Friday, June 12, 2009

Another slow news day at the NY Times

My New York Times arrived late on Thursday, and hence I was spared the opportunity of a quick response to the Times latest take on the history profession: Great Caesar’s Ghost! Are Traditional History Courses Vanishing? Claire Potter and her great commenters take up the reporter Patricia Cohen's odd choice of presenting women's and gender history as the villain that swallowed up the field of diplomatic history...without apparently speaking to women historians, whether they be female diplomatic historians, historians of women's history, or in other fields. Brian Ogilvie (scroll down) makes the point that the story simply isn't news.

What strikes me is that the "upstart" fields Cohen mentions have been around for a generation now. Why this article now?...It's certainly not news. More newsworthy, perhaps, would be the growth of world or global history in the past decade--much of which involves economic, diplomatic, and political history, the fields that are supposedly disappearing....
This is actually the second history non-news story covered by Cohen of late. The same reporter brought us breaking news about an article submission to the American Historical Review. Though the piece had not yet made it to the desk of the AHR's editor, its very submission was the occasion for a front page article. When the article was rejected, that warranted more coverage. Little did I know that I should be sending out press releases with my article submissions. But then most historians get little press notice, even for groundbreaking research.

There is much actual news to cover related to history and historians. A starting point might be the way a committed cadre of graduate students and recent Ph.D.s continue to cast their lot with the academy at a time when larger enrollments on some campuses mean that students need them more than ever, but university budget cuts and hiring freezes make their futures more uncertain. Why a backward-looking article about the way the pie should be divided, when the more pressing news story is the impact of the economic crisis on the next generation of historians, regardless of field?