How are historians adapting to the latest research tools and the expanding role of digital archives? In the current issue of Perspectives, Robert Townsend reports on an Ithaka S+R study that seems to suggest, according to Townsend, “that historians are deeply individualistic, and poorly trained in one of the most fundamental areas of their work.” Many have embraced the digital camera to capture documents in the archives, but this has resulted in less time on site consulting with archivists. Many research projects start with Google and follow a digital trail, but many historians are still wedded to paper for note-taking.
This month’s Perspectives on History, now in the mail and online, features a look back, through articles and photos, at the 127th annual meeting in New Orleans. A photo essay by Chris Hale displays some of the best images captured at the meeting, and many more are available now for tagging and viewing on our Facebook page.
AHA President Kenneth Pomeranz makes the case for going to the next annual meetings in his column. Beyond the benefits of hearing new ideas and seeing old friends, there’s a new sense of urgency at these meetings due to transformations in the job market, publishing, research, and the political environments.
Responding to the high level of interest in the article on History Harvests in Perspectives on History, we are opening it to all readers ahead of schedule.
William G. Thomas, Patrick D. Jones (both of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln), and Andrew Witmer (James Madison University) describe the History Harvest as “exciting and rewarding work at the intersection of digital history and experiential learning.” History Harvests are “community events in which students scan or photograph items of historical interest, brought in by local institutions and residents, for online display.”
“Every family and community has a history,” the authors explain, “a connection to the larger story of the American experience, and in the History Harvest we explore those connections, talk about them, and document their meaning in partnership with the participants.
Because of the encouraging feedback we’ve received, because it fits so well into conversations started during the annual meeting and continuing on blogs and Twitter, and because it’s one of the most honest and revealing articles on teaching we’ve seen in some time, we are taking Richard Bond’s “Failing Lessons: Tales of Disastrous Assignments” out of the members only section of Perspectives Online.
One of the comments we’ve heard repeatedly from fans of this article is that professors don’t do this nearly often enough, that we often hear trumpetings of success but rarely the sad trombones of failure.
Last night’s debate began with a reference to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. My inner (or perhaps not so inner) AHA geek immediately jumped to recent efforts to make accessible to the public government documents relating to that event that are still classified. But I also was drawn to recent reflections (here, and here) on whether flawed historical interpretations have yielded equally flawed policy lessons – conventional wisdoms that were on display once again last night. It’s all about manhood and steely resolve, rather than the subtleties and occasional humility of collaboration and negotiation.
January 22, 2013, will mark the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. On that day, the annual ritual of protests and counter-protests in front of the Supreme Court, just a few blocks from AHA headquarters, will likely be larger than ever before. The national conversation about this decision will ripple out from these and other demonstrations, into print, television, and online media, and even into classrooms.
The AHA would like to see those conversations grounded in an understanding of history.
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.”
In that spirit, with the firm belief that we best understand the present when we more fully comprehend the past, the AHA is continuing its series of Roundtables on the presidential debates of 2012.
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.
Our Roundtable on the vice presidential debate features historians responding as historians.