AHA Roundtables on SCOTUS Decisions in Special Summer Online Issue of Perspectives on History

As we have often tried to demonstrate, we at the AHA believe that public discourse on any topic benefits from historical context and historical thinking. In that spirit, we’re rolling out a series of AHA Roundtables on two of the significant Supreme Court decisions handed down this summer. We have asked a group of historians to comment on these opinions, and we’ll be posting their responses over the next two weeks.

Interior of the U.S. Supreme Court, Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
 

First up is Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. In Fisher, the court was asked to consider whether race could be considered as criteria for college admissions, and the case was widely believed to have the potential to dismantle or disempower affirmative action policies in education. You can read the full Supreme Court opinion here. Our first respondent is Jonathan Zimmerman, professor of history and education at New York University, who argues that the consequences of our disinvestment in the goals of affirmative action and Brown v Board of Education go far beyond those of Fisher, but that, “historians can help, just as they did during the era of Brown v. Board of Education.”

Zimmerman’s response, entitled “Diversity: Integration’s Poor Step-Child,” points out that the idea of diversity has supplanted the concrete, actionable idea of integration, resulting in an erosion of the gains of Brown v. Board of Education. “Brown envisioned children of different races learning together from their earliest years, when kids are at their most impressionable; affirmative action only addresses college students, who are much more fully formed. Brown also said that segregated environments were profoundly harmful, for minorities and for our nation at large. So it was incumbent upon all of us—as a matter of simple justice, as well as of patriotic duty—to create mixed classrooms, particularly in elementary schools.”

The Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin Roundtable also inaugurates a new venue for the AHA. Summer is often seen as less frenzied time in Washington, DC, and to some degree around the AHA offices as well. Perspectives on History, the newsmagazine of the AHA, goes on summer hiatus after the May issue, and, in the past, we’ve worked quietly behind the scenes during the summer to prepare for the resumption of publication in September. This year we’ve decided to change things up a bit and do something new: An online only summer issue of Perspectives.

The combination of “summer” and “online only” provides us with opportunities to experiment with format and content, to be more agile and more timely than print allows, and we’d very much like to hear what you think of the results. Over the course of the summer, we’ll be publishing the AHA Roundtables, a commencement talk for historians, and the debut of the “What I Do” series of video interviews with historians, among other features. Check back in over the next few weeks as new content is updated and added and let us know what you think.

So stay in touch this summer: We’ll be posting more responses to Fisher as well as to the Defense of Marriage Act/Proposition 8 decision soon and more new features and content in the Summer Online issue of Perspectives on History.

Photo credit: Interior of the U.S. Supreme Court, Photographs in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

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  1. Stephen Tuck

    Being both a working lawyer and wannabe historian, I have mixed feelings about the contribution of historians to litigation.

    I tend to find Hayden White’s assessment of history as the isolation of narratives in the past persuasive. With this in mind, cases like Brown and Fisher tend to take on a morality-play aspect when they’re explicitly informed by historical information. I’m certainly not saying that they don’t have a moral component – they do – but I wonder if that’s a factor which really should be left to legislatures and electorates than to the courts and to the process of litigation.

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