With Eliot’s “cruelest month” upon us, Perspectives considers the role ruins and the destruction of cultural heritage play in history. The subject might evoke the Taliban’s demolition of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001 or, more recently, the terrorist group Daesh (ISIS), its role in the illegal antiquities trade, and its devastation of heritage sites in Palmyra. But as Rachel Van Bokkem shows in “History in Ruins,” the destruction of cultural heritage is far from a new phenomenon, nor is it limited to one part of the world or a few groups of people.
The National Endowment for the Humanities celebrated its 50th anniversary last September with a conference in Charlottesville, Virginia: Human/Ties. Asking what it means to be human, the events ranged over several themes, including democracy, race, and warfare. Under sunny skies and starry nights, the events (all free and open to the public) allowed luminaries from the humanities, all supported in some way by the NEH, to exchange ideas with new and old supporters of the humanities.
Most issues of Perspectives include at least one feature related to teaching and learning. The best of the genre, we think, honestly evaluate student learning outcomes, engage contemporary pedagogical thinking, and offer innovative tools for instruction—that one twist in an assignment that makes all the difference, say.
Each year’s February issue of Perspectives tries to evoke memories of the most recent annual meeting—January 5–8 in Denver, in this case—through as many conference-inspired news stories, essays, and photographs as can fit into 40 pages. The annual meeting has evolved radically to incorporate innovative session formats, a broadening spectrum of research topics and methodologies, opportunities to exchange ideas about teaching, and most importantly, a far more diverse representation of our community.
The AHA staff returns to our headquarters today, a bit worn from the 2017 annual meeting in unexpectedly snowy Denver, but also energized from the yearly migration of friends, new and old, who bring excitement to our discipline.
On the cover of the December issue of Perspectives is a 1948 political cartoon about that year’s presidential election. Far less iconic than the photo of the victorious candidate holding aloft a newspaper headlining his loss—“DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN”—Clifford Berryman’s depiction of a gloating Thomas Dewey and an aghast Harry Truman was published about two weeks before the election. “Poll: All Over but the Shouting,” reads one of the notices Truman confronts. The cartoon foreshadows the data obsession and the complacency of many pundits of 2016.
It’s fair to say that historians have assimilated the so-called digital turn in at least some aspects of their work. Many now know how to teach students the critical use of Wikipedia and no longer seek to ban it outright. Some who are fortunate enough to work at institutions with dedicated lab spaces have learned about digital tools available to them in teaching and research. At a minimum, most historians expect some primary sources relevant to their work to be available online.
Sporting a T-shirt reading “I Was a Lesbian Child,” a young woman grasping a handful of helium balloons gazes out from the cover of the new issue of Perspectives on History. Taken in New York City in 1992, Donna Binder’s photograph of an action by an activist group known as the Lesbian Avengers reminds us that efforts to make curricula inclusive have a history.