By Antia Wiersma
On the one day between the first European winter storm of the year and a North American snow blizzard, I flew to Washington, DC, to participate in the 2018 AHA annual meeting. The United States and the Netherlands are both dealing with difficult issues regarding structural discrimination of certain groups in society, and both are engaged in vigorous debates about history and memory in the public sphere. I came to the AHA annual meeting hoping to get some new perspectives on these issues, and to see how historians in a different political and social context are tackling these debates.
By Rebecca Erbelding
The story of the Holocaust is generally told with a great deal of certitude. Beyond white supremacist hate groups and the dark corners of the Internet, the genocide perpetrated by Nazi Germany and its collaborators against millions of Jews and the systematic targeting of Roma, Slavs, Soviet POWs, the disabled, homosexuals, and other groups are universally condemned. Nazi leaders are rarely lionized, Germans don’t anticipate that Nazi Germany will rise again, and those murdered in the Holocaust are remembered as innocent victims of racism and antisemitism who bore no responsibility for their fate.
By Daniel Franke
Carol Symes’s AHA Today post, “Medievalism, White Supremacy, and the Historian’s Craft,” raises a number of important issues about the impact of recent political and academic controversies on the historical profession. I have long admired Symes’s work, and at the present writing she has graciously agreed to present a paper in a session I have organized for the 2018 International Medieval Congress at Leeds. We share a common intellectual lineage as well: we are both students of Joseph Strayer’s students—she of Thomas Bisson at Harvard, I of Richard Kaeuper at Rochester.
In the past year, historians have frequently been called upon to make meaning of news. From Confederate monuments and statues around the country to President Donald Trump’s travel ban executive orders, historians have answered the call to provide historical perspective and analysis. As AHA executive director Jim Grossman wrote recently in Perspectives, the assumption that “historians should have a voice in public culture and in public policy” is a guiding principle for the AHA’s agenda.
By Kaete O’Connell
Last winter while leafing through the Official File at the Truman Library for material on Herbert Hoover’s 1947 economic mission to Germany, I was struck by a vibrant burst of color. The monochrome of telegrams and correspondence was replaced by colorful sketches of chickens, Lifesaver candies, and a family of beans marching to a can for preservation. The drawings were bound together with thank-you notes penned by young recipients of US food relief. German children clearly appreciated the “gift” of food, pleasing occupation officials keen to capitalize on American charity.
By Carol Symes
With every passing day, the AHA’s upcoming annual meeting on the theme of Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism in Global Perspective is becoming more and more urgent. In particular, a group of sessions on The Modern Legacy of Premodern Racial and Ethnic Concepts anticipates a number of recent events and controversies that have drawn attention to the close links between white supremacism and medievalism: that is, the projection of modern agendas onto the medieval past, or the selective use of that past to further such agendas.
By Julia M Gossard
While lecturing on Magellan’s famed voyage that circumnavigated the early modern world, I asked the student who had chosen to trace the voyage on a map if she had any further insights. Somewhat surprisingly she retorted, “Not historically, but it did take me a really long time to draw that line representing Magellan’s voyage. I can’t imagine having actually done it in the 16th century.” Her comment opened up an engaging (unplanned) discussion about the realities of sea travel, culture shock, and geography in the early modern world.
In 1920, Britain changed its pension laws to allow women to receive compensation for any injuries sustained during the First World War. However, because time had passed since their active service, many found themselves having to prove that their symptoms were directly related to their war experience (and not a result of prewar hereditary conditions or postwar events). They had to find a doctor, a superior from their service, or, at the very least, a family member who could attest that the cause of their suffering was from their service.