This past Monday I turned in my final paper in a graduate seminar given by John Demos entitled, “Narrative and Other Histories.” I initially registered for the class not long after watching Bill Cronon’s Presidential Address at this year’s AHA Annual Meeting and engaging in conversation about it on Twitter as well as in a piece for The Junto. With all the focus on “storytelling” and narrative as a means for carving out a twenty-first-century model of the historical profession, the course offering appeared quite timely. Continue reading
Put the poetry down, Don. It’s time to get your Chartism on.
Last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Revolution, 1789-1848, a milestone that was largely overlooked in the more general hubbub over the great historian’s death in October. But it’s an impressive number all the same, and an inescapable reminder that when we return to The Age of Revolution we are dealing with a Very Old Book. The battered cover of my own 1962 Signet paperback (see below), whose author still preferred the high-academic modesty of “E.J. Hobsbawm,” offers a striking visual proof of the antiquities that lie within. It is after all technically possible, and perhaps not as improbable as you may think, for this book to have lain on Don Draper’s desk. When he was still married to Betty Draper.
What can a 21st century early American historian learn from such an artifact? Amid the clamors and confusions of the debate over the New New Political History, why should anyone bother to resuscitate the Old? Can we learn anything vital about the Age of Revolution in a book written during the Age of Draper? Well, obviously, the answer is yes. Continue reading
This past weekend, historians from all over the country invaded the Big Easy for the American Historical Association’s 2013 Annual Meeting. Thanks to Twitter, those of us unfortunate enough to not be in attendance were kept abreast of the discussions occurring regarding the state of the field. Most notably, the traditional AHA Presidential Address by outgoing President William Cronon has sparked much debate among historians as well as articles in the New York Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Before that, Cronon oversaw a panel entitled “The Public Practice of History in and for a Digital Age,” which explored academic historians’ failures to reach the general public and the profession itself failing to sufficiently adapt to the rise of digital technology. Changes to the profession discussed included a renewed focus on storytelling and narrative to better engage the general reader in academic history, weighing digital history equally with print history (when of equal value), and rethinking the monograph as the standard mode of delivery of academic historians’ work. Due to my lack of attendance, I am indebted to the excellent Twitter and blog coverage of these events by John Fea, Lincoln Mullen, and others, as well as the History News Network‘s video recording of Cronon’s address (see below). Continue reading
Among the highlights of my Christmas was receiving Catherine Brekus’s recently-released volume, Sarah Osborn’s World: The Rise of Evangelical Christianity in Early America, a fascinating account of an eighteenth-century evangelical woman whose life experiences intersected with, and speak to, several importance events and themes from the period. At the time of writing, I’m about half-way through and can’t recommend it enough. At a future date, I’ll try and post a more formal review (or at least lengthier thoughts) of the book, but wanted to briefly reflect here on something Brekus briefly discusses in her preface. “Reading Sarah’s reflections on her life,” Brekus explains, “reminds us of how far away the past is—but also how close.” Solidly grounding her subject’s experiences in its eighteenth-century context, she continues: Continue reading