Although the parade is over, and everyone who attended Monday night’s inaugural ball has hopefully recovered, I still have one more addition to the 2013 inauguration conversation. Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend a live broadcast of BackStory with the American History Guys at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., on the topic of inaugural history. The setting could not be more perfect, as D.C. was already in the grip of inauguration fever as thousands of tourists circled the National Mall just outside the museum doors.
President Obama’s second inaugural offers all Americans food for thought, but it has particular valences for historians. Like so many in this genre, it draws on the past to legitimize particular values, to highlight what has been accomplished (and what has not), and to justify a definition of national character and purpose. Anyone who doubts the importance of historical thinking to these sorts of events need only to ponder the president’s frequent use of the past tense. As much as his focus is “this moment, and we will seize it,” as much as he reminds us that we “affirm the promise of our democracy,” he is actually situating us in the past, “recall[ing] what binds this nation together … an idea articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago.” And what matters is what “history tells us,” at which point his verbs become past tense: “resolved … never relinquished … succumbed … have always understood … .”
Today’s What We’re Reading features readings related to the 2013 inauguration, gender in higher education, how nucleotides may hold the key to the future of archives, and much more.