precedent alone, but also by exploration of process and rhetoric, reading widely and weighing evidence with care…

We have work to do.

Read the entire piece here.

Are You Listening to The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast?

podcast-icon1On Tuesday we will drop Episode 6 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast.  It will focus on the ways we narrate the past. Our guest will be Nate DiMeo, the host, chief storyteller, and producer of the wildly popular podcast The Memory Palace.

While you are waiting for this episode to drop, I want to encourage you to get caught up with past episodes, subscribe to the podcast, or write an ITunes review.

Here is where we have been so far:

Episode 0: We introduce the podcast and explain the meaning of phrase “the way of improvement leads home.”

Episode 1:  We talk with Jim Grossman, Executive Director of the American Historical Association, about the power of history in American society and the twitter hashtag #everythinghasahistory

Episode 2: Daniel K. Williams, author of Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe v. Wade reflects historically on this controversial issue in ways that will benefit listeners on both side of the debate.

Episode 3:  Yoni Appelbaum, the Washington Bureau Chief at The Atlantic, dares us to be historians in public and offers some ways to think historically about the current presidential campaign.

Episode 4: Stanford professor and history education guru Sam Wineburg, the author of Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, talks historical thinking, Common Core, and the Teaching American history grants

Episode 5:  We talk about “encountering the past” in and out of museums and historical sites with Tim Grove, Chief of Museum Education at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum and the author of A Grizzly in the Mail and other Adventures in American History

In addition to these interviews, all of our episodes include a conversation about history with producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling and a historical essay or story related to the theme of the episode.

Episode 1 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast Will Drop on Saturday

Podcast IconThe moment you have all been waiting for is almost here!

January 16, 2016 is the official drop date, on ITunes and at the blog, of Episode 1 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast.  Our producer, Drew Dyrli Hermeling, is putting the finishing touches on the episode as I type.

Our guest will Jim Grossman, Executive Director of the American Historical Association.  The title of the episode is “#everythinghasahistory”.

If you are not familiar with The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast we encourage you to download Episode 0, our short introduction.

Of course ITunes reviews are always welcome.

Historians Are Teachers

Jim Grossman, the Executive Director of the American Historical Association, believes that teaching is at the heart of what it means to be a historian.  He is right.  Ph.D programs must recognize this.


Here is a taste of his recent column in Perspectives on History:

Most of our largest PhD programs train students for positions that only a small minority will attain: tenurable appointments in “high research activity” institutions. Among history PhDs graduated between 1998 and 2009 who currently teach in higher education, approximately 75 percent are either outside “high research activity” institutions or off the tenure track. This means that the process and products embodied in much of graduate education—writing books and scholarly articles, teaching lecture courses and highly specialized seminars, and perhaps even preparing grant proposals for major fellowships—leave aside the principal issues and tasks that faculty at teaching-oriented institutions must engage. And those that faculty even at high-level research universities ought to engage.

We do not train our PhD students to see their profession as “teacher.” This might be inevitable, even appropriate. The PhD is, after all, a research degree. The craft of publication through books and articles stands at the center of graduate education in history, as it does in many other disciplines. At the same time, a historian is a scholar who not only creates new knowledge, but also disseminates insights across a variety of platforms, many of them in the classroom. The ways that digital tools now dissolve the boundaries between scholarship and teaching make this an opportune time to address these long-standing issues. The AHA has already resolved to put its imprimatur on and resources into elevating digital dissemination of knowledge onto the same plane as print. If we believe in putting teaching on that plane as well, too few of us have communicated that belief to graduate students. We have failed to integrate the teaching of history into the profession of being a historian—other than by example, or perhaps by sending our students across campus to teaching and learning centers generally considered marginal to the main pathway.

These centers have made great strides in improving the quality of teaching on their campuses, offering graduate students and junior faculty the resources that their home departments have not. Academic job candidates now brandish teaching portfolios and have benefited from videotaping and coaching unavailable a generation ago. Still, department chairs tell us that few job candidates are able to establish a dialogue between these portfolios and the curriculum at the institution to which they are applying. Worse, conversations about teaching that occur outside the context of disciplinary learning and practice remain marginal to the pursuit of a PhD in most disciplines. History faculty generally consider such training a valuable supplement, rather than seeing it as part of “becoming a historian.”

But it should be. Teaching is an essential skill for every historian, whether in a secondary school, college classroom, museum, archive, historical site, or even the public square, presenting evidence persuasively to legislators and fellow citizens. Historians teach. Learning how to teach should be equal to and intertwined with learning to become a research scholar.

If teaching history—including content not directly related to a scholar’s ongoing research agenda—is integral to being a professional historian, then it is essential to becoming one. It’s one thing to have the ability to plan a course and choose readings carefully and knowledgeably, something that many of our graduate students have already begun integrating into their portfolios. It’s another to shift our vocabulary of teaching to a discourse on learning, an approach to undergraduate education now largely relegated to the centers for teaching and learning, with inadequate integration into discipline-centered training.

Read the rest here.