Guest Post: Is There a Revisionist Doctor in the House?

Carl Robert Keyes is a newly tenured Associate Professor of History at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. He is currently working on a book about advertising practices and consumer culture in eighteenth-century Philadelphia. An earlier version was delivered at the induction ceremony for the Phi Alpha Theta chapter at Framingham State University in April, 2014.

Earlier this month I finished teaching my first public history course. I’ve long been concerned about how professional historians, especially academic historians, (often don’t) communicate with the public and, in turn, the general public’s misunderstanding of the historian’s craft. Teaching a public history course made these apprehensions central to my work in the classroom. My students and I grappled with a different kind of historiography, a less formal historiography consisting of public opinion, incomplete recollections of elementary and secondary history education, and a “master narrative” that usually dominates stories of the American past told by many public figures, a narrative steeped in patriotism, heritage, and commemoration. More than ever, I found myself challenging my students (in all my classes, not just the public history course) to take a three-part approach in their studies:  learn about the past, learn about how professional historians have interpreted the past, and learn about how the general public understands the past. This became yet another way to demonstrate that course content has relevance outside the classroom and beyond the semester.

Continue reading

Howard & Me

Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States changed my life.[1]

People's History

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.[2] 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.[3] All of this history education was very traditional—all Presidents, bloodshed, and American Exceptionalism.[4] My understanding of American history only became more traditional once I entered a conservative Catholic high school.

Continue reading

When Was the Last Time You Loved America?

MCEAS Conference

Few issues trouble historians of all stripes more than the disconnect between “popular” and “academic” history. Somewhere in the mists of the recent past the Age of Hofstadter gave way to, at best, the Age of McCulloch and, at worst, the Age of Barton.[1] The waning influence of professional historians in the public sphere particularly troubles the historical blogosphere. The popular-academic history disconnect is something addressed a lot here at The Junto, including with a podcast.

I am, as I said on the JuntoCast episode, particular dour about the possibility of bridging this gap. Academic historians, public historians, and interested members of the public more often than not talk past each other. How each group defines “good” or “useful” history is often so at cross-purposes that it sounds like one side is speaking English, another French, and another Dothraki.[2] My attention was recently drawn to a series of posts by Peter Feinman at New York History, which deeply entrenched my Eeyore-like-sullenness when it comes to these questions. Continue reading