Anthony Grafton, president of the AHA in 2011, wrote in his inaugural column in Perspectives on History that “Historians of everything from drought in ancient Egypt to the economy of modern China do, in fact, have knowledge that matters—knowledge based on painstaking analysis of hard sources, which they convey to students and readers as clearly and passionately as can be managed.”
Do Vice Presidential debates matter? That seemed to be the question of the day, the one that dominated the airwaves before and after last night’s debate. From our perspective as historians, we are certain that they do matter, even if they don’t generate a bump in the polls or a defining moment in the campaign. For the historian, they are responses to long-standing trends and further evidence of the importance of understanding the past.
As a community of historians the AHA believes that public discourse on any topic benefits from historical context and historical thinking. In that vein we have asked a group of historians to comment on last night’s presidential debate as historians. We leave the punditry to the pundits; the partisanship to the politicians. Our role is to offer the benefit of historical thinking and historical context.
The AHA announces a series of online forums featuring prominent historians commenting on the upcoming presidential and vice-presidential debates. This conversation is part of an ongoing AHA Roundtable, arising from the Association’s commitment to injecting historical thinking into public culture. For each debate we have assembled approximately four to five historians working in fields likely to be covered, and asked them to provide us with their responses by the following morning.
In light of the historic importance of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision, and with the belief that history can help inform debate on any contemporary topic, we offer three commentaries from professors of history on yesterday’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act.