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Violence and Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS)

OHERO:KON - UNDER THE HUSK which follows two Mohawk girls on their journey to become women. Together, they undertake a four-year rite of passage for adolescents, called Oheró:kon, or “under the husk.” (Women Make Movies) do they look like Man Eaters?

This blog continues the examination of the American Historical Review (AHR) Exchange on the topic of historians and Native American and Indigenous Studies. The exchange began due to the coincidence of AHR receiving two related books:

Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War by Lisa Brooks
Memory Lands: King Philip’s War and the Place of Violence in the Northeast by Christine M. DeLucia

AHR decided to use the serendipity to propose a “bundled ‘feature’ review” that addresses methodological developments in the NAIS field. The search for a reviewer led to David Silverman (George Washington University) for his expertise in violent conflicts, a seemingly sensible decision since the two books were about a single war.

The results surprised the AHR staff. They decided rather than just wait for angry letters to the editor in response to the review, they would reach out to some of the people likely to write such letters and give them a chance to participate in a formally designated exchange. The general comments related to methodology and the NAISA organization were covered in the first blog (Native American and Indigenous Studies: Another Culture Wars Episode). Here I wish to focus on one aspect of the history of the war itself: violence.

Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War by Lisa Brooks

David J. Silverman

Silverman comments on many facets of Brooks’s book in addition to violence. The purpose of the blog is not regurgitate everything he included in his review. Instead it is to focus on the specific points of contention meaning the treatment of violence.

1. Brooks also adopts a perspective common in descendant communities that Native people in the seventeenth-century New England were adverse to violence. 

Following this blanket assertion, Silverman provides some specifics.

2. She contends that Natives in seventeenth-century New England could not have conceived of the kind of large-scale, indiscriminate killing exhibited by the English in the Pequot War, even though the Haudenosaunees, with whom they were in regular contact, employed similarly bloody tactics against their Indigenous enemies in the eastern Great Lakes and in southern Ontario during the same period.

One thought which came to mind when reading this passage was did Silverman mean to suggest that Brooks was unaware of the Haudenosaunee actions or was she aware of them but didn’t think it applied to her New England Natives?

3. She suggests that Mohawk raids against the Nipmucs were for the purpose of “enforcing the protection and jurisdiction of their own Great Law.” She neglects to mention that New England Algonquians called these raiders “man eaters” and were terrified of them for good reason. [bold added]

Neglects because she didn’t know or neglects because she rejects the implication?

4. In Brooks’s telling, violent tribute-collecting raids by one community against another are not acts of extortion but expressions of love and kinship to restore balance to long-standing relationships.

I apologize but reading this phrase called to mind the recent “summer of love” that recently ended violently in Seattle. That experience skews the way I respond to these words.

5 For instance, she downplays a raid ordered by the Narragansett saunkskwa (or female sachem) Quaiapen against the Nipmuc community of Quantisset as little more than a fit by a “temperamental sister” made in a spirit of “love and kinship.” She disregards that the victims of these raids certainly did not see it that way, as their appeals for help to colonial authorities clearly demonstrate. She imagines the Wampanoag saunkskwa Weetamoo finding the presence of slaves in the English town of Newport to be strange, despite all we have learned over the last twenty years about the ubiquity of slavery and the debasement of captives in historic Native America. [Bold added]

These verbs paint a poor picture of the scholarship regardless of all the praises heaped on her for other parts of the book. It also raises the issue of what happens when one politically-correct people encounters another politically-correct people and the result is violence and/or slavery. Speaking as an outsider to this time period who has only this Exchange to rely on, it is easy for me to understand why someone would choose to downplay, disregard, and neglect it.

6. Brooks addresses how the Wampanoag Harvard scholar Joel Iacoomes died in a shipwreck on Nantucket while on his way back to Martha’s Vineyard, but her discussion neglects to mention that Nantucket Wampanoags murdered and robbed him and his English crewmates after they made it to shore. Brooks likewise interprets cases in which Native gunmen missing their English targets in battle during King Philip’s War were actually deliberate attempts to strike fear and sow chaos but not kill. She eschews that those same resistance fighters killed somewhere between eight hundred and three thousand English colonists during the war. In these cases and more, Brooks has abandoned basic standards for handling evidence to scrub the historical record and, I would contend, infantilize her historical subjects. [Bold added]

As Silverman describes it, he is accusing Brooks of systemic distortion presumably in preference of her political or cultural agenda.

7. When Brooks does mention Native violence, she often resorts to the passive voice, the same method used by previous generations of white historians to conceal colonial violence against Indigenous people…. Such formulations distance Brooks’s historical subjects from their actions.

If there is such a change in authorial voice [and I have no choice but to reply on Silverman here since I have not and do not intend to read the book], then that would suggest that Brooks knew what she was doing, meaning she glossed over, minimized, ignored that which was detrimental to her view of her people.

Silverman’s next criticism drives home this point quite forcefully.

8. Equally problematic are her speculative demonizations of the English…. The English certainly played plenty of “deed games”—and Brooks traces a number of them in exquisite detail—but that fact does not preclude the likelihood that Native people were organizing to resist them militarily. Indeed, I would contend that the two developments were of a piece. Multitribal uprisings like King Philip’s War took place in nearly every other corner of colonial America, as in Kieft’s War, the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the Yamasee War, and Pontiac’s War. Yet Brooks concludes that New England Natives were uncommonly patient in their suffering while under even greater colonial pressure than their continental peers.

Silverman is fairly blunt in his criticisms of Brooks’s work. Paragraph after paragraph recounts one area after another where he claims her scholarship falls short.

9. Brooks’s understandable bile toward the English leads her to embellish and even misrepresent evidence.  He is referring to her account of the death of Weetamoo in 1676. It was thought to be a drowning whereas Brooks suggests foul play which was covered up. Silverman responds “It is one thing to pose questions to the evidence along these lines, but it is quite another to posit conclusions (however qualified) based on imagination, flawed evidence, and misrepresented evidence.” One shudders to think what would have happened if a grad student in Silverman’s seminar had chosen this incident for a term paper and handed this in. I suspect a student of his would know better.

10. Brooks also mischaracterizes the Native interpreter John Sassamon as part of an unwillingness to grapple with the complicated role of Christian Wampanoags in her story.

In his analysis, Silverman accuses Brooks of misunderstanding the meaning of the word “will” in this context, of the equivalent of blaming the mail deliverer for the bills a person receives, and failing to “grapple with scholarship that argues Wampanoags and Narragansetts sometimes sold land to acquire munitions and goods for diplomatic gifting as part of their organizing of a resistance movement to seize back that very land.” She has failed “to connect the dots” and as a result has concocted a bogus interpretation [my terms, not Silverman’s].

11. Downplaying Native violence, particularly intertribal violence, and emphasizing Native victimhood at the hands of unscrupulous colonists, points Brooks to a fundamentally new and, I would contend, unconvincing telling of the end of King Philip’s War.

Once again, Silverman is harshly critical of the way in which Brooks interprets the evidence. His depiction of her portrayal on the constant failure of Native peace entreaties rests on her false understanding of their actual traditions. The result is a characterization of “the Indigenous actors come off as guileless and remarkably slow to learn. Brooks pays little heed to the resistance fighters’ devastation of several colonial towns in the late spring and early summer of 1676 while they were supposedly waiting to negotiate.” One wonders why no one else in the review and award-granting process realized this or did they decide that the good points outweighed the bad.

12. Equally disappointing is that the historical context of intertribal violence is almost entirely missing from the end of the war.

Here Silverman contends that Brooks had difficulty dealing with the harsher aspects of intertribal violence. In effect, he poses the challenge of what scholars do when the option to demonize white people is removed. According to Silverman, “Brooks mentions in passing” a Mohawk strike force. “[S]he ignores ample documentary evidence” about the actions of the Mohawks raiders. She “downplays the numerous Wampanoags who switched sides late in the war and took up arms against their tribespeople.” Silverman concludes:

One of the uncomfortable, ugly truths about this period was that colonial victories in wars against Indigenous people almost always hinged on recruiting Native people to the colonial side against their beloved kin. Indeed, it was a basic feature of colonialism around the world.

The result is scholarship that produces significant achievements when Brooks “is more careful in handling evidence” than in these examples where she did not. Silverman ends his section of his review of Brooks’s book with: “The book’s serious flaws should not eclipse such breakthrough findings.”

My impression is that if Silverman had been one of the blind readers of Yale University Press, he would have called for revisions to address these 12 points. We will never know what would have happened if he had been. Similarly we will never know what the people who awarded prizes to the book thought about these points either.


Brooks did not participate in this AHR Exchange.

DeLucia’s response focuses on her own book.

Deloria and O’Brien respond to the comments about NAIS and not the specifics of Silverman’s review of the two books. In hindsight, this shows that the decision to combine the two books may have backfired. By so doing, Silverman detected a pattern which then led to a critique of NAIS. That automatically elevated the conflict from one about the scholarship of an individual to one about the scholarship of all people in the field. As a result, instead of addressing the specifics identified above, it became another episode in the culture wars.

Mt. Pleasant is the only one in the exchange who attempts to refute the accusations made by Silverman. This was not her first encounter with Silverman.

Since DeLucia offers an extended response to Silverman in this forum, I will limit my remarks to the review of Brooks’s study. While I do not bear responsibility for refuting the details of Silverman’s allegation that Brooks “abandoned basic standards for handling evidence to scrub the historical record and . . . infantilize her subjects,” given his misreading and misrepresentation of my own coauthored “Completing the Turn” essay, I spent an afternoon reviewing some of the serious allegations he makes about Our Beloved Kin.

So there is some history here among the participants.

One paragraph addresses the accusation of Brooks’s downplaying intertribal violence particularly involving the Mohawks.

Turning to the index, I quickly noted no less than five references to Mohawk raids.

She takes issue with Silverman’s understanding of Brook’s work.

Rather than downplaying the raid, as Silverman suggests, Brooks is interpreting missionaries’ goals for social, political, and economic transformation—goals that are highly gendered. Just as Brooks is attuned to Mohawk violence and its impact on tribal communities in New England, she is also careful to note and critique the gendered language used by missionaries (which is its own form of violence) in their descriptions of raids between tribal communities and Indian mission towns.

According to Mt. Pleasant, Silverman’s view is too limited and fails to encompass the broader perspective portrayed by Brooks.


In the case of Brooks, the greatest disadvantage is to fail to confront the depth of Indigenous violence and power politics in seventeenth-century New England. True enough, as Mt. Pleasant asserts, Brooks mentions Mohawk raids, but “raids” hardly conveys the terror and loss of life that those attacks inflicted on New England Algonquians. Brooks’s euphemistic framing of this violence as “spreading the Great Law” assuredly does not either….

To illustrate my criticism that Brooks downplays the violence of this attack, I should have used the full line in which Brooks writes that Quaiapen “sent warriors to reassert jurisdiction over them in ‘love’ and kinship, seeking to renew a longstanding commitment and demand the acknowledgement that ‘belonged’ to her within a framework of reciprocal relations.” These are but a few of several examples of Brooks softening or evading key historical issues that risk affronting modern Native people.


I have no additional information about King Philip’s War to add to this discussion. Also I have omitted the topic of Christianity. That is a topic of interest not for this instance alone but as part of a larger subject extending beyond the participants in this war to the broader question of religion such as with the Stockbridge Indians or the Haudenosaunee. As previously mentioned in the first blog, I have been exploring an event in 1685 in Town of Rye where I live. In backtracking the story to Angola, one becomes aware fairly quickly of the importance of Catholicism to the story. By the time of the 1685 incident, the King of Kongo had been Catholic for two centuries, a fairly long time. Thousands of people had been baptized and without any threat or gun held to their head by the Portuguese. It would be interesting to compare the developments in America and Africa during this time period on the role of western religion with Africans and Indians.

On the subject of violence, there is one quite dramatic point of convergence. When I read about the Mohawks as “man eaters” who terrified people, the Imbangala immediately came to mind. This African tribe literally did eat people. They were cannibals. The fierce warriors and their reputation as cannibals augmented their military prowess. As one scholar put it, the Imbangala’s  “reputation for carnage, cruelty, and cannibalism made enemies alike quake in terror.” Sometimes I think a novelist would be better suited to convey the feeling of terror that a people can generate than a scholar.

The Imbangala also provide an excellent way to broach the issue of intertribal violence. The Portuguese changed the game but they did not introduce violence into the Angolan world. In reading about the violence in Africa in the 1500s and 1600s, one also is reminded of the violence in Europe among white people at the same time. The Thirty Years War has an Angolan component as well which is easy to overlook. Despite the religious terminology of the combatants, there was a lot of good old-fashioned violence going on.

By coincidence, after I read the AHR Exchange, an item on one of the history lists I belong to lead to this news article:

Controversial Mohawk statue in Victor has new home

The monument honoring Chief Athasata, who took part in an attack against the Senecas, is now at Ganondagan where it will be displayed with historical context

VICTOR —A controversial metal and stone monument exalting the role of Mohawk Chief Athasata in a punitive 1657 attack against the Seneca nation has been toppled. Ganondagan State Historic Site representatives, and possible descendants of those who lost homes, lives and crops in the attack, were on hand to help bring the memorial down with the help of village public works employees. “The monument which honors Athasata, a Mohawk chief, who joined forces with the French General Denonville to destroy the Seneca village of Ganondagan, is certainly a controversial piece,” said Victor Historian Babette Huber.

“It has always been an affront to me, as a historian, because of its nature,” she said. “It is honoring an enemy of the Seneca Nation in the same place where New York State pays tribute to the capital of the Seneca Nation, Ganondagan, by being the only state historic site devoted to the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy and its message of peace.”

On one hand, this item demonstrates the longevity of oral tradition. On the other hand, it shows both intertribal violence and continuing animosity. The nearby bloody battle at Oriskany during the American Revolution with the Oneida and Seneca on opposite sites is another example.

The Imbangala also substantiate a comment made by Silverman which I repeat here.

One of the uncomfortable, ugly truths about this period was that colonial victories in wars against Indigenous people almost always hinged on recruiting Native people to the colonial side against their beloved kin. Indeed, it was a basic feature of colonialism around the world.

Without the cooperation of the African tribes themselves the Middle Passage at the scale that it occurred would not have been possible. The Imbangala rounded up people for sale from deep in the hinterlands where no white person had ever been. It was the equivalent of bringing people from Buffalo to New York for sale to the British to bring to Barbados. The truth of “sold from Africa” can be jarring to people who prefer “stolen from Africa.”

I have three final conclusions/observations

1. the difference between the scholarship on Africans versus Indians
2. the minimizing of human nature as a factor in scholarship
3. the unbridgeable divisions within the academic community.

In regard to the final point, I refer to the two published letters to the journal in response to this exchange.

[Silverman’s] statement reveals to me an astonishing lack of understanding of how colonialism works and hence a clear absence of empathy for the colonized. Silverman is asserting that whites and Native Americans engaged in violence. Further, he claims, Native people both committed acts of violence and were victimized by violence. In making these assertions, Silverman chooses to completely ignore who the invaders and aggressors were….

This letter-writer then attacks the legitimacy of the “purported” scholar Silverman.

The violence of the white settlers in King Philip’s War was the violence of the white colonizers, the exploiters of the land and the Native peoples. The violent responses by Natives were qualitatively different. They were seeking to defend their lands, their way of life, their very lives. If Silverman does not recognize this distinction, then he is refusing to confront the difference between the colonizer and the colonized. That is an enormous problem for someone who purports to be a scholar of Native American history in colonial New England.

The second letter directs its ire against both the AHR and Silverman, the latter for his ‘hostile polemic” and the former for its decision to publish it. Most of the letter addresses the issues about the NAIS covered in the first blog and I should have included it there. It does not directly address the charges made by Silverman against Brooks. Instead it focuses on the culture wars being waged today (without using that term) where Silverman is on the wrong side. One line was particularly intriguing:

[B]y giving such a prominent place to Silverman’s review, the AHR continued, perhaps unwittingly, to endorse the privileged and elitist conception of history that is driving the discipline’s decline.

One could also make the case that it is identity politics that is driving the discipline’s decline (ignoring the issue of the perceived lack of financial payoff for a history degree). In the present world where everyone is entitled to their own truth and people congregate with people of shared values including in the organizations they join, why would people, meaning students, want to take courses that marginalized or condemned them? The letter-writer claims that

Silverman’s review…serves only to short-circuit meaningful conversations with the diverse communities that the AHA and AHR claim to prioritize reaching.

By contrast, I would say we already are past the point when such conversations are possible. The AHR Exchange exposes that truth in scholarship just as the coronavirus has in politics. It doesn’t matter if Brooks or Silverman is right since they live in two different realities.

To Topple or Not to Topple Statues: The Battle between “Come Let Us Reason Together” versus “Abso-fricking-lutely!”

To Topple or Not to Topple, That Is the Question (Alex Waltner – Swedish Nomad)

To topple or not to topple, that is the question. Statues have become the latest battleground in America’s Third Civil War. At this point, it is impossible to determine which statue will be our Fort Sumter. It is reasonable to assume that just as one could not predict that it would the George Floyd murder as the straw the broke the camel’s back, one cannot know which attack on a statue will be the trigger for violence.

In the meantime, last month, Bret Stephens and Charles Blow, columnists for The New York Times, offered quite contrary views on the question of “to topple or not to topple.”


In his column “After the Statues Fall,” (June 27, 2020, print), Stephens posits four familiar words as a template for answering the topple question: A MORE PERFECT UNION.

Stephens suggests for any given individual, the question should be asked whether that person contributed to the effort to create a more perfect union in the United States. If the answer is “no,” and he includes all Confederate-related figures here, then the person fails the test. The statues should come down and the buildings and military installations should be renamed. Stephens mentions some other examples of non-Confederates who don’t deserve a public building and non-Confederates who do deserve honors on net because of what they contributed to making a more perfect union.

Then he turns the big two: George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. These two slaveholders who were instrumental to the creation of the United States. He doesn’t mention it, but the latter provided the words or ideals upon which we declared our independence and the former made it possible for that declaration not to be stillborn or a dorm-room manifesto. Eliminate them and there is no country. Stephens writes:

If their fault lay in being creatures of their time, their greatness was in the ability to look past it. An unbroken moral thread connects the Declaration of Independence to the Gettysburg Address to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. An unbroken political thread connects the first president to the 16th to the 44th. It is impossible to imagine any union, much less the possibility of a more perfect one, without them.

Stephens contrasts thinking critically about the past for the sake of learning from it with behaving destructively toward the past with the aim of erasing it. He concludes in favor of debate on whether to topple or not to topple:

An intelligent society should be able to make intelligent distinctions, starting with the one between those who made our union more perfect and those who made it less.

By coincidence such an intelligent discussion was held a few days later. The American Historical Association (AHA) held an online presentation with David W. Blight and Annette Gordon-Reed entitled “Erasing History or Making History? Race, Racism, and the American Memorial Landscape” moderated by AHA Executive Director Jim Grossman, on Thursday, July 2. Whether or not they had read this column I don’t know. If not, then the discussion was even more fascinating. They expressed many of the same concepts that Stephens did. They used the term “criteria” instead for the judging of people on an individual basis with Confederates not passing muster. They even thought several hundred people listening to the online event would volunteer for a national commission.

There you see the problem. Stephens’s template for the evaluation of people works well in an academic setting. It is great for high school or college debates. It could work at some academic conferences. However, the evaluation process is bound to be subjective. There would be legitimate differences of opinions even if everyone agreed on the template. Obviously, it ignores the emotional component. Stephens proposes a solution for an intelligent society in a “come let us reason together” setting. That has nothing to do with where America is right now nor is there any political leader proposing a “come let us reason together” approach. This scenario is great on paper but is not possible in the real world as it exists now.


By coincidence, the next day, Charles Blow offered a significantly different perspective full of emotion. The title is:

Yes, Even George Washington: Slavery was a cruel institution that can’t be excused by its era (June 28, 2020, online).

In case there was any doubt, the opening line is:

On the issue of American slavery, I am an absolutist: enslavers were amoral monsters.

The very idea that one group of people believed that they had the right to own another human being is abhorrent and depraved. The fact that their control was enforced by violence was barbaric.

Blow’s template is a very direct one: if you owned people you were “abhorrent and depraved.” Period. There is no other evaluation needed. No netting of the good the people-owner might have done elsewhere. If you own people, then case closed.

There is no room for doubt. No uncertainty. And no exception.

Some people who are opposed to taking down monuments ask, “If we start, where will we stop?” It might begin with Confederate generals, but all slave owners could easily become targets. Even George Washington himself.

To that I say, “abso-fricking-lutely!”

Blow presents an all-or-nothing evaluation with removal as the one option.

I say that we need to reconsider public monuments in public spaces. No person’s honorifics can erase the horror he or she has inflicted on others.

Slave owners should not be honored with monuments in public spaces. We have museums for that, which also provide better context. This is not an erasure of history, but rather a better appreciation of the horrible truth of it.

Blow’s analysis is intensely emotional for him unlike the Stephens column. It also is easy to apply.

But Blow leaves many unanswered questions. If these people like George Washington are so horrific for what they did that they do not deserve public monuments in public spaces, what about the other ways in which such people are publicly honored. What about

The state of Washington

The city of Washington

The mountain of Washington

The university of Washington

The bridge of Washington

The parks of Washington

The dollar bill of Washington

The neighborhoods of Washington.

Dismantling the Washington Monument is challenge enough, but how do you get demolish half of Mount Rushmore?

And let’s not forget that without Washington there would be no United States of America?

Blow doesn’t address these issues. His end game remains undefined. He feels good about toppling the monuments and statues to George Washington but leaves all the other public expressions of him unmentioned.

In my blog Schuyler Owned People: Should Schuylerville Change Its Name? June 18, 2020, a lifetime ago), I raised a similar issue with the Mayor of Albany’s decision to remove the statue of Philip Schuyler. What about all the other public Schuyler examples from a state-owned house, federal owned house, municipality named after him, county named after him, and his role in American history at Saratoga?  As a mayor, her jurisdiction is limited. I did note that one councilmen wanted the removed of all the people-owner names of streets and parks which in Albany means Washington Park. Blow had the option of going where the Mayor could not. As a columnist, he could have advocated for the full cleansing of Washington from the public arena. The logical extension of Blow’s argument means consign everything Washington to a museum, rename it, or demolish it.


Considered these toppling examples.

The toppling of the statue to Saddam Hussein signified the end of his rule.

The toppling of the statue of Lenin, founder of the Soviet Union, signified the end of the Soviet Union.

The toppling of the statue of King George III signified the declaration of independence from British rule, a declaration after a long war which proved successful.

Therefore it is reasonable to conclude that the toppling of the statue of George Washington, father of the country, signifies that the topplers are calling for the end of the United States, the end of a country based on the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that he won for us and he then held us together as a country.

Is that what Blow wants? While I don’t doubt that among the woke there are people desirous of exactly such an endgame. They reject not only the symbols of the founding of the country but the founding itself. Blow does not appear to one of them. His call to relocate statues from public spaces to museums (presumably private ones with no public funding), suggests he is not advocating for the overthrow of the United States. But his call for the removal not toppling of statues and monuments of people-owners is simply a feel-good baby step that ignores the larger issues. He has an obligation to explain to the American public what his end game is. He has an obligation to explain to We the People where he would draw the line and why on the issue of the public display of the name of Washington among others. He has an obligation to explain his end game because if he doesn’t, others will do it for him.

P.S. The damnatio memoriae (or “condemnation of the memory”) was tried in ancient Egypt on Queen Hatshepsut and King Akhnaton. Will we now have to erase the names of Pharaohs who had slave labor including Nubians and demolish their buildings or is that up to Egypt? What should we teach about these “abhorrent and depraved” people like Tut?


Historic Site Visits: Tourists and Teachers

In my last blog, I wrote about historic site visits as one of the sessions as the National Council on Public History (NCPH) Conference: Part II. I received a reply from John Marks, Senior Manager, Strategic Initiatives, American Association for State and Local History (AASLH):

I just wanted to shoot you a quick message to thank you for including mention of our NCPH session on national visitation trends. I’m disappointed we weren’t able to present, because I’m certain it would have been an enlightening conversation. In case you missed it, our free report summary and the full 60+ page report are available at: There are also links there to many of the blog posts we’ve written about our findings in recent years. If you’re interested, I also put together a thread on Twitter with links to all of the blog posts and articles we’ve written at AASLH and elsewhere over the past six months or so:

Finally, our 2020 visitation survey is still collecting responses. With the onset of widespread closures to due Coronavirus, gathering reliable 2019 data has become even more important. The survey is available at:

Please feel free to share any and all of the above with your networks! Thanks again for mentioning the session in your newsletter.

I did download the nine-page National Visitation Report from the AASLH website. Rather than my summarizing it, I have extracted Marks’ own comments on it from his blog Historic Site Visitation and Public Engagement with History he wrote for the American Historical Association (AHA), March 11, 2020.

[H]istorical institutions throughout the country are working with their communities to make the past more relevant and engaging. New research suggests these efforts have had a positive effect, as visitation to history organizations has increased considerably over the past several years. The National Visitation Report (NVR) published in November 2019 by the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) is the first nationwide survey of visitation trends at historical organizations. It found that visits to history museums, historic sites, and other historical organizations increased nearly 6 percent between 2013 and 2018. This growth was evident for institutions of nearly every type, of different budget sizes, and in every region of the country.

The NVR reveals that some of the strongest visitation growth occurred at the small historical societies and museums that are ubiquitous in towns and counties across the US. Institutions with annual operating budgets of less than $50,000, for example, saw their visitation grow 18 percent, the largest increase of any budget level. Those with budgets between $50,000 and $250,000 saw visitation increase nearly 13 percent. Institutions of this size, many of which are operated solely by volunteers, form the majority of the nation’s more than 20,000 historical organizations. 

A growing number of institutions [are] creating programs and exhibitions built on the concepts of shared authority and community-engaged practice. Public history institutions are working more directly with their audiences, taking seriously their understandings of the past and their concerns in the present, integrating community knowledge and priorities into the work of the institution.

Marks draws attention to changes at the college and graduate school level involving humanities and public history. He considers it important to connect knowledge of the past with contemporary issues.

With this introduction in mind, let me shift to a session I did attend at the AHA conference on January 2, 2015, in New York. (I have special memories of the conference since the escalator to the conference and the registration area outside the meeting rooms appeared in the George Clooney movie Michael Clayton.) The AHA session was less dramatic.

What Should History Teachers Learn at Historic Sites? A Research Agenda

Chair: Christine Baron, Teachers College, Columbia University
Linda A. Sargent Wood, Northern Arizona University
Kelly Schrum, George Mason University
Brenda Trofanenko, Acadia University
Christine Woyshner, Temple University
Denice Blair, Michigan State University

Since the 1990s, professional development for teachers has been a large-scale function of museums’ and historic sites’ education departments. Historic sites are increasingly called upon to help remedy the persistent reproach that many teachers lack both content knowledge in history and enthusiasm for the subject. Yet, despite two decades of intensive work with teachers, including the decade-long Teaching American History Grants (TAH) experience, little research exists on the effectiveness of historic sites’ role in teacher education.

The expectation that historic sites will support formal teacher preparation and professional development continues to grow. Several states, with Pennsylvania at the fore, are considering requiring pre-service teachers to do part of their fieldwork in museums and historic sites. Every state curriculum framework includes the recommendation that teachers should partner with historic sites and museums to help students learn about history [bold added]. Yet, even as TAH funding has been eliminated, the need for quality history teacher education has not. Historic sites are continuing to be asked to provide teacher education. It is imperative that we understand the methods and mechanisms that help teachers effectively develop historical analytical skills and the ability to transfer that learning to the classroom. Accordingly, we need historic site-specific tools and research protocols for discerning and documenting teacher learning, clarity about best practices, and useable tools for assessment.

To address this gap, Christine Baron and Brenda Trofanenko organized a research conference sponsored by the largest education research organization in North America, to assemble experts in the Learning Sciences, History and Museum Education at Boston University in early 2014 to investigate the effective use of historic sites as centers for history teacher education and professional development.

 Researchers gathered for a three-day conference at Boston University to (a) develop a status report on the state of empirical research in this field, (b) identify effective protocols for discerning and documenting teacher learning at historic sites, (c) identify specific pedagogies, methodologies, assessment and evaluation tools that demonstrably promote analysis of historical materials on-site and classroom integration (d) develop a research agenda to further the field and (e) stimulate partnerships in which to execute the necessary research.

This panel, comprised of several of the conference scholars, will lay out the conference findings, the critical areas identified for further research, and some of the projects generated through the conference discussions. Considerable time will be devoted to discussing the findings in conversation with session attendees, both in terms of the research opportunities and project development.

The audience for this session, much like the participants at the conference on which it reports, includes the historians, both academic and public, history teacher educators, museum and historic site educators, and digital humanities scholars that work at the intersection of history and teaching.

I think sessions on this topic should be a regular part of history museum conferences as well as social studies conferences. Furthermore, as I mentioned in the NCPH blogs, since not everyone can attend such conferences and even people who do cannot attend all sessions, there needs to be a better way to disseminate the information presented here. One of the byproducts of the current coronavirus may be the development of a more extensive use of the internet to make conference presentations available online. At present, not all conferences even list the abstract of the presentations online. I expect there will be changes in this regard. Also more cross referencing so people who are members or who are affiliated with one organization can learn about relevant sessions at other conferences. Whether such cooperation is possible or not, is another matter. Let me correct that, it is possible, but whether or not it happens is the issue.

In the next blog, I will continue with this topic and write about a book, an article, and a teacher from Massachusetts.

Towers of Babel: New York’s Historical Enterprise

History’s Babel: Scholarship, Professionalization, and Historical Enterprise in the United States, 1880-1940, by Robert B. Townsend was just reviewed on H-Net. While I will not be purchasing the book (I have enough to read already!), the review struck home. .

The author was the deputy director of the American Historical Association (AHA) and much of the book is through the prism of that organization. As one might expect from the title, Townsend’s concern is the fragmentation of the historical enterprise into bunch of organizations that do not speak to each other. Does that sound at all like the New York historical enterprise today? Continue reading “Towers of Babel: New York’s Historical Enterprise”

The American Historical Association and NY History

One of the types of posts which I have writing is conference reports. The purpose is to share with people who have not attended a conference what I have learned by attending one. In this post I wish to deviate slightly by reporting on a conference I did not attend but from which relevant information still is available. The conference is the annual meeting of the American Historical Association just held in New Orleans.
Continue reading “The American Historical Association and NY History”

Academics and Popular History

Previous posts here have addressed issues raised at the annual conference of the American Historical Association (AHA) on of the lack of history jobs and the lack of history interest by the press. Related to that, a discussion on a history list last summer focused on the disconnect between the world of academic historians and the general public under the heading of “Scholarly versus Popular History.” The following submission by Lance R. Blyth, University of New Mexico (7/19/11) deserves attention: Continue reading “Academics and Popular History”

Why is the Press Indifferent to History? How Do We Communicate History?

At the recently concluded annual conference of the American Historical Association, in addition to the passionate discussions about “NO HISTORY JOBS! NO HISTORY JOBS! NO HISTORY JOBS!” featured in my previous post, there were four panels on “Historians, Journalists, and the Challenges of Getting It Right.” Excerpts from a report by Rick Shenkman, publisher and editor-in-chief of the History News Network on these presentations follow [his full report is online]. Continue reading “Why is the Press Indifferent to History? How Do We Communicate History?”

The Debate Rages Over History Jobs

The American Historical Association (AHA) held its annual conference on January 5-8, 2012, in Chicago. One of the non-academic issues it addressed was the employment situation in the history profession. The impetus for the last-minute session at the conference on the subject was an essay by Jesse Lemisch, Professor Emeritus of History at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York titled “History is Worth Fighting For, But Where is the AHA?“. Continue reading “The Debate Rages Over History Jobs”