Thursday, June 11, 2009

Let's Run Away From The Girls! And Other Strategies To Make History Relevant To A Twenty-First Century Liberal Arts Education

Did Linda Kerber, Emily Rosenberg, Penny Von Eschen, Elizabeth Borgwardt, Nancy Cott, Joan Hoff, Marilyn Young, Ellen DuBois, Mary Dudziak and Mary Frances Berry die when I wasn't looking?*

I was a little concerned about this when I picked up my New York Times this morning and saw that none of them were quoted in Patricia Cohen's article, Great Caesars Ghost! Are Traditional History Courses Vanishing? I guess they just weren't answering their phones yesterday when they weren't called.

Tradition, as you guessed even before reading the article, would be represented by diplomatic, military, economic, constitutional and intellectual history. These fields a, the article asserts, are being crowded out of university history curricula by (you've guessed already, haven't you?): the history of gender, and that other feminized field, cultural history. "Job openings on the nation’s college campuses are scarce," Cohen writes, "while bread-and-butter courses like the Origins of War and American Foreign Policy are dropping from history department postings. And now, in what seems an almost gratuitous insult, Diplomatic History, the sole journal devoted to the subject, has proposed changing its title."

Horrors. Change the title of a journal to reflect changes in the field? What else must the profession endure?

Aside from what you have already noticed -- that "tradition"="quality"="what you really need to know to live in the world" -- the association of "tradition" with "male" is sealed by the fact that not a single woman is quoted in the article, not even women working in the fields in question. Because, you know, once you add gender or race to your inquiry, you aren't really in those fields any more. Tu comprends, mon chou?

In case you are still in doubt as to the destructiveness of women's history to the profession at large, you have the helpful graphic pictured at left which demonstrates (without the appropriate gross numbers) that women's history is eating the profession alive. And then, to provide appropriate pathos about the extinction of men from the historical profession, there is a lonely little petunia in an onion patch, a first-year (male) grad student whose name is being withheld by me out of mercy, who whimpers that he feels "a bit like the last woolly mammoth at the end of the Ice Age. 'Being a young historian in this field is thus a rather lonely and sobering experience,' he wrote, adding that some historians treat his chosen specialty with 'genuine derision.'”

Do we have any doubt that these monsters are -- women? No, we do not. Because why else would you ask a first year graduate student in any field for his or her opinion before consulting any one of the distinguished women in the fields in question?

Naturally, it is the permissiveness of the 1960s that is to blame for this travesty, not to mention the pervasive cultural rot that allowed women into the profession in the first place:

The shift in focus began in the late 1960s and early ’70s, when a generation of academics began looking into the roles of people generally missing from history books — women, minorities, immigrants, workers. Social and cultural history, often referred to as bottom-up history, offered fresh subjects. Diplomatic historians, by contrast, generally work from the top down, diving into official archives and concentrating on people in power, an approach often tagged as elitist and old-fashioned.

Over the last three decades the number of history faculty members at four-year institutions has more than doubled to 20,000-plus, said Robert B. Townsend, assistant director for research at the American Historical Association. Yet the growth has been predominantly in the newer specializations, spurring those in diplomatic, military, legal and economic history to complain they are being squeezed out.

In 1975, for example, three-quarters of college history departments employed at least one diplomatic historian; in 2005 fewer than half did. The number of departments with an economic historian fell to 31.7 percent from 54.7 percent. By contrast the biggest gains were in women’s history, which now has a representative in four out of five history departments.

The closest we get to women who actually teach in any of the fields under question being asked for their opinion is a quote from Anthony Grafton, who is now officially dubbed an Honorary Woman for trying to make this point, even though it didn't affect the reporter's perspective a jot. His perspective that these fields are not gone but have "shifted focus" is immediately countered by two other scholars for whom only "tradition" will do:

....critics like David A. Bell, the dean of faculty at Johns Hopkins University, argue that traditional diplomatic and economic history are still the specialties that are best suited to deal with America’s problems today.

Simply giving everyone a place at the table is just not affordable in an era of shrinking resources. “I’d love to let a hundred flowers bloom,” said Alonzo L. Hamby, a history professor at Ohio University in Athens (n.b.: note reference to the famously destructive Cultural Revolution that gutted intellectual institutions in the People's Republic of China), but “it’s hard for all but the largest departments or the richest.” In his own department of about 30 faculty members, a military historian recently retired, triggering a vigorous debate over how to advertise for a replacement. (A handful of faculty members had the view that “military history is evil,” Mr. Hamby said.) The department finally agreed to post a listing for a specialist in “U.S. and the world,” he said, “the sort of mushy description that could allow for a lot of possibilities.”

You mean like gender?


*And these are just the Americanists. Lord only knows how the female Europeanists are faring in these days of want and strife. Phone home girls!


Historiann said...

Yeah--before you know it, we'll be smearing our menstrual blood all over the seats in AHA panels and make skirts manadatory at ALL professional conferences. (Don't tell Lynn Hunt or Mary Beth Norton! Or TR for that matter.) And then our feminine takeover/utter ruin of the profession will be complete!!!


Val said...

I was just discussing something similar with one of the law clerks I'm interning for this summer. I was talking about the stark contrast of my COL antiquity colloquium in which we only discussed things like "war" and "heroes" and a class I took in the CCIV dept, with a delightful young prof who was a Wes alum, called Ancient Sexualities. In both classes, which I somehow took concurrently, we covered the same material every day but from such dramatically different perspectives... and at the beginning of the next semester I dropped my COL major.

JackDanielsBlack said...

You'll be able to tell that the new approach has taken over when the field is deemed completely irrelevant by most students, as has happened in other fields where the race/class/gender approach prevails.

Paris said...

As I've been on the market the last few years, I have periodically been taken aside by distinguished senior professors who ruefully explained to me that only women were getting hired these days. Yet in my current department, women account for roughly 25% of the permanent faculty (and we are a large department of between 2 and 3 dozen).

I think the whining is due to the 25% increase in the last generation.

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

Wow. I hadn't looked at that article until I saw your post. Isn't there one woman in Patricia Cohen's rolodex?

It's not just women's and gender history that are to blame, according to the article. Workers, immigrants, and ethnic minorities all get lumped together with women, as unimportant upstarts. Reminds me of Carl Bridenbaugh's take on who should be allowed to write history.

What strikes me is that the "upstart" fields Cohen mentions have been around for a generation now. Why this article now? My guess is that someone sent Cohen the program for the SHAFR meeting and there were some column inches to fill. 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....

And, to JackDanielsBlack: most students also think that calculus and the Reformation are completely irrelevant. I don't put much weight on such judgments.

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

A followup in response to Paris: my department has hired eight men and eleven women in the last twelve years. The latter include historians who work on American politics, the French Revolution, the history of science in China, political ideology in the medieval Middle East, and medieval European religious history. We have hired them because they were the best candidates for the position, not because of their gender. The same applies to the eight men. Perhaps we are unusual, but I suspect that the senior professors you mention are, to be charitable, reading the evidence selectively.

JackDanielsBlack said...

When you look at the catalog of a prominent Eastern liberal-arts college and see such History courses listed as "American Food", "Subject Peoples", and "Women and Gender History in Africa" (is this last a metahistory course, one wonders) you have to think that perhaps Ms. Cohen has a point.

Unknown said...

It's not my field, but it seems to me that "the US and the world" -- the new, "mushy" brand of diplomatic history -- has been producing some very exciting scholarship of late. In fact, it seems a prime example of how a field can reinvent itself not by defensively rejecting new "trends," but by combining them with older approaches. And if anyone thinks this is not relevant, they should look at the work of someone like Paul Kramer, whose work on waterboarding in the Philippines appeared in the New Yorker awhile back.

But I guess the main lesson of this article is that the "mainstream media" is always about a decade behind when it comes to reporting on trends in scholarship. She could have written the exact same article in 1999 or 1989. In fact, I'm sure someone did!

Swill to Power said...

@JackDanielsBlack, I think by "you" you mean "I."

JackDanielsBlack said...

Swill, you betcha!

Ahistoricality said...

TR, I agree with almost everything. I just have a specialist quibble: "Hundred Flowers Bloom" isn't really a Cultural Revolution reference, except in the sense that it's a Maoist one. The Hundred Flowers movement was a brief period in the late 50s of liberalized discourse which was followed almost immediately by a harsh crackdown on those liberals who spoke out against rigidity, incompetence and corruption within the party. The Great Leap Forward followed, then a period of Maoist eclipse before the Cultural Revolution got underway in the mid 60s.

The original reference, though, is to the period of philosophical and cultural exposition that took place in China's first Warring States period, and saw the development of Confucianism, Legalism, Daoism and a bunch of other schools. If that's what Hanby means, then fine.

Janice said...

Who's to say that one is a women's historian and nothing else? I'd define myself as an intellectual historian but I also teach and follow women's and gender history topics because they're very important in my chronological and methodological area (early modern European political culture). Ergo, am I a "woman's historian" and nothing else?

Diplomatic and economic history aren't disappearing. Fields are evolving. Topics go in and out of fashion as we glut on one set of monographs and wait for a new source type or approach to reinvigorate fields. Frankly, gender history has given our discipline some of the most important methodological insights of the past two generations -- why wouldn't this be well-represented in departments?

I'm also amused by the assertion that students have deemed such courses irrelevant. It hardly seems like that by the enrolments or the number of students who're pursuing such topics for their research at the senior and graduate level.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. You are very right about your criticism of its tacit reliance on lame notions about the "cost" of gendering history.

That aside, I wonder what you make of the claim that diplomatic history, in its more traditional guise, is an essential part of history? If we set aside issues of historically disproportionate coverage, important as those are, should the state of state-level actors be reduced to such a small role in history? Or is there some truth to the claim that they bear disproportionate power and therefore merit disproportionate coverage?

JackDanielsBlack said...

Janice, what you are doing seems reasonable, and I think several folks quoted in the article TR takes exception to spoke of evolution (in fact, the title of the article reflects this: "Traditional History Courses: Disappearing or Just Evolving?". Of course women, Africans, Asians, and others should claim their place at the historical feast. (As a Catholic, I found the Catholic and Spain bashing 19th and 20th century British historians and their American followers intolerable--think Black Legend).

I do object however to going to the opposite extreme and throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Dead (and living) white males have a lot to say that still needs to be heard--along with the wisdom of everyone else, of course!

Flavia said...

I'm only a girl--and one who studies the mushy field of literature at that--so my computational skills are pretty weak. But that accompanying graphic is ridiculously bad and misleading.

If I'm reading it correctly, the BIG SCARY BARS indicating how the womenz are taking over actually just show that, these days, a majority of history departments have one (or possibly more than one) person who works on women's or gender issues. I don't consider that a take-over.

Moreover, as you suggest, some of this may just be re-definition. There are plenty of people whose work might easily (or might in a former age) be called intellectual history who also work on gender or cultural history.

I mean, I write exclusively--exclusively!--on extremely dead white men. And issues of gender, sex, or sexuality have basically no place in my current project. But I do read feminist and queer theory, and it's obliquely but importantly relevant to my thinking. Moreover, because I teach a semi-regular course on sex and gender in the Renaissance, and go to womens-studies events once in a while, my department (in some contexts) identifies me as a womens-studies affiliate.

Lots of men and women do work that deals with sex and gender at least occasionally. And they're proud to claim that as (one of) their field(s).

Flavia said...

(Er, in other words: what Janice said!)

c . . . said...

@ JackDanielsBlack & Janice ...

I'm rather of the opinion that *most* people who do women's & gender history (or rhetoric, to insert my field) would, if given the chance to speak for themselves, describe their positions more or less like Janice does. I'm fairly certain that the position that says dead (and living) white men have nothing to contribute exists only as a straw person.

Knitting Clio said...

I'm one of two women/gender historians in my department and at one time I was one of three women in the FT tenure track (back in 1992). I'm happy to say that we now have a whopping eight women out of eighteen FT tenure track faculty. Their specialties are respectively British Empire/Intellectual History, Public History/Cultural, Public History/Environmental History, Constitutional/Legal History, African History, Latin American History, Medieval History/Gender

The men are all in pretty traditional historical fields and most have been hired since 1990.

A quick glance at the few job ads this suggest that the NYT column is full of it -- but I didn't really need to check that. Made me think I'd grabbed a paper from the late 1980s.

JackDanielsBlack said...

C..., I suggest that you peruse the online descriptions of the Women's Studies or Africa and African American studies courses at Duke University as an example. You will find several courses (synopses helpfully provided) that appear to be intellectually equivalent to the Social Dancing and Basketweaving courses that we used to ridicule when I was in college in the early 60s. I'm not saying they are all or even most like this, but the fact that there are any is a disgrace. Duke is only an example; you could also find examples at Zenith (or Nadir) University. Also, check out the publication records of some of the faculty in these departments. I don't think this is a "straw man" at all.

Sisyphus said...

What a bizarre article! As other people have pointed out, this isn't news. And a big trend right now is the study of gender and economics, so putting "women" and "culture" _across_ from "economics" in BIG SCARY BAR GRAPH is a case of splitting hairs misleadingly

Chris said...

Well there goes my degree from Duke. Not useful now!

Duke has become the ultimate straw man. Trust me, military history, and economic history are not in short supply there.

Shaz said...

Let's get some data here: out of 500,000 abstracts of historical articles over the past two decades, I've found that between 3% and 6% focuses to any degree on women or gender. This is the great takeover?

JackDanielsBlack said...

Chris, have you ever asked yourself how Duke got to be the ultimate straw man? They sought the title and won it!

By the way, I have two degrees from Duke myself -- an MBA, and an arcane number known as a Master's in Liberal Studies. They were both fun, but very different.

tanya said...

I hope Professor Borgwardt didn't die when you weren't looking: she's on my committee!

dance said...

A semi-side-note: globalization and the desire to hire people who can teach Europe AND Africa without paying for an Africanist (etc), has led to a rising job market in imperial histories (at least when I was reading ads in 2000-2004)---none of which can be done without some attention to diplomatic, political, and/or military history, plus a lot of time in government archives. (I strongly suspect such cost-cutting is also behind "US and the world" positions) (Have not bothered to read article to see if it recognizes this aspect)

The women's studies people at my univ keep wanting to list me as affiliated. Although sympathetic (with an undergrad women's studies minor), I do not do gender AT ALL, and would feel like a fraud.

Another Damned Medievalist said...


Can I first just say that the reporter has an unfortunate name? Because my immediate thought was, "Has Patricia Cohen done a Genovese?" And then realized I was thinking of Patricia Cline Cohen.

To an Early Medieval (and probably Late Antique or Classics) person, this is one of the stupidest damned arguments to regularly raise its ugly head. Because, well, you wouldn't find many departments where the medievalist could get away with doing some sort of cultural history. Hell, my thesis was supposedly on Carolingian administration, and it ended up being partially a study of kinship. Because that's where the sources take us.

Of course, there were women being hired in medieval pretty early on, but they certainly weren't the only social/cultural historians in the field; there were and are many senior male medievalists from the big scary super-traditional universities -- contemporaries of the military and diplomatic historians who seems to feel so threatened -- who work on these nasty interloping topics.


I'll cry a river for these guys when the first person they want to cut isn't the medievalist or the ancient person.

Digger said...

Tsk. Taking such high quality reporting to task! FOR SHAME I SAY!!11

"...which demonstrates (without the appropriate gross numbers) that women's history is eating the profession alive." Like a praying mantis or a black widow spider. Isn't that generally the fear about women, though?

Re: Brian Ogilvie's comment: re targeting women, immigrants, workers, and ethnic minorities as "unimportant upstarts." I suspect the article has more to do with a portion of the population feeling very threatened by these "upstart groups", particularly in this economy. It smacks of "They're Taking Our Jobs!" and of the idea that these pesky upstarts are threatening the status quo, which as all good historians know, has always been thus, and never, ever changes (sarcasm off).

The topic seems a little weirdly out of date, but the fuel for the fire is current.

Bavardess said...

TR, thanks for giving that unmitigated NYT tripe the sound kicking it deserved. This same old argument seems to come around with some regularity (I recall David Starkey squealing about the dreaded 'feminisation' of history earlier this year in the UK press). God forbid we should consider the vast majority of the world who isn't white-male-western-elite as actual historical subjects!

moria said...

Um, hi, there, NYT. Anyone bother to look at where social history, your naughtily colloquialized "bottom-up" history, came from? Ever heard of, um, Peter Burke? Lawrence Stone? ... Bueller? Man, but those dudes were/are dudes. And I not long ago heard with my own little ears the former saying that if he had his major contribution to write again, thirty years on, he'd write the exact same book. Unchanged! If we're experiencing a dramatic and violent revolution, well, I'd like to see some actual bodies, please. (NB that I'm an impostor-scholar, a literaturian, and that therefore these are metaphorical bodies.)

Mary L. Dudziak said...

Thank you for taking his up. There are potentially interesting discussions to have about the future of diplomatic history, and its relationship to "U.S. and the world" and transnational history. But unfortunately the conversations tend to degenerate quickly, as reflected in the article.

But as Brian Ogilvie and others note -- this story isn't news. Non-news stories about historians seems to be this reporter's forte. As it turns out, Cohen is also the reporter who brought us breaking news about an AHR submission, on the NYT front page. Even the editor hadn't heard of the article yet.

(And yes, I am still living, even though I am often so slow with email that it may seem otherwise...)

The History Enthusiast said...

Another Damned Medievalist: I thought the same thing too!

Historiann: That first comment was priceless.

Now to the point: while I disagree with the article--and think it is exaggerating this takeover by women's historians and social history--Cohen is speaking to a concern that some historians DO have, so in that sense she is saying something useful to the general public. Anecdotal evidence of my own does point to the fact that people who study diplomatic history are very worried. I am friends with several diplomatic historians (both t-t faculty and grad students, of both genders) who have expressed similar concerns.

So, my question is: why do these "traditional" historians feel so threatened RIGHT NOW? I just don't get it. Yes, the grad students are worried about finding decent jobs. I get that...hello...I'm ABD and will be graduating soon. I guess the point I'm making is that social history and women's history have been around for a while now, so why is this a shock? No offense to diplomatic historians, but the writing has been on the wall for some time.

Atlantic World history (one of my fields) provides some very interesting ways of looking at diplomatic history during the early modern period, so I agree with the other comments that evolution is a good thing.

Anonymous said...

What's up with the NYT and its shoddy coverage of everything that related to academia? What's the source of its hostility/ ignorance? As Mary Dudziak notes, there are complicated and important issue buried in this article and the reactions to it, but they are more nuanced and subtle than the article (and more important). But for some reason it's difficult to have a public conversation about them. There has been and always will be tension within the academia over trends, topics, and approaches, and I think it's vital to have the debate while simultaneously allowing the field to grow and change. But I think such conversations can only be fruitful if we collectively agree to JUST DROP the whole "question" of whether or not cultural, social, gender, queer, racial history are "legitimate" forms of historical inquiry (and naturally, the courses offered by cultural historians are always deemed some version of introduction to basketweaving, as though basketweaving isn't a beautiful, culturally rich and complicated art form deserving of study; implicit in this argument is inevitably the notion that ideas by old white guys are intrinsically more important areas of study). It's astonishing to me that we even need to have that conversation. I think in fact rather than this debate, the real issue is fear over dropping some of the "traditional" modes of inquiry. But as many of you have argued, these fields ARE STILL AROUND, they have just evolved. Diplomatic history, for example, is an essential part of global or encounters history. Why is it if we study diplomacy from the perspective of a non-European we are somehow no longer doing diplomatic history? Military history is a small subfield but making a comeback, because "new" military historians are taking on some of the methodology of social historians. So let's instead talk about the trends, in terms of geography, approaches, methodology. What do we think about transnational study? What is it offering? What does it obscure?

I'm so grossed out by the continual rhetoric of "all the women are getting the jobs." I have never been in a history department, or heard of one where the majority of t-t faculty were women. If more women are hired sometimes it is to correct an imbalance of a department that is 80% male and 99% white (in addition there are just more women getting PhDs than in the 70s). And of course, no department that I've ever heard of would hire a substandard candidate solely on the basis of race or gender. My former department was longing to hire a person of color for its African history position,b ut once the committee went through the files, the on campus list of 3 were all white (two men and one woman). All the men I know are doing beautifully on the market.

Can I just say that I think it's kind of hilarious that Ohio U was cited at length, since it is a particularly "old fashioned" history department in its heavy emphasis on modern American history (not a lot of gender/ people of color history going on there!). Like talking to a woman historian, I guess it's not possible to find a rep from a department doing more cutting edge hiring to ALSO quote.

DCJ said...

But Ohio University Press publishes a lot of books on African history.

Anyway, my feeling is, to echo what others have said, that the categorization going on is a real hindrance to understanding both the sources historians work with and the work many of them are actually doing. Gender history needs economics; economic history needs gender. War is gendered, diplomacy is gendered, and so forth.

As an Africanist, working in a field that largely came of age after the feminist/linguistic/cultural "turn," I would say that the problem with African history is not that it does too much gender, because one can't really do too much gender, but that there are not enough approaches. My quibble with any academic fad is not that it exists, but rather that it tends to produce over time a kind of intellectual and analytical sameness that can be frustrating (and boring!)

But yeah, dumb article.

DCJ said...

Oh, and I seriously doubt that fellow faculty members think, as the article suggests, that "military history is evil." That's absurd on so many levels.

Anonymous said...

I am astonished that this discussion has almost entirely avoided a discussion of the core claims of diplomatic historians that their field should be central to understanding history. I think, in fact, that the poverty of the article's framing of things is reflected here in the failure to move beyond the very important and necesary critique of the gender dynamics at play to evaluating these claims to centrality.

I should hasten to add that a claim for the importance of diplomatic history doesn't mean there shouldn't be plenty of attention to other subfields, including, obviously, gender, race, environment, and everything else. Is there, in fact, something important that diplomatic history offers, or is it mere sideshow to the more important things that historians focus on?

Unknown said...

I'll admit that I had to sadly nod my head in agreement as I read that article.

I also have to admit that, as a Zenith alum, I was often disappointed about the lack of political and diplomatic history offered in the History Dept., particularly by the Americanists--interestingly, the Europeanists are largely political historians while off the top of my head the Americanists are three cultural historians, two African American focusers (one of whom doubles as an intellectual historian), and a labor/political historian. As someone whose interests lay in political history, and especially in diplomatic history and historiography, I was often unsatisfied. It didn't help that many on campus (both students and professors), insinuated that my interests were dumb, simply "white male history."

I do think that political history is important, and too often neglected. This is certainly true at Zenith, where political history is essentially left to the government department. However, American political science is not the same as American political history, and only one class I took in that department could be said to have had a historical focus (and even that course treated history, at least in the traditional sense and traditional modes of studying it, with great ambivalence).

Over time I've found political history, as well as diplomatic history, legal history, and intellectual history, does some things better than social and cultural history. Specifically, it ties in much more easily with the larger philosophical debates that should underscore all study in the humanities. Also, it brings with it a set of long-standing arguments that loom over our every political discussion (e.g. whiggery v toryism, which comes in to play when we discuss whether we should shut down Guantanamo Bay or whether its important for the CIA to report truthfully to Congress; or what liberalism entails, so vital when we talk about whether health care is a right or a privilege). Much of the context of what we're really debating when we have these conversations is lost, even on many our history and government majors, because political history has been nearly entirely devalued and shelved at Zenith.

This is not to say that cultural and social history are unimportant. Certainly, they have a place in any complete history department. Social and cultural history is important to truly get the past and how it relates to the present. Also, social and cultural history that focuses on groups that have traditionally been ignored is additionally important for many reasons, not least because it's a thorn in the side for the political historian who doesn't acknowledge how political decisions affect the silenced majority.

However, I still can't help believe that social and cultural history are much more powerful when contextualized by political or intellectual concepts (you actually did a very good job of this in the one course I took with you, incidentally). Additionally, social and cultural history have come to dominate Zenith's American history concentration (and apparently history departments elsewhere) to pretty much the exclusion of all else. Although many here may make fun of this article it is sad to a lot of people to see once important subfields that they think hold unique value (in my case, it's diplomatic history) disappear entirely.

I apologize for all typos and sloppiness. It's late, and I'm tired (physically).

Unknown said...

Also I should add that Nancy Cott and Joan Hoff are both superb. I really liked Hoff's biography of Hoover, which built upon the re-evaluation started by the Wisconsin School of diplomatic history and fleshed out their interpretation in a much more satisfying and complete way (i.e. Hoff's Hoover was more of a person and less a character in a fable).

Tenured Radical said...

Dear Jonah:

Thanks for this -- it's a really interesting reflection and gives me a lot to think about, particularly since I *do* consider myself a political historian (perhaps why you found more of what you were looking for in the class you took with me.) But it strikes me that part of what you are saying is that when politics is perceived broadly to include social movements and outsiders competing for insider status (one of the African-Americanists when you were there specialized in civil rights), there is less of an emphasis on the state, and on party politics, and that is interesting to think about as we make choices at Zenith over the next few years.

The new African-Americanist we just hired, by the way, specializes in party politics -- her research is on African-American conservatives in the Republican party from 1964 onward.

JackDanielsBlack said...

Jonah, good post. Refreshing to hear from a consumer amongst all these producer comments.

Anonymous said...

This article strikes me a very odd in a few ways. First, the last issue of the JAH had an article about the renaissance going on in diplomatic history. Follow the job ads: US in the World is hot, and has been ever since 9/11.

Second, how in the world are we supposed to understand political developments without understanding the social structure underlying the political superstructure. I don't mean to go all Marxist here, but there is no getting around the fact that things like urbanization, proletarianization, the Great Migration, women's entry into the workforce and the voter rolls, etc., have all had profound impacts on the way politics have worked. And even how interstate relations are conducted.

And finally, what is the point of history? Many people here and elsewhere who have commented on this article seem to think that the only point of history is to understand how we got to where we are now. That is certainly my main interest. But there is another, equally important function of history and that is to understand how humans operate. While Anthropology looks at differences between humans across space, historians looks at differences among humans across time. Understanding what is invariant and what is culturally and temporally contingent is key to increasing our understanding of who we are. Thus, understanding, for instance, why the one-drop rule developed in America but not in Brazil tells us something about the socially constructed nature of race.

Cap and Gown
(I don't mean to be "anonymous," but pseudonymous, and I don't have a google account.)

The History Enthusiast said...

To the previous comment: I hadn't even thought about the JAH, but you are totally right! There was a whole issue devoted to it.

Ralph Hitchens said...

What Ahistoricality said. Mao's quote had nothing to do with the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. If historians had a broader knowledge of history they wouldn't misuse quotes in this fashion.

Tenured Radical said...

Um -- excuse me, but not so. The Hundred Flowers campaign, between 1956 and 1957, in which Mao asked for "healthy criticism" produced so much intellectual dissent in China that it provoked the party to crack down on intellectuals and educators. Subsequent economic failures created an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust in which the scapegoating of intellectuals in the party escalated, culminating in the call for Cultural Revolution in 1966.

The two events are related, although one does not immediately follow the other: Ahistoricality's point is that they bookend a long history of backlash against intellectuals, ergo my analysis of the quote's context is probably incorrect.

Further pissy criticisms of the author will be deleted.

anthony grafton said...

Dear TR,

After weeks when I was racing to make deadlines (and failing to do so), and didn't make it by, I arrived this morning to find you'd said the nicest thing anybody ever said about me. As for the article . . .

Thanks so much,

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Martha said...

THANK you for the brilliant and entertaining takedown. You get the same thing in literature, where male undergrads lament the existence of women's lit courses, when we could all be reading Dickens instead, and I once had an emeritus professor mention, snickering, what "feminist scholars" thought about a certain text -- and this was in a Ulysses class! If it's that bad in 20th century lit, I can't even imagine more old school fields. (See also, the entirety of A.S. Byatt's book Possession, and its miserable crones of feminist scholars.)