We talk a lot about accessibility in historical writing. Many of us worry whether the academic historical profession has much to say to a broad popular audience. It’s a pretty old form of anxiety. But what do the general public in the United States really want from their history books?
A few days ago, I decided to try an experiment. I collected all the one-star customer reviews at Amazon.com for the last twenty years of Pulitzer Prize winners in history. (No award was given in 1994, so I included books from 1995 to 2014.) I wanted to see whether I could identify common complaints. Obviously, this wouldn’t be a very scientific experiment, but at least it would be reasonably systematic—slightly better, perhaps, than relying on anecdotes from acquaintances.
Submitted for your approval . . . the November episode of “The JuntoCast.” This month, Ken Owen, Michael Hattem, and Roy Rogers discuss the Continental Congress, including a number of recent popular histories about it, its popular and academic historiography, and various aspects of its importance. Continue reading →
Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States changed my life.
My personal copy of the 2003 edition of A People History of the United States. Also featured: my cat Marshall.
I grew up in very historically minded family. My recollections of my boyhood and tween years are filled with sweaty summer memories of traipsing with my mother and sister through every Revolutionary and Civil War battlefield between the mid-Atlantic and Upper South—from Gettysburg to Yorktown. We regularly took the Orange Line into Washington to go to the National Museum of American History. The History Channel, when we had cable, was a regular fixture on our television. All of this history education was very traditional—all Presidents, bloodshed, and American Exceptionalism. My understanding of American history only became more traditional once I entered a conservative Catholic high school.
Readers of early American history blogs will undoubtedly have come across the recent kerfuffle regarding the divide between academic and public historians of the American Revolution, which stemmed from a series of posts by Peter Feinman assessing the conference. Much of the debate has centered around this post, in which Feinman chided academic historians for their failure to answer the question: “Was the American Revolution a good thing?” Roy Rogers posted an excellent response to this here last week; J.L. Bell at Boston 1775 had other reflections on Monday (and is continuing to address the topic in other posts).
Mark Boonshoft is a PhD candidate at Ohio State University. His work focuses on colleges and academies, especially the networks forged in them, and their role in the formation of revolutionary political culture.
“Long time listener, first time caller.” These are words I heard often as a kid. I grew up listening to sports talk radio—mostly 660AM, WFAN-New York—and this is how many a caller introduced themselves. I’ve limited my habit—I no longer keep a transistor radio quietly playing under my pillow while I sleep—but I have not shaken it entirely. Long car rides are still a good chance to binge, and binge I did this July Fourth weekend. Driving through Albany, I called in for the first time ever. Continue reading →