I’m pleased to announce that the November issue of Perspectives on History is online, and it’s packed with stories that challenged, provoked, inspired, and fascinated us as we prepared the magazine for production.
Two features focus on Iranian history, in perhaps surprising ways. Brandeis University’s Naghmeh Sohrabi provides our cover story, “Muddling through the Iranian Revolution,” which details her methodology for researching the experience of that world-historical event of 1979. Though revolutionary leaders’ official oral histories have secured spots in archives, how did it feel to experience moments like hearing the radio announcement that the revolution was victorious? Seeking clues from emigrant networks in Paris, Washington, DC, and elsewhere, Sohrabi expanded her methodology to include ethnography. Like oral history, ethnography includes participant interviews, but as Sohrabi found, in some cases ethnography might offer additional advantages to researching recent history.
We also want to draw your attention to “Feasts and Phoenixes: Teaching China and Iran,” by Ruth Mostern and Sholeh Quinn, both of the University of California, Merced. This essay aligns with one of the missions of Perspectives: to serve the discipline by spotlighting innovative teaching. As colleagues, Mostern and Quinn realized that their fields (Song dynasty China and Safavid dynasty Iran, respectively) overlapped in surprising ways, even though they weren’t chronologically contiguous. So they designed and taught a course, The History of China and Iran, 600-1600, in which undergraduates experimented with comparative history for the first time in their careers as learners. Providing helpful details about assignments and lesson plans, Mostern and Quinn make a case that such history courses should be staples of departmental curricula.
If you live or work in a small town, you might be asked to help out at your local museum. That’s what happened to Evelyn Edson, professor emerita at Piedmont Virginia Community College. After years of resisting, she took over as president of the board of trustees at the Scottsville Museum. In “Local Time: The Ups and Downs of Running a Small-Town Museum,” she vividly portrays the quirks of such an endeavor. What to do with the many prospective offbeat donations from area residents? Can a small-town museum present history objectively when town boosters have other ideas? (As Edson remarks, “The Smithsonian thinks it has problems!”) Most importantly, though, Edson shows that local museums are historical treasure troves that too many academic researchers don’t take the time to consult.
Another feature about teaching, “Puzzling It Out: Teaching Marketable Skills in History Courses with the Jigsaw Technique,” by Lauren Horn Griffin of the University of California, Santa Barbara, opens with an increasingly common observation: that today’s parents and students often don’t think a history major can foster specific, marketable skills. Griffin argues that it’s not enough to talk vaguely about critical thinking; we must identify and teach skills. Having noticed job advertisements asking for skills that history courses can impart, Griffin walks us through a classroom exercise that asks students to “contextualize primary sources with detail” and “use that information as evidence.” The jigsaw technique, in her experience, has proved popular with students and succeeded in transmitting these skills.
Teaching is the focus of AHA executive director James Grossman’s November column, too. In “To Be a Historian Is to Be a Teacher: Integrating History Education into Graduate Training,” Grossman issues a challenge to PhD-granting programs. “We do not train our PhD students to see their profession as ‘teacher,’” he writes, arguing that we should. “Learning how to teach should be equal to and intertwined with learning to become a research scholar”—it’s essential to our participation in public discourse and advocacy for liberal learning. Teaching shouldn’t be something graduate students learn on the side, in other words. History can only advance through effective teaching, which itself needs to be taught.
In the November issue, you’ll also find a wealth of information on the AHA annual meeting and its host city, Atlanta. For the transit geeks out there (you know who you are), Craig Usselman of the Georgia Institute of Technology provides a unique glimpse into Atlanta’s history as a southern rail hub. (Fun fact: the city’s original name was Terminus.) For the digitally inclined, our director of scholarly communication and digital initiatives, Seth Denbo, presents a rundown of the panels and workshops featuring digital topics at the annual meeting. Attendees there in part as job seekers shouldn’t miss “Career Development Opportunities at the Annual Meeting,” by Philippa Levine (AHA vice president, Professional Division) and Emily Swafford (AHA manager of academic affairs).
There’s much more in November. The scope of our News section continues to expand with stories about local history projects in Iowa and Philadelphia that happen to be mounted on wheels, a retrospective of the National Historic Preservation Act, and the first English translation of the oldest-known book-length biography of an African woman.
Tell us what you think—leave a comment on a story (all available at historians.org/perspectives), start a discussion in AHA Communities (communities.historians.org/home), or write a letter to the editor at email@example.com.
Looking forward to hearing from you.
Allison Miller is editor of Perspectives on History. She tweets @Cliopticon.