Thursday, February 24, 2011

Jan. 2011 issue of Perspectives on History is available

The January 2011 issue of the AHA's newsmagazine, Perspectives on History, is now available to non-subscribers. It is worth a look.

In the "From the President" column, Anthony Grafton (Princeton University) discusses the "hydra-headed" indictment of history (and the humanities more generally). He also suggests how historians ought to defend themselves. Here's a taste:
By doing history as well as we can, we are searching for exact knowledge, and teaching students, undergraduate and graduate, to do the same. We’re modeling honest, first-hand inquiry. That austere, principled quest for knowledge matters: matters more than ever in the current media world, in which lies about the past, like lies about the present, move faster than ever before. The problem is that it’s a quest without a Grail. The best conclusions we can draw, scrutinizing our evidence and our inferences as fiercely and scrupulously as we can, will be provisional. We will disagree with our contemporaries, and the next generation will replace our conclusions, and theirs, with new ones. But the fact that the search goes on—and the energy and integrity that the searchers put into it—matter deeply, for the health of our culture.
The full column is here.

In the "Art of History" column, legal historian Laura Edwards (Duke University) ruminates on "Writing between the Past and the Present." "Writing is difficult," she observes, "because it is more than simply describing historical evidence":
Writing is the process through which we make sense of those materials. The mechanics resist analysis, although most of us have experienced their workings in those moments of searing clarity or intense frustration when it becomes difficult to ignore the insight that writing itself creates meaning. When the process works, the evidence begins to take on new shapes through our prose, allowing us to see elements of the past that we had not recognized before. Then there are those times when writing reveals only the distance between us and the past. What we thought we knew suddenly disappears when we sit down to write, leaving us only with a muddle of meaningless words. At some basic level, the challenges of writing are about this elusive relationship between the historian and the past. We work through it from the moment we step into the archives. But it is the act of writing, itself, that places us in a direct conversation with the past.
The full column is here.

Other highlights from the issue:
  • Robert B. Townsend (AHA's assistant director for research and publications) discusses how economic woes are affecting history departments, and what some departments are doing to cope (here).
  • Kristen Collins (Boston University) and Linda Kerber (University of Iowa) discuss why the Supreme Court should strike down an old citizenship law that discriminates against fathers ("Sexing Citizenship," available here).
  • Robert A. Schneider (Indiana University) and John K. Thornton (Boston University) discuss history in the digital age (here and here).
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