Thursday, March 9, 2017

Blog CCXXVII (227) More of the Logevall and Osgood Debate

There has been more on the debate that Fredrik Logevall and Kenneth Osgood started last August on the pages of The New York Times.  I suspect this debate will go on for quite a while and will probably be best measured in months and years rather than weeks and months. 

Some of what follows is stuff that I should have gotten in my first posting on this debate and some of it is fairly new.  There will, of course, be more.

James M. Perry, the former chief political correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, endorsed these views in a column he wrote for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  He attributed a lack of political literacy to the rise of Donald Trump.

In September, K.C. Johnson, one of the very, very few historians that specializes on the Congress, wrote an essay "The Alarming Decline of U.S. Political History" on his blog and also posted on his twitter feed endorsing the views of Logevall and Osgood.  He made similar points in 2003 when he testified to Congress.  His essays is much like Blog CCXXII, but is better in its argumentation.  He also noted some of the same patterns in the negative reactions to the editorial.  He is a bit skeptical that anything will come of the Logevall/Osgood essay, though. 

At the most recent meeting of the American Historical Association, a session was devoted to debating the state of political history.  The fact that it occurred Sunday morning, when many people are heading to the airport or raiding the book display for the good deals, limited the turnout.  (I know of what I speak; I have been in an AHA session on Sunday morning.  There were a few more people in the audience than on the panel, but only a few.)

Getting more attention is a exchange of essays in the January 2017 issue of Perspectives on History.  Marc Stein, a historian at San Francisco State, published "Political History and the History of Sexuality." Stein, who writes on sexuality, decided to criticize the essay from the perspective of his specialization. "Here I want to offer a perspective rooted in my little corner of the world, which is filled with historians of sexuality who work on politics and historians of politics who work on sexuality."  He began the essay by complaining about the language that the two used.  "More problematic, from the perspective of my little corner of the world, was the fact that their formulation erased the work so many have done to integrate political history with the history of social movements and the history of race, gender, and sexuality."  He began by listing the books on his shelves that were political history.  Like many other critics, he confused political history with other topics.  I noticed one book was about strategic bombing in World War II.  He then discussed the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which excluded, in the words of the act, "sexual deviations."  Stein observes, "But in my little corner of the world, which includes a large number of US political historians, this law was also a political manifestation of larger dynamics that established, maintained, and strengthened the supremacy of family, heterosexuality, and marriage in the United States. And if we cannot recognize that this is and was political, the future of political history is dire indeed."

Logevall and Osgood responded with a lengthy essay—which is in fact, longer than their original New York Times piece—entitled: "US Political History—Alive and Well?"  The two note: "Reasonable people can differ here, and Marc Stein is more apropos than perhaps he realizes with his repeated references to the view from his 'little corner of the world.' The challenge for us all is to take a broader perspective, to take stock of the good and the bad, and to have an open dialogue about the state of the field as seen from all points on the compass, not just our own."

They are clear on who and what political history should be studying: "Those who have held predominant power in American society—presidents, Congress, state governments—the elections that brought them to office, and the formulation and impact of policies that resulted from the exercise of that power." There reasons are fairly simple.  "In our daily lives, we take for granted the importance of these manifestations of our politics, but—as several correspondents rightly noted—too often we lose sight of it in our research, at least pre-tenure, and in our decision making on matters of curriculum design and faculty hiring."

A number of people have contacted them to either express support or disagreement.  Many have argued there is little academic history on both Congress and state government. "We agree. To a large degree, we’ve ceded this territory to our colleagues in political science. For the past quarter century, history grad students who express an interest in pursuing a dissertation centered on high politics have usually been gently steered in other directions. It’s old-fashioned and elite-centered, they’ve been told, not sufficiently cutting edge, too—egad—'traditional.' And 'it won’t get you a job.'" 

That point is exceptionally important.  After having been part of a couple of search committees, I can tell you that a  dissertation topic can play a powerful role in determining who advances in the search.  Letters of recommendation help, sure, but the dissertation topic is far more important.  In the end, Logevall and Osgood candidly observe that "the savvy grad student who wants to maximize her chances on the job market would still be well-advised to steer clear of a topic on high politics."

Stein responded with an essay that was longer and more insightful than his original piece.  He noted, "Self-proclaimed guardians of political history have regularly issued jeremiads about the decline of our field." He is direct in his criticisms of Logevall and Osgood on this matter: "One clue about why they do so can be found in their discussion of my 'little corner of the world.' Apparently, they missed my sarcasm; my point was that my corner is actually pretty popular. Instead, they urge us to 'take a broader perspective' and examine 'all points on the compass, not just our own.' I couldn’t agree more." 

He then argues that historians writing history in his field are doing impressive work: "Sarcasm alert: I sure do wish that political historians who focus on class, gender, race, and sexuality would stop looking at things from provincial and parochial points of view and focus on larger political issues like capitalism, colonialism, democracy, equality, justice, war, and peace. As for their efforts to provide further evidence for the decline of political history, I am not convinced that their research methodology is up to the task, primarily because of the questions they are not asking."

Stein's essay becomes quite powerful when he starts asking some significant questions: "First, do most US history textbooks and survey courses still privilege political history? If so, what is the relationship between this and the patterns that Logevall and Osgood have identified in history specializations and job advertisements?"

He get at a really important issue in his next point: "Second, how do we measure the changing popularity of political history."  He notes that the boundaries between topic such as "diplomatic, legal, and military history" are nebulous.  That point is particularly strong, but I would argue that the boundaries are clearer to people in the fields than those outside of them.

His next two points are interesting: "Third, is it possible that more and more dissertations integrate political history with other approaches? Has there been a generational shift whereby new historians are less invested in older field designations?" He follows with: "Fourth, while quantitative studies of job advertisements are interesting, is it possible that political historians are favored in job searches that do not mention politics (such as searches in US history, the American Revolution, the Civil War, and chronologically defined subfields)?" 

Stein's last point is perhaps his best, "All of this begs the question of how we should define “the political.” It is sometimes said that if everything is political, the concept of politics as a distinct conceptual domain loses its utility. But surely we can come up with a definition that encompasses less than everything but more than national elections, political parties, and a small set of individuals and institutions."

My response: that is a reasonable question.  My assessment based on anecdotal evidence is a simple: no.

Political history has serious issues to discuss that other fields are going to have a difficult time addressing.  These include questions like:
  • Why does the United States have a binary political system when most other industrial, democratic societies are multi-party?
  • Has the United States had a radical element in its political tradition? On the right?  The left?  Why? Why not?
  • Has Congress been an active force in national politics? Or is it more passive,  responding to special interest groups and the executive branch?  Does Congress initiate significant policy proposals, and national agendas?
  • Do people vote on the basis of issues?  Partisanship?  Or image/emotion?
I am sure someone could come up with even more, but these are kind of big.

This point gets to another that I notice when I was writing Blog CCXXII (my first assessment of the Logevall and Osgood debate).  There appears to be a lot of bait and switching going on among the critics of Logevall and Osgood.  Historians often try to pass off one type of history as another particularly in job searches when they are having to fill a position in a field that they do not like.  (You also see this phenomenon in fellowship applications).  Put another way, if a political historian wrote a biography of Margret Chase Smith—she spent nine years in the U.S. House of Representatives and then was a U.S. Senator from Maine for four terms—would that individual be a viable candidate for a job teaching women's history?  Probably not, but a lot of people think that if that historian specialized in gender studies and wrote the biography that he or she could pass them self off as a political historian. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Blog CCXXVII (227): Debate Prequel

This post is one that I really wish I had written before Blog CCXXII (222): The Logevall and Osgood Debate.  In May of 2011, Perspectives on History had a special issue on political history "Political History Today."  There were seventeen articles that studied various aspects of the topic.  In many ways, this special issue was a prequel to the Logevall/Osgood guest column in The New York Times last August. 

The articles are eclectic.  Three articles are about teaching, and another three are about research resources available to historians interested in U.S. political history.  Although it is clear the intention of the editors was to focus on U.S. political history, there are essays on South Asia and Early Modern Europe. 

May 2011The more important articles in this issue are those that are "think pieces" on the direction of the field.  Of these the one that is probably the most important is the one from Julian E. Zelizer of Princeton University.  His article "The Interdisciplinarity of Political History" is a condensed version of the first part of his book Governing America: The Revival of Political History (2012).  Political history is seeing a Renaissance, he argues, because it has become interdisciplinary.  Historians
must be certain to explore the full range of scholarship that exists outside history departments to see and profit from all the possible partnerships. For example, in political science there are subfields like public opinion that have important findings for political historians, such as the difficulty presidents have encountered in actually changing public opinion. Larry Bartels has produced some intriguing findings using historical data to show that what matters most to voters—even in landmark elections like those of 1936—are the immediate economic conditions, which determine what happens at the ballot box. His work has also raised significant challenges to conventional history that we have on how working class whites abandoned the Democratic Party after the 1960s. Psychologists are producing stunning findings about how voters make their decisions based on first physical impressions rather than speeches or policy arguments. Sociologists have also been developing extremely important work on the role of networks in spreading information and shaping the reputations of particular actors. 
The good news is that an interdisciplinary approach is in the bloodstream of any good political historian.
On the other hand, Steven Pincus of Yale University and William Novak of the University of Michigan in "Political History after the Cultural Turn" state: "Traditional political history is dead and is still dying. Over two decades ago, Lynn Hunt observed, 'Social history has overtaken political history as the most important area of research in history.'" They also add:
Practitioners of both the new social history and the new cultural history have been at one in denouncing (and moving speedily past) the traditional techniques, narratives, and perspectives of the old political history. Tony Judt, certainly not an uncritical advocate of either the new social or the new cultural history, captured a widespread contempt for political history after the social-cultural turn. "Traditional political history continues on its untroubled way," he observed, "describing in detail the behaviour of ruling classes and the transformations which took place within them. Divorced from social history, this remains, as ever, a form of historical writing adapted to the preservation of the status quo; it concerns itself with activities peculiar to the ruling group, activities of an apparently rational and self-justifying nature." Whatever their internecine differences, practitioners of most new historical subdisciplines have come to view traditional political history as an essentially conservative and crabbed way of approaching an increasingly rich and diverse range of historical material.
All of this comes in the first paragraph. 

Pincus and Novak are not dismissing the study of public affairs.  "Recent events have made the importance of 'the political' even more manifest," they concede. "Post 9/11, no one can seriously doubt any longer that state activities—domestic as well as international—deeply affect our everyday lives."  They also issue a call for action:
What we are calling for, then, is not a return to a political history of elites making decisions which affect other elites. The last generation of social and cultural history has successfully cut off the king's head, and the future history of the political refuses to be confined to the conventional terms of critical elections, high-profile politicians, and official action. The political history that we would like to see elevated in the next generation of historical scholarship is precisely a place of constant interaction and interconnection between state and society—a space where issues of national identity and belonging, democratic participation and exclusion, state-building and state-resistance, discrimination and equal protection, and competing visions of the good life are ceaselessly brought into focus, debate, and often coercive resolution. The political does not constitute itself independent of and external to society—but is a place of almost continuous sociopolitical interaction and conflict. It marks a distinctive site of collective action where the terms of the life in common—whether local, regional, national, or international—receive a particularly comprehensive (and not infrequently coercive) form of articulation (for better or for worse).   
That is all well and good, but—and this is a big but—state activities are not always political.  Pincus and Novak conflate law enforcement, military affairs and foreign policy with politics.  There is overlap, but they are distinct topics.  I also think there is an odd disconnect at play here in the dismissive attitude they hold towards historical investigation of high ranking politicians and elections, and the reactions in academia to the elections of 2008 and 2016.  Scholars seem to care about who is in the White House—at least those during their lifetimes.

Part of the problem with this debate is that many people are confused about what is and is not "political history." This reaction was clear in the early, negative reactions to the Logevall/Osgood  op-ed.  It also becomes clear in reading all the articles in this special issue. 

Case in point, four of the articles in this issue, focus on diplomatic history.  While diplomatic history and political history might seem the same thing to people outside of the two fields, they are distinctly different. Diplomatic history has a been a well-defined sub-field of U.S. history for roughly a century, focusing on the making and execution of policy, or to be more specific, U.S. foreign policy.  Although politicians play important roles in these studies—54 of our 66 secretaries of state have been lawyers/politicians.  Many people outside of the field assume diplomatic history is limited to the activities of how diplomats talk to one another.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Diplomatic historians often focus on professional diplomats, but they also look at pressure groups, businessmen, demographics, economics, and public opinion.  They have also been "internationalizing" U.S. history for a very, very long time. 

All of these points become clear in looking at the career of Samuel Flagg Bemis (1891-1973).  Bemis was president of the American Historical Association in 1961.  He won his first Pulitzer for his book Jay's Treaty: A Study in Commerce and Diplomacy (1924), which was the product of research in archives in the United States, but also those in the United Kingdom and France—which was no easy thing to do in 1916; his ship was hit by a German U-boat. More to the point, his book and research makes it clear that politics and policy are distinctly different topics.  There is no real reason for a political historian to look at developments in France or Britain, while there is a very strong reason for a diplomatic historian to do so. 

Bemis's career also shows how diplomatic and political history overlap.  He won his second Pulitzer for the first volume of his biography of John Quincy Adams.  That book focused on Adams and his diplomatic career.  The sequel covered his presidency and post-White House life as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Returning to the main topic of this essay, this special issue makes for interesting reading in light of the Logevall/Osgood debate.  These articles show, for better or worse, what they two of them were pushing against when the went to The New York Times with their essay.  In many ways the issue helps their cause.  If you disagree with that assessment, despair not.  I suspect there is a lot more coming in this debate.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Blog CCXXVI (226): Blast from the Past

It is a bit of an odd thing, but historians are basically clueless about the history of their own profession.  In graduate school, we are taught the historiography of our field--the history of the literature--but not the history of the profession.  With that point in mind, I spent some time looking at issues of Perspectives from the time I was an undergraduate and graduate student.  In November of 1989--while I was struggling through my first semester, Richard H. Kohn, the Chief Historian of the United States Air Force, wrote this essay entitled, "The Future of the Historical Profession."  Kohn holds a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin and is a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  All the highlighting is mine, and I will offer a short assessment at the end of the essay:
During the last few years, a sense of unease has been growing in the historical profession. From many sides come warnings of a profession in decline, part of a larger lament about the state of American learning. From Ernest Boyer, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, we hear of "undergraduate colleges" as "troubled" institutions that "have lost their sense of purpose," peopled by passive students and conflicted faculty, isolated from the schools below them and from the larger world beyond the campus. From critics E. D. Hirsch and Allan Bloom we hear of a university system hopelessly adrift and an educational system so deeply and genuinely flawed that it fails to impart the concepts and information that together constitute a shared culture. Closer to our concerns as historians, the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities tells us how neglectful this educational system is of history and literature. This point is confirmed in numbing detail by Diane Ravitch and Chester Finn in a longer work, and more recently, in terms of content and method in the curricula of the schools, by the Bradley Commission—and how arcane and disconnected from society scholarship in the humanities has become. Professors Gertrude Himmelfarb and Theodore Hamerow have focused specifically on how we historians pursue our profession, one arguing that some of our newest passions—particularly social history—are dangerously flawed and incomplete, the other that our field has diminished dramatically in importance and relevance in academe and society at large. All in all, few periods in memory can rival this last two years for the sheer volume and consistency of the attacks on higher education in general and on our discipline in particular.
Now, while much of this critique may be exaggerated or simply wrong, and while many of us might disagree in whole or in part with some of this literature, we still have a nagging sense that the criticism contains considerable truth. There is much evidence to support the interpretation that history has declined, whatever the reasons. The number of history majors graduating from American colleges dropped precipitously between 1970 and 1986—a whopping 62 percent, from over 43,000 to 16,500. Masters degrees awarded in our field suffered a similar drop, and Ph.D.s almost a 50 percent contraction. What this implies is a loss of audience both in a core clientele and in a prime source of jobs for our profession, college students, and faculty positions. At the same time, people seem to know less history. While we do not have a basis to compare Professors Ravitch's and Finn's work on what our 17-year-olds know with other periods of time, the results just by themselves are troubling to say the least, and the Bradley Commission has only reiterated what we have suspected for some time—a twenty-year trend of less history taught and required in our schools and colleges. Professor Hamerow would argue that history has given way to newer fields in the social sciences that seem to be more practical or useful in addressing today's social issues. But whatever the cause, the result is the same: history has declined dramatically in popularity as a field of knowledge in American education.
At the same time, however, the interest of the American people in history seems to have moved in exactly the opposite direction. The humanities as a whole have flowered in the same twenty-year period, according to National Endowment Chairman Lynne V. Cheney: greater numbers of people are participating in State Humanities Council's sponsored programs; more library reading programs; there is more spending on admission to cultural events in comparison to spectator sports; there is increased attendance at the National Gallery of Art in Washington; and other evidence, statistical and anecdotal. Cheney points out that there are nearly "10,000 historical associations...in this country, more than half of them...organized in the last twenty years." The amount of history on television and on movie screens shows no sign of decline. Hundreds of corporations have apparently undertaken in recent years to have their histories written, either to orient and inspire their own employees; to market their goods and services; or as necessary to provide context and support for planning and decision-making at the topmost management levels.
In the realm of fiction, the American public's appetite for historical novels from such authors as James Michener, Gore Vidal, and John Jakes seems insatiable. The topic of World War II, whether in the form of novels, memoirs, battle and campaign histories, biographies, or budget-busting television extravaganzas like War and Remembrance has become something of a cottage industry all its own.
Interest in historical museums and reconstructions and the preservation of historic buildings and sites has skyrocketed. Beginning in 1966, under the stimulation of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, over 50,000 places have come to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Public history—the related activities of archives, cultural resource management, and policy analysis or support in government and business—has also emerged in the last decade to become a major source of employment for historians, archaeologists, archivists, and others.
The decline—the crisis—does not seem to reside in the discipline or in the demand for, and interest in, the study of the past but in the profession itself. The fundamental problem lies in ourselves, in the way we conceive our role and the way we orient our professional interest and activity; specifically our narrowness and specialization. Our narrowness comes in many forms; it pervades not only what we do, but how we do it, and how we identify ourselves and our role in society. We define ourselves by the Ph.D. and while we recognize that there are historians doing legitimate work who do not possess the degree, and that there are historians doing quality work in government, business, cultural institutions, and elsewhere, when we speak of "the profession" we really mean the professoriate. Even then it is restricted to people with Ph.D.s teaching in four-year, postsecondary institutions. We define ourselves not as a body of individuals with common training and expertise, devoted corporately to a common purpose, but as a field of knowledge or a subject matter.
Our work has grown increasingly narrow in scope and technical in character, written to advance knowledge in small segments and addressed to other scholars rather than to a broad audience. Most of our work is so technical that it is even unsuitable for assignment to our own undergraduates. Our graduate training which focuses on original research, rigor of method, and the dissertation rather than on training, has become the standard by which we judge not simply the quality but the worth, or usefulness, of almost all historical writing.
Our reward structure is based almost exclusively on such writing; our very concept of productivity is writing. We have as a profession come to see our purpose as adding new knowledge to the base, rather than advancing an understanding of the past in society. We have come to confuse our product with our purpose. Certainly, we have forfeited the public audience for our writing to those writers and journalists who are skilled at repackaging the scholarship of others into broad syntheses, readable narratives, or exciting biographies. In short, we have succeeded in largely divorcing ourselves and professionally-done history from the public, both in the schools and in the general population at large.
Now, I do not want to overstate our crisis or draw a completely negative picture, for there are hopeful signs amidst these problems. The attention paid to the decline of history in the schools is itself a positive development and between the efforts of the NEH, the Bradley Commission, and the National Commission on Social Studies, there seems to be gathering a wave of reform. In 1987, the California State Board of Education revised its "history framework" to emphasize and increase history and geography (instead of "social studies") and late last year the The Atlantic Monthly magazine sensed enough interest in the subject to devote a long article to a critique of our high school history texts. At the college level, the number of majors and graduate degrees awarded seems to have bottomed, and on some campuses students seem to be coming back to history. At the University of New Mexico, to cite one example, history enrollments have undergone a dramatic increase. Public history seems steadily to be expanding its clientele, with government agencies opening new history offices, more businesses contracting for histories or establishing archives, historic preservation continuing to boom, and a general sense in the public prints that history possesses practical usefulness not only as a tool for transmitting culture and informing decision-makers, but as a virtual necessity of citizenship in a democracy and, in inchoate ways, a fundamental measure of our health as a civilization. Even in the Soviet Union, where history has long been abused as a tool of propaganda and control, there seems to be a recognition that an honest rendering of the past must accompany glasnost and perestroyka if those progressive initiatives are to have any lasting effect and the Soviet Union as a nation and society is to modernize.
But whatever the signs, our narrowness remains an obstacle. The issue is whether professional historians can or will respond to the interest of our citizenry in the past and the demand for more and better history in the schools. The consequences of failure are immense. If we do not reconnect the profession to the schools, the reading public, and the diverse historical activity that has burgeoned in our communities, we run the risk of being further displaced by amateur history buffs and other social scientists, with the result that the history Americans receive will be inaccurate, misleading, politically-biased, or useful only for civic celebration or mass entertainment. Most corporate histories, for example, are authored by writers or company insiders rather than by professionals rigorously trained in historical method and committed to our standards of veracity, balance, objectivity, and interpretation.
Extraordinary sums of money are devoted in America today to primary and secondary education, to television and to movies, to museums, to historic reconstruction, and to decision-making in business and government. Should not these enterprises have history every bit as professionally sound as the instruction our college students receive and our research monographs contain? The audiences to be reached far outnumber those in our classrooms and those who read our monographs. If we are shrewd about it and attempt to mold our own future instead of experiencing it passively, we have the opportunity to improve our nation and advance our society far in excess of present efforts. If we as a profession want more and better historical understanding of the United States, we had better take the steps necessary to make that occur ourselves.
Our first task is to reconnect the profession with our clientele in the educational world and amongst the public—those reading books and imbibing history from media, museums, and local and regional historical organizations across the country. 
Historians in our colleges ought to get involved more in film and television production, with museums, as consultants to historic preservation, in school curriculum planning, and in writing sound, interpretative works in a style and on topics that the public wants to read. None of this requires prostitution of our standards or values. Quite the opposite; it is precisely to spread our standards of balanced, accurate history that such initiatives are needed. 
One effort needed at the local level is for academic historians to take the lead in connecting together primary and secondary school history instructors with the historic sites and organizations nearby. History can be more lively if it is interactive and relevant to everyday life, if it can be seen and touched as well as read. In What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know, Professors Ravitch and Finn point out that of their sample of 7,812 high school juniors, fully 93 percent never visited museums or exhibits with their history classes and 44.5 percent never used documents or other original sources. But 84.2 percent watched films or listened to oral histories, one-third of them once a week! Almost 60 percent used a history textbook daily! Why could not historians at colleges publish through the medium of history texts, lesson materials, videos, and films? Why could not history departments connect school teachers and curricula designers with the curators of local museums, the administrators of historic sites and buildings, local individuals who have relevant oral history experiences to relate, and archivists with documents that could be used to create innovative units and lessons to supplement traditional classroom methods?
If we want to influence history we must assert our leadership and make the first effort, for it is we who have defined ourselves as "the profession." It is we who differentiate ourselves from others who teach below the college level; who do not possess the Ph.D.; or who cannot or do not choose to study or disseminate history within the framework similar to that of the university professoriate. Until we reach out, the other groups will continue to ignore us.
Our second task must consist of a concerted effort to broaden the economic base of the profession beyond college and university teaching. The rise of public or applied history—its expansion in business and government—indicates there may be a market for history beyond the classroom and publishing. Mostly we historians see ourselves as teachers or writers, iconoclastic individualists even though most work as salaried employees of large institutions. However, an enterprising few, exercising imagination and inventiveness, have managed to make a living selling historical service to the public. Perhaps history could break out of its academic mold and, like psychology and economics some decades ago, develop a client or customer base for individual or group practitioners. The only way to find this out is to undertake a detailed and systematic market analysis of the American economy to see if significant numbers of historians could make a living in such a manner. As former chairman of the National Council for Public History Neil Stowe has put it, "We are not, after all, a growth industry, but we have growth opportunities."
Historian Shelley Bookspan, writing in the February 1989 OAH Newsletter, has noted a tremendous opportunity open to historians created by recent environmental legislation, which has caused there to be "site assessments" on virtually "all property transactions." Courts use history often; perhaps historians could be employed full-time or on a fee basis to give our judges and lawyers professional history. Newspapers employ art, film, TV, architecture, and theater critics. Perhaps media could be induced to employ historians to review the history content not only of art, film, and books, but of the use of history by politicians running for office. Bookspan believes the OAH ought immediately to establish a marketing committee, but that is only a first step and it ought to be underwritten by all of our professional groups or by the AHA acting for all. The possibilities are only limited by what is economically viable and by our imaginations. 
Such a future requires significant change in the way we define the profession; how we train historians; how we see our role in society; and how we organize and operate our professional organizations.
To begin with, we must define the profession inclusively rather than exclusively, to include everyone who makes their living researching, writing, teaching, or otherwise advancing or disseminating historical knowledge regardless of their place of employment or source of income. At the same time that we reach out, we ought to work as hard as possible to insure that all of these practitioners, where at all appropriate, have at least college, and quite likely, graduate education in history. Such a step may well require us to insist on certification, as a way of protecting the public against biased, inaccurate, or otherwise shoddy work.
Our present system—essentially footnotes and peer review—is utterly inadequate to cover historical work in museums where history is not presented in written formats and in the media or in government and business where the results of research are not usually disseminated very widely. Nor have we any adequate procedures, as recent cases of alleged plagiarism or other unethical behavior reveal, to identify malfeasance and enforce sanctions against professional malpractice.
Certification or licensing will be difficult to establish and will undoubtedly elicit charges of elitism. But a test of basic field knowledge; of writing competency; of familiarity with research techniques and methodologies and other expertise we take for granted (but which many amateurs and publicly-accepted practitioners lack or ignore) may be more just, fair, equitable, and democratic—and less elitist, exclusive, and restrictive—than requiring a Ph.D. By not acting to enforce standards or to require a level of education or expertise, the historical profession tells the public that quality history is not important and that the analysis of the past is not a profession which requires special training, knowledge, expertise, or method.
A broadening of our role will also require a change in the training of graduate students along with the reward structure in colleges, universities, and the profession generally. If we are to engage the schools and extend our activity in American life, we are going to have to recognize the disseminating of history on an equal basis with the creation of new historical knowledge. In other words, a concerted effort will be needed to alter the "culture" of the profession, to make respectable and even desirable the practice of history beyond the classroom as a service activity for individual profit and social betterment. Graduate students will thus need training not just in historiography, a chronological or national specialty, and research, but in "applying" history in a wide variety of settings with a diverse set of methodologies. Masters and doctoral programs need to introduce students to the profession as well as the discipline, with one or more courses in applied history that teach the use, uses, and practice of history in all its diversity in American society.
In short, we must both prepare our successors and encourage many of them to pursue history as a service or product activity. Whether we modify the Ph.D. substantially remains to be seen, but certainly the period of timing will need to be regularized and made more standard. And colleges and universities will have to develop ways of measuring and recognizing excellence and productivity that will reward faculty for advancing historical knowledge and understanding in ways other than classroom teaching and archival research.
Lastly, if the profession decides to break out of its isolation and broaden beyond its academic base, our professional groups, particularly the AHA, will have to provide leadership. In almost every instance, our organizations were founded and continue to operate as associations of scholars—oriented primarily toward original investigation of sources, issuing research reports, publishing scholarly journals, meeting annually to share the results of specialized research, awarding prizes for the publication of archival discoveries, devoting attention to access to archives and issues of academic publishing, and other such activities for college teachers who have the time, support, and inclination for research and publication. Only a handful of our organizations make any effort to include history activity beyond the academy, and even those have hardly made a dent in becoming attractive to, serving, or including teachers in schools and community colleges, much less colleagues in other work settings. There is no program underway to establish criteria for competence in our discipline or to enforce professional standards of education, entry, or practice for the various work settings in which historians are employed. Our entire profession possesses but one full-time lobbyist. Efforts at the state and local level, in school curricula battles, textbook publishing and selection, historic preservation, and other issues outside postsecondary education are haphazard and inconsistent at best. Membership drives focus on academicians, not a wider clientele. Little thought or effort is being made to study the economics of a client-base rather than a classroom- or salary-based profession. Our organizations are not engaged in any systematic efforts to promote the utility or image of the discipline in such a manner that will broaden our role in American life or our opportunities for employment, with the exception of a recent push to strengthen and advance precollege history education.
When all is said and done, our organizations are not as much professional associations as they are learned societies, pursuing overwhelmingly the same programs and activities as did their predecessors at the turn of the century. The difference, as Leonard D. Goodstein of the American Psychological Association recently explained, is that professional organizations "actively intervene in the development of the discipline and work to advance and protect the interests of the discipline in any and all arenas."
Our profession stands today at a critical juncture. For generations, in order to achieve rigor and increase knowledge of the past, we have narrowed ourselves, to the detriment of advancing historical study as widely in American society as possible. Other alternatives exist, and the present loud complaints about the state of the profession and state of historical learning in America present us with an unusual opportunity to reevaluate ourselves, and if we wish, to extend our influence and strengthen our effectiveness. But we must seize control of our own future in order to do so. Roughly, the choice is between developing a broader base and expanded role in society, like the psychologists and economists, or continuing to talk primarily to ourselves within the confines of the academic world, like the philosophers. In either case, we ought to confront the choices openly, and debate them. It is after all our own future that is at stake, and perhaps more important, the quality of historical understanding in the United States as a whole.
My assessment: this article was in many ways a bold call for action.  For better or worse--probably worse--it still describes the historical profession in 2017 as much as it did 28 years ago in 1989.  It is clear that the historians of the 1990s failed to innovate.  Most probably saw little need.  There were studies predicting a shortage of faculty, as a generation of baby boomers hit retirement.  As a result, graduate schools exploded in size, admitting dozens and dozens of students.  The problem was the baby boomers did not boom and the numbers of undergraduates were simply not there to require one to one replacement of faculty.  As a result, the situation the profession faces is actually far worse today than it was in the days of the first President Bush.  Makes me wonder about the future.  Where will things be in 2038? 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Blog CCXXV (225): Author's Corner

John Fea has an interesting series on his blog called the "Author's Corner" For the record, I should note that Fea states, "The Way of Improvement Leads Home is more than just a blog (or a book).  It is a multi-faceted effort to bring history and historical thinking to the public."  There is a lot to this view.  The site has a number of correspondents that contribute and it uses all the media formats (text, audio, visual) that the internet has to offer.  The "Author's Corner" series is part of this larger undertaking.  In these author interviews, Fea and/or one of his contributors ask the authors of new books questions about their work, its origins, and its importance. 

The series started in 2014, but really took off in 2016.  Although the series tends to lean in the direction of Fea's teaching and research interests (religious history, 19th Century U.S. history), it reflects an impressive effort to diversify.  The topics investigated include religious, economic, urban, political, diplomatic, native American, African American, military and intellectual histories.  The time periods go as far back as the 17th Century, and come forward into the 20th and 21st Centuries.  Fea has also done a good job of interviewing authors from a number of different professional backgrounds and stages in their careers.  Most of the authors are historians, but some are theologians, and journalists.

The series grabbed my attention when it interviewed Jon Scott Logel, a colleague of mine here at the NWC, and a former office mate of mine.  (We arrived within a week of each other and were both tying to figure out a new institution and our new teaching duties.  He was also trying to finish his dissertation.) 

Long story made short, I cannot recommend the series enough.  (I should also note that when this blog was running the "Eight Questions" series, Fea had a post on his blog pointing his viewers towards In the Service of Clio, so this is an opportunity to repay the favor.)  Fea states that "Author's Corner" is one of the more popular features on his blog.  If you take a look at the interviews, you will see why.

salvationwithasmile
Salvation with a Smile: Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church, and American Christianity (New York: New York University Press, 2015).

acloudofwitnessesfromtheheartofthecity
A Cloud of Witnesses from the Heart of the City: First Presbyterian Church, Raleigh, 1816-2016 (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2016).
portraitofawomaninsilk
Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016).

johnadamsandthefearofoligarchy
John Adams and the Fear of American Oligarchy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016).
aluminousbrotherhood
A Luminous Brotherhood: Afro-Creole Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2016).

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Village Atheists: How America’s Unbelievers Made Their Way in a Godly Nation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016)
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