Author Archives: Sarah Fenton

About Sarah Fenton

Sarah Fenton has taught American history and literature at Lake Forest College, the Newberry Library, and Northwestern University, where she earned a PhD in history in 2005. Sarah moved to London in 2006 and became a contributing editor to the American Historical Association. She is currently finishing a book on American Literature and the Civil War, and is the consulting editor for 30 Second New York.

“Are We Teaching Political History?”

Oh, what a difference a year makes. During a session at the 2016 annual meeting—mulling over the role historians should play in public life—Atlantic editor Yoni Appelbaum declared: “I hate op-eds.” Appelbaum argued that the format of conventional opinion journalism encouraged writers to make “very generalized claims” without demanding that they “marry their evidence to their argument.” The op-ed is a blunt tool for a delicate task. 

Election 2016: How Did We Get Here and What Does it Mean?

Midway through the first plenary of the 2017 AHA annual meeting, Princeton historian Sean Wilentz suggested that he was invited to participate for reasons that no longer applied. “This is just a guess, but I think that my presence on this panel has something to do with the fact that the organizers might have thought that not only would Donald Trump not be president-elect, but that Hillary Clinton would.” Wilentz’s ties to the Clintons are well documented—he’s been called their “house historian”—and it was widely believed that he would play a significant role in a Clinton White House.

The Obligations of Citizenship and the Limits of Expertise: AHA Session 61

If you haven’t seen Stanley Fish in a while, I’ll tell you this: the man has not lost a step. He’s as puckish and provocative as ever. One of four panelists at the annual meeting’s Session 61, “Historical Expertise and Political Authority,” Fish (visiting professor of law at Cardozo Law School) carved out a spot by and for himself with his usual gusto, and I’ll spare you any suspense: historians do not have useful expertise to offer democratic politics. As individual citizens, they might; as distinguished historians, they do not.

AHA Plenary, “The First Hundred Days: Priorities for a New US President”

Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated as the nation’s 45th president on January 20, 2017. With that fast-approaching fact in mind, the participants of this year’s plenary peered collectively through the fog of constant news coverage and indiscriminate commentary to compile a list of “first things”—those issues most likely to cross the new president’s desk within his first hundred days.

Five Myths about Denver, Host City to the 2017 Annual Meeting

For the duration of the next thousand words, consider me your tour guide through the Mile High City. The majority of you will fly into Denver International Airport (DIA) so we’ll begin there, tackling myth number one in the process: that crisscrossing this great city requires a car. It does not. Downtown Denver is eminently walkable—the Brookings Institution grades it the nation’s fourth most walkable downtown—with a cannily expanding system of public transport ready to take you those places your own legs cannot.

Student Movements to Desegregate Public Higher Education in Georgia: Reflections from AHA Session 55

By Sarah Fenton

Suggest that the United States is a nation of immigrants and you’ll find wide-ranging agreement. Suggest that the current US immigration system is broken: again, nods all around. Now suggest some ways to fix that system. Try proposing, for instance, a possible route forward for the 11 million people—young, old, and every age in between—living in the United States without authorization. Watch consensus crumble. 

The Globe, Swanage, England Photochrom Print Collection,

Gearing up for AHA17: From Global Migrations to Historical Scale

Midway through discussing the American National Biography at the 2016 annual meeting, general editor Susan Ware asked her audience to imagine having “a ‘Fitbit’ to track Susan B. Anthony’s jaunts.” If we could map Anthony’s 1883 trip through England, Ireland, and France, for instance, we might be able to bring the transnational dimensions of the 19th-century women’s suffrage movement into sharper focus.