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Mind Control: Oaths and Diversity Training

Courtesy of Wikipedia

In his President column in Perspectives on History (61:7 2023), Edward Muir, American Historical Association, describes an oath-taking incident from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1949. It was the Year of the Oath. The Board of Regents required all university employees to pledge their loyalty to the Constitutions of the United States and the state of California. Each individual was to deny membership in or belief in any organization that advocated overthrowing the U.S. government. The intention was to uncover communist associations.

Not stated but implied is whether a MAGA President, member of Congress, or state legislator should have to do the same. Oh, wait. They already do which is a lesson in the effectiveness of oath—taking.

In the column, Muir reports on the incident of a German medievalist historian there. According to an eyewitness, “Perhaps none made a more profound impression upon those who experienced it than the speech of a once German scholar…. He told of the impositions of oaths in the early days of Hitler’s power. His theme was always, ‘This is the way it begins. The first oath is so gentle that one can scarcely notice anything at which to take an exception. The next oath is stronger! The time to resist, he declared, was at the beginning: the oath to refuse to take was the first oath.”

The scholar subsequently was fired by Berkeley for his refusal to take the oath. Later in the column, the President of this history organization notes that many teachers today even if they are not required to take such oaths, may still be subject to efforts at mind control by the government.

The column concludes with the scholar’s oath to the academic discipline of history. The credo is more to the practice of history than to the end results. In so doing, Muir takes exception in the previous paragraph to the efforts of the American Birthright Coalition that advocates for memorization over rational inquiry in k-12 with the Coalition presumably determining what the data is to be memorized.


We all are used to the idea of pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. Students in elementary school may take the pledge daily. Somewhere along the line, the Pledge is dropped except perhaps for special occasions. Various meetings may begin with the taking of the Pledge such as in my village and town at trustee meetings.

What is unclear is the effect of taking these pledges. What is the impact of these pledges on the thinking and/or behavior of the people taking them? Consider, for example, Iran. People there take a far more intense “pledge of allegiance” daily in their prayers. And such prayers are not limited to young impressionable children but carry forward into adulthood and all the years of their lives. Evidently, and the evidence is quite strong, such “pledges of allegiance” have not had the desired effect. Instead, the Iranian rulers know they are sitting on a churning inferno that could erupt at any moment like the volcanoes that make the news. Still, on it goes, an embattled ruling class doubling down on mind control and guns to quell the disturbances.


Since I began this blog with one national history organization, let me turn now to another: the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (I am a member of both AHA and SHEAR). It is the source of this subtitle. The call for papers for the conference this summer in Philadelphia includes the following:

The SHEAR 2024 Program Committee is eager to build a conference that reflects and fosters the diversity of the field and that upholds SHEAR’s Statement of Values. Your proposal should engage with this goal by including a brief diversity statement that explains how your panel will, in its composition and/or content, reinforce SHEAR’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Panels should strive for representation across gendered, racial, institutional, interpretative, and career categories. This policy will not be interpreted to exclude panels comprised entirely of graduate students, women, and/or scholars of color, as the Program Committee is committed to featuring early career scholars as well as members of groups who have been historically underrepresented at SHEAR. Graduate students may find it useful to enlist more senior scholars as commenters, and are welcome to contact the Program Committee for suggestions and assistance.

Panels should:

Address key historiographical questions and/or pressing contemporary issues.
Reflect the diversity of the past and expand narratives of the early American republic to highlight Indigenous, Black, queer, and global histories.

SHEAR is committed to inclusion and diversity and encourages panels that feature members of groups who have been historically underrepresented within the organization. Potential panelists should seek gendered, racial, institutional, interpretive, and career diversity, and each panel proposal should include a statement about how the panel furthers SHEAR’s commitment to diversity.

Since the conference is in Philadelphia, the conference guidelines express awareness of the semiquincentential:

This year marks the 250th anniversary of the meeting of the First Continental Congress at Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia. The Program Committee would like to mark this moment—before the semiquincentennial—as an opportunity to analyze the contingency of 1774 and other turning points in early American history.

It will be interesting to see, how many panels reflect this awareness.

These statements by the prospective speakers serve as a form of oath-taking to the stated precepts and values of the organization. If you want to speak at the conference you must adhere to the stated values of the organization. Fair enough. It is a volunteer organization free to make up its own rules for membership and presentation. And if you don’t like it, then create your own organization and present the papers and ideas you want to present.


While it is highly questionable that loyalty oaths produce the desired outcome. However one should note the ongoing program in Florida to ensure the faculty subscribes the appropriately designated values. One response has been people vote with their feet and leave the university for better pastures elsewhere more conducive to their own value system.

Popular Jewish author and thinker who lives in Israel to skip Arkansas over pro-Israel boycott law By Austin Bailey, Arkansas Times October 30, 2023

Conservative cancel culture canceled an opportunity for enlightenment in Arkansas Monday, thwarting a visit from a leading writer and scholar on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Jerusalem-based journalist and author Nathan Thrall shared his experience bumping up against Arkansas’s 2017 law requiring individuals or companies to pledge not to boycott Israel or its settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories if they want to do business with the state. That includes speaking at the University of Arkansas, evidently.

Thrall took umbrage at this action.

“I was just told that I cannot speak at @UArkansas unless I sign a pledge that I will not boycott Israel or its occupation,” Thrall said on X yesterday revealing that he had refused the demand. “A 2017 state law requires @UArkansas to impose this McCarthyist requirement. A reminder that the current effort to quash free speech is not new.”

(Middle East Monitor, October 31, 2023).

The reason for the restriction sometimes gets lost in the fuss over the censorship issue.

State Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) sponsored the bill requiring a pro-Israel pledge back in 2017. He later explained his thinking this way to a documentary filmmaker:

“There is going to be certain things that happen in Israel before Christ returns. There will be famines and disease and war. And the Jewish people are going to go back to their homeland. At that point Jesus Christ will come back to the Earth … Anybody, Jewish or not Jewish, that doesn’t accept Christ, in my opinion, will end up going to hell” (Arkansas Times October 30, 2023).


In this blog, it has only been possible to touch upon the issue of oaths and DEI. The latter topic certainly is worthy of more consideration. But given the date, it is necessary to turn to the anniversary of when people who did recite the pledge of allegiance and waved both the American and Confederate flags sought to overthrow the Constitutional order the President had sworn to uphold while he actively worked to undermine it.

Education and the American Revolution 250th

Graphic by America 250.

In this blog, I wish to continue the discussion on the current situation regarding the American Revolution 250th by switching to education.

1. What can be taught in the k-12 classroom?
2. How can the national history organizations help?

I begin by carrying on from the previous blog with its focus on Virginia and the 250th.

It is important to recognize that the 250th does not exist in a vacuum. So far because of the turmoil at federal commission and the time of 2026 still distant in the minds of most people, the 250th is an under-the-radar project. But we should anticipate that if the federal commission ever gets its act together and has funding, it will be caught up in the maelstrom that has enveloped the issue of standards.


By coincidence, the current issue of Perspectives on History by the American Historical Association (AHA) has an article “Maintaining Standards: Recent AHA Contributions to the Fight for Honest History Education.” By even more coincidence, a large portion of the article focuses on Virginia without mention of the 250th.

The article covers the effort by the Virginia Board of Education (VBOE) to revamp its History and Social Science standards. It recounts the rejection of a more than two-year project to revise the standards to a “hastily and behind closed doors” effort to completely overhaul the framework. That was between August 17, 2022 and November 11, 2022.

From its inception, the campaign to rewrite state education policy has embraced rhetoric about preventing political indoctrination in the classroom. The draft and model standards that have come out of this movement, however, themselves treat history education as a form of indoctrination. They target potentially controversial topics and ideas for elimination and reproduce a stilted caricature of history teaching and learning that harks back to a mid-20th century that never was. States like Virginia have explicitly cut references to disciplinary and transferable thinking skills, inquiry, analysis, and civic engagement, while dramatically increasing the number of names, dates, and facts that students must memorize. Carried out with little or no transparency, these efforts endanger students’ education and undermine the very notion of informed civic participation.

Bowing to public pressure, the VBOE opted to set aside the November draft and allow for a substantial rewrite. The story of the Virginia standards was far from over. But prompt intervention from concerned historians, including higher education and secondary school educators, averted a campaign to overhaul history education for political ends.

Carried out with little or no transparency, these efforts endanger students’ education and undermine the very notion of informed civic participation.

The article makes clear that it is a constant struggle. One can never relax and lower one’s guard. The battle over standards is an ongoing on likely to accelerate as people begin wanting to schedule events and programs outside of school for the 250th.

The AHA’s engagement in the review and revision of Virginia’s standards features a dense collaboration with local teachers and educational organizations. In response to widespread criticism, the VBOE promised to merge the controversial November draft with the original August standards to create a compromise proposal. The Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium (VSSLC) and the Virginia Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (VASCD) invited the AHA to participate in drafting a collaborative standards document in hopes that the VBOE would consider input from educators.

AHA staff members Lauren Brand and Brendan Gillis traveled to Richmond for a two-day summit, at which representatives and members of all three organizations went line by line through each of the standards, weaving together, revising, and polishing these curricular materials to produce a strong framework for learning that reflected best practices in history and social studies education. Our staff provided guidance, encouragement, and support as classroom educators rebuilt a set of educational standards that improved on an already strong foundation. Once the initial draft was complete, we also arranged for teachers and subject-matter experts to review and vet the changes.

Yet the status of history and social studies education in Virginia remained in flux. In early 2023, the VBOE produced a fourth draft, which it subsequently approved for public review and final revision. At each stage in the process, the AHA joined with other organizations, including the VSSLC, VASCD, the Virginia Council for the Social Studies, and the National Council for the Social Studies, to issue statements and coordinate public feedback. The AHA has also encouraged members in Virginia to participate in the period for public comment and attend the six public hearings.

At this point about all one can say is stay tuned. Ironically, John Adams famously said about the American people, 1/3 support July 4, 1/3 support King George, and 1/3 just want to be left alone (paraphrased). It’s difficult to imagine a more divisive event in American history except of course for the Civil War/War of Northern Aggression. At a time like that, it is far easier to again imagine local communities focusing on the traditional parades, re-enactments, fireworks, and stirring speeches rather than seeking to write a new national narrative that includes people overlooked in the traditional narrative or who have a more negative view of the American Revolution or the striving to create a more perfect union. So while the state has committed substantial resources in the hopes of generating tourism, it remains problematic what will be taught in the classroom and what activities will be sponsored.


The actions of the AHA and AASLH demonstrate some of the work the national history organizations can do. Previously I have expressed concerns if the federal commission had money to distribute and if states were prepared to receive and distribute, it will be the Walmarts and Home Depots of the history community who receive the funding rather than the small local municipal history society of mainly volunteers. That disparity contributes to the likelihood that the local events will be more like the Bicentennial of family, food, fireworks, and patriotic parades than an examination of the striving since 1776-1787 to create a more perfect union. This analysis ignores the impact of the 2024 presidential and congressional elections which remain unknown at present.

Still, there are things the national history organizations can do. As noted in the previous blog for New York and Virginia, the American Revolution250 years ago already was underway now. One way the national history organizations can help guide the conversation, is to help provide information about what was happening 250 years ago.

In other words, starting with 2024, what was going on in 1774? What were newspapers publishing? What were ministers preaching? What sessions should be held today at the annual conferences of these history organizations? It is not enough simply to hold a conference in Philadelphia. The attendance for such an event is small. Especially now where online events are common, the national history organizations can reach out to a national audience about each year of the American Revolution starting with 1774/2024 and lasting until 1783/2033. Such online programs will enable the smaller history organizations and social studies teachers to tap into the current scholarship for each year. It will reach out to states which did not exist in 1776. It will provide opportunities for students to engage the event year by year almost as if they did not know what the outcome would be. After all, today we can look back at Yorktown and say we won; back then people did not have a crystal ball. The end was unknown to them. Good teachers can recreate that uncertainty but they could use a little help from the national history organizations in bringing the American Revolution alive.

American Historical Association Annual Conference (January 5-8, 2023)

The American Historical Association held its annual conference in-person in Philadelphia, January 5-8, 2023. The conference made the front page of the Arts and Culture section in The New York Times on Monday after the weekend event. It did so because of a column in Perspectives on History posted by James H. Sweet, the AHA President, back in August on the topic of “presentism.” That column and the immediate response was the subject of an earlier blog:

American Historical Association: Presidential Culture Wars Contretemps
September 12, 2022.

The October issue of the publication continued the fight. Below are the highlights made by those responding within the AHA community.


“(H)is thoughts are risky because … he comes off as a detractor of The 1619 Project and similar initiatives and thus social justice. In the neoliberal university, where utility is the primary virtue, this weakens this historical profession’s standing even more.”
Ken Mondschein

I am not quite clear if being a detractor of the flawed 1619 Project qualifies one as trying to improve the standing of the history profession or weaken it.

“I am glad that James H. Sweet wrote this column. It did what he intended it to do: it opened a particular conversation about how we “do” history…. As much as academic careers can be built on infighting, we daily have the opportunity to bear witness to a different world of possibility: one where historians, sociologists, political theorists, scholars of religion, and others can compare notes and enrich one another’s work without the nagging desires to police boundaries.”
Malcolm Foley

Although he was invited by AHA to respond to the Sweet column, my reaction is that he instead used the opportunity more to express his own views on the discipline of history without really engaging Sweet.

“I felt exhaustion at having to explain the harm of Sweet’s condescending portrayal of African American’s understanding of history and of his attempt, from his influential office, to delegitimize scholarship on essential topics like race, gender, and capitalism (in a manner that has now drawn the approval of white supremacists)….

“Retraction is appropriate because the essay’s flaws are pervasive and obvious…”

The responder than elaborates on how historians in the past have deployed “presentism” to serve “elite political agendas.”

“(I)n exhorting us not to project ‘today’s antiracism on the past, he [Sweet] adopts a moral superiority toward the past that [a previous AHA president] cautions against…. Sweet attacks scholarly work on ‘race, gender, sexuality, nationalism, capitalism’ as driven by contemporary social justice issues.’ The mind boggles at having to remind a fellow historian that gender and sexuality existed in the ancient world…

“To Sweet, The 1619 Project, the only ‘presentist’ book he names, fails as history because it views the past ‘through the prism of contemporary racial identity’ It is baffling that a journalistic effort stands in for historical scholarship here.”

Here the responder is encroaching into a subject that demands greater attention. No one would care if deeply-flawed 1619 Project was by an obscure publication that everyone beyond a fringe niche ignored. But instead it is a publication of The New York Times and is treated not as a journalistic effort but as historical scholarship just as the use of the books by David McCullough would be if included in the classroom [Historians vs. David McCullough – The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West, January 27, 2022; History Scholars versus David McCullough: The American Revolution, January 30, 2022; David McCullough (1933-2022): No R.I.P. – The Culture Wars Continue, September 2, 2022.

“Sweet has contributed to public denigration of the discipline in a time of rampant, politically motivated questioning of humanistic expertise and resource crisis for the discipline. His complaint about a preoccupation with ‘contemporary social justice issues” offers fuel to attacks on the teaching of crucial subjects like race and slavery.”
Priya Satia

One wonders exactly how much sway a single column within the history field carries outside the academic arena.


“I love the well-written article [from Sweet] since it seemed to be based on speaking the truth, and I was very disappointed that Sweet inserted an apology at the front of the article…. Excellent job, Dr. Sweet: keep up the good work.”
Scott Green

Hard to believe Green and Satia were referring to the same column. That difference of opinion is an excellent example of how historians bring their own agenda and experiences to their work. How else to explain the divergent opinions of such magnitude from a single source? What a great lesson in how the history discipline works that two people can read the same column and have such contrary reactions.

“Whether intentionally or not, AHA president James H. Sweet’s misguided critique of ‘presentism’ in historical study plays into the hands of ‘presentist’ politicians who are censoring the teaching of history.”
Allan Lichtman

Is this letter-writer referring to the successful Woke effort to control the very words we are obligated to use in the classroom and in public discourse and to the content in college courses or  to the successful MAGA effort to do something similar legislatively? As the next paragraph makes clear it is the latter. The next three paragraphs are on how Sweet gives aid and comfort to right-wing attacks.


The squabble within the history community led to an article by David Frum in The Atlantic, October 30, 2022, entitled “The New History Wars: Inside the Strife set off by an essay from the president of the American Historical Association. The opening line was:

Even by the rancorous standards of the academy, the August eruption at the American Historical Association was nasty and personal. 

Frum describes the reaction as an “outrage volcano erupted on social media.” Frum called attention to the coverage by The Wall Street Journal as well as by Fox News. He then wonders “But all the Strum and Dang makes it harder to understand the actual substance of the controversy …Why did so many of his colleagues find it so upsetting even threatening?” Here Frum was echoing the comments of Jay Caspian Kang, columnist for The New York Times, as reported in my previous blog on the subject over the puzzlement about this academic firestorm.

Frum visited Sweet in Madison. The non-Twitter user had been deeply surprised by the reaction to his column. Subsequently, he had come under immense pressure. Sweet had discovered that many of his colleagues and in the history-reading public actually had agreed with him …even if they hesitated to say so publicly. Sweet informed Frum that he had received almost 250 emails which were almost the inverse image of Twitter comments – “’long, considered, thoughtful emails, not just 280-character responses.’”

According to Frum, Sweet worries about the move to de-emphasize the single author manuscript or book, a weakening of the cherished ideals and methods of the historical profession. Frum continues that Sweet’s attempted to erect a firewall to protect the academy from politics and power. He observes that such an effort is contrary to the dominant trend in history, especially African and African-diaspora history. Frum predicts academia will lose this battle with the American public. He declares that this quest to replace the ivory tower history with the actively involved historian for progressive social justice is one that will fail.

Frum then reports on some of the skirmishes within the field of African studies. The logical conclusion is it is more difficult for white scholars trained in African history to find jobs.

Grappling with the Past, Present, and Future: Historians gathered to discuss the influence of contemporary issues and what lies ahead – Jennifer Schuessler, (1/9/23 NYT)

With this background in mind, let us turn to the article covering the conference as if it were a sports event. After summarizing salient portions of Sweet’s column, Schuessler reports on the reaction:

The column provoked a firestorm, which spread along racial and generations fault lines. Many younger historians, cosigned to poorly paid adjunct work in a shrinking job market, saw the out-of-touch complaints of the privileged.

There was an opening-night panel at the conference to address the issue. One attendee commented “But some folks felt it as a stab.” A stab in the back? A stab like a pinprick and not a cleaver? Not clear. Sweet sat near the rear, not a participant.

Schuessler reports that the panel was “short on disagreement, and long on juxtaposition and questions, including a big one: Are the traditional methodologies extolled by Sweet an effective tool of justice and truth, or are they too enmeshed in their own racist past?” In other words, the methodology Sweet advocates for no longer is appropriate. I suspect from what I can glean from the article, that the panel was primarily politically correct and may not have reflected the full diversity of the history community.

Another issue drew Schuessler’s attention:

There was little reference to the widespread dismay that the field was (as a participant at another session put in) ‘in contraction if not collapse.   

Schuesssler quotes an historian in the lightning round of closing comments as being blunt: “’We need to talk about money.’”

Sometimes one gets the feeling that academics are like the band playing on after the Titanic has struck the iceberg.

Sweet’s Presidential Address was entitled “Slave Trading as a Corporate Criminal Conspiracy from the Calabar Massacre to BLM, 1767-2022.” He addressed a standing-room crowd which I take to be hundreds of people. For more than one hour, he spoke about a slave-trading family from Liverpool. Back in the 17th century, the patriarch of the family achieved dominance over other traders through a “’gangland-style’” massacre of 400 people in what is today Nigeria. He concluded the family, which still exists and operates today, is a ripe target for reparations.

Sweet then switched gears to speak about presentism. At this point, Schuessler does not fully elaborate on what he said. She does observe that “there was disagreement about whether genuinely open debate was really happening — or could happen. She quotes one historian at the conference saying:

“People are scared to speak honestly sometimes, even what they know to be historically true, because they don’t want to end up on the wrong side.”

These words are eerily familiar to what k-12 students and teachers say along with college students and teachers. Everyone is walking on eggshells trying to get the lay of the land so they don’t ruin their grades or diminish their chances of tenure or promotion.

This culture war puts history museums and organizations in the same battlefield as schools and academic history organizations. While many have eagerly embraced the Woke vocabulary and attitude towards American history others have not. They continue to regard history as they have in the past. As we come closer to the 250th birthday of the country the conflict likely will intensify. People and their organizations will be called on more and more to take a stand on where they stand in the culture wars.

Let me close with an observation made by Frum in his article on Sweet’s column where he reports on the backlash which has occurred.

Critical historians who thought they were winning the fight for control within the academy now face dire retaliation from outside the academy.   

It will get worse.

American Historical Association: Presidential Culture Wars Contretemps

The apology by the American Historian Association President arrived online before the print version from the September newsletter did. It has been a couple of years since a history organization endured a culture wars controversy of its own making:

SHEAR CHAOS: A Culture Wars Train Wreck for a History Organization (8/19/20).

SHEAR, the Society for Historians of the Early Republic, made the front page of the arts section of The New York Times then. The incident involved an on-line presentation at the annual conference about Andrew Jackson. According to the NYT:

[I]t set off a firestorm that led within 72 hours, to set off the ouster of the group’s president, as well as the publication of open letters denouncing the talk and counterletters protesting the ouster. It also caused debate over whether the distinguished academics society was experiencing an overdue reckoning with racism or abandoning its commitment to robust scholarly debate in the face of a Twitter mob.

Almost the same words could be written this time around. To be fair, the presidential position in historical organizations often are one-year positions with the new officers elected at the annual conference.

This time around, the President’s message generate not one but two op-ed pieces by the newspaper’s columnists. So what is going on?


President James Sweet began his column in the summer newsletter by citing a warning from twenty years ago against “presentism.” The warning was a two-fold one:

1. a declining interest among historians for topics prior to the 20th century
2. an increasing tendency to interpret the past through the lens of the present.

The warning from the past said historians would be better served by taking degrees in sociology, political science, or ethnic studies if history meant short-term identity politics defined by present concerns.

According to Sweet, the discipline did not heed the warning. Doctorates for post-1800 topics increased while pre-1800 doctorates decline. Undergraduate enrollments in history courses also declined. The focus became more and more narrowly focused on the 20th and 21st centuries, practically current events one might add.

Our interpretations of the recent past collapse into the familiar terms of contemporary debates, leaving little room, for innovative, counterintuitive interpretations. 

Sweet then posed a provocative question.

If we don’t read the past through the prism of contemporary social justice issues — race, gender, sexuality, nationality, capitalism — are we doing history that matters?

In other words, if one is not attacking white male heterosexuals, is one doing history? That may seem like a distorted oversimplification but examine the presentations at a history conference and see how many do that.

Sweet uses a trip to Ghana this past summer to illustrate the presentism point. He was there for work tasked with writing a critical response to The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story for a forthcoming forum in the American Historical Review, the academic journal of the AHA. When I was writing my blogs on the SHEAR forum on David McCullough’s The Pioneers, I wondered if The 1619 Project would receive the same scrutiny from the history profession.

Sweet wondered if this journalistic exercise into 1619 was history. He acknowledged that he had never thought of it primarily as history. Instead he watched as it became part of a zero-sum game of heroes and villains viewed through the prism of contemporary racial identity.

While in Ghana, he visited Elmina, one of the largest Atlantic slave-trading depots in West Africa, for a wedding. The location was an interesting one to say the least given the current questions over plantation weddings here in the United States. However that line of inquiry was not pursued.

Sweet reported on his tour group. He observed that the guide “gave a well-rehearsed tour geared toward African Americans. American influence was everywhere…” He commented that Elmina Castle had become as much an African American shrine as a Ghanaian archaeological or historical site. Certainly it was a moving experience for the African Americans in his tour.

But as an historian of African and the African diaspora, he detected problems.

I am troubled by the historical erasures and narrow politics that these narratives convey.

1. Less than 1% of the Africans at Elmina Castle went to North America – they went to Brazil and the Caribbean.
2. Besides the few who did arrive in 1619, what about the “shipboard kin” who ended up in Mexico, Bermuda, and Jamaica?

Do efforts to claim a usable African American past reify elements of American hegemony and exceptionalism such narratives aim to dismantle?  

Can you sense the Woke backlash brewing?

But Sweet wasn’t done yet. He went on to call to task the Ghanaian tour guide spin on the Middle Passage.

The Elmina tour guide claimed that “Ghanaians” sent their “servants” into chattel slavery unknowingly.   

Doesn’t that sound like something from a Confederate textbook?

The guide made no reference to warfare or Indigenous slavery, histories that interrupt assumptions of ancestral connections between modern-day Ghanaians and visitors from the diaspora.

Think of the classic soap opera storyline where two people in love suddenly learn that they were siblings separated at infancy when put up for adoption. Now we have the situation where your Ghanaian ancestor enslaved my African ancestor and sold that person to Europeans. With all the African immigrants to the United States there are bound to have been some with ancestors who participated in the slave trade.

Sweet takes aim at an upcoming movie The Woman King that spins (whitewashes?) the African past.

In fact they [Dahomey’s female warriors and King Ghezo] promoted it [European slave trade]. Historicall accurate renderings of Asante or Dahomean greed and enslavement apparently contradict modern-day political imperatives.

In my blogs on historians and McCullough, I raised the point of academics telling the audience that their ancestors were monsters. Apparently here, the Africans who did the enslaving and slave trading with the Europeans, receive the same treatment the white people in The Pioneers received to the detriment of McCullough.

Sweet writes:

The erasure of slave-trading African empires in the name of political unity is uncomfortably like right-wing conservative attempts to erase slavery from school curricula in the United States, also in the name of unity.


The backlash for these presidential musings was fast and furious. I am not going to even attempt to recount them here. Keep in mind these comments occurred within the academic community where the newsletter was published. In other words, presentism was just like critical race theory – an academic construct not intended for the general public. Then critical race theory escaped from the academic lab thanks to one brief segment on Fox. Could that happen here with presentism?

The controversy continued over the weekend, when the AHA then restricting its Twitter account to prevent “trolls,” including white nationalist Richard Spencer, from commenting further on the matter.

“A conversation about history has been invaded by trolls uninterested in civil discourse in last 12 hrs. This is appalling. Therefore conversation is temporarily limited to our community. AHA condemns all harassment of members of our community & others who replied in good faith.”

It also led to the aforementioned online apology which may or may not appear in the next print version of the newsletter.

My September Perspectives on History column has generated anger and dismay among many of our colleagues and members. I take full responsibility that it did not convey what I intended and for the harm that it has caused. I had hoped to open a conversation on how we “do” history in our current politically charged environment. Instead, I foreclosed this conversation for many members, causing harm to colleagues, the discipline, and the Association….

I sincerely regret the way I have alienated some of my Black colleagues and friends. I am deeply sorry. In my clumsy efforts to draw attention to methodological flaws in teleological presentism, I left the impression that questions posed from absence, grief, memory, and resilience somehow matter less than those posed from positions of power. This absolutely is not true. It wasn’t my intention to leave that impression, but my provocation completely missed the mark.

Once again, I apologize for the damage I have caused to my fellow historians, the discipline, and the AHA. I hope to redeem myself in future conversations with you all. I’m listening and learning.


Jay Caspian Kang put the history contretemps in its place with some casually scathing putdowns:

Sweet found himself in the middle of one of the confusing messes that pop up from time to time in the highest reaches of academia…..

What followed was a seemingly harmless missive about presentism…

One should note that academic commenters on the Presidential message were “furious” and “in tears” for this “racist” and “damaging” writing. The call was not simply for an apology but for a retraction. Quite a contrast in reactions and an illustration of the disconnect between the history academic community and the “general public.” And Sweet tried so hard to be “sensitive” and still the response against him was intense.

Kang’s interest is in the precise history Sweet objects to. He asserts that a good Twitter thread will reach far more people and far more quickly than a documentary (yet alone a monograph).

Professor Sweet’s mistake is that he seems to believe that there is a type of real history — the exact type that’s produced by credentialed people in lofty spaces — actually should be used in this way…

In the real world, this means one bad Twitter thread also will reach far more people and more quickly (COVID hoax) as well. It also means the next David McCullough need only be an expert in social media and not have to write a book. Or why not watch Yellowstone and its prequel to learn about Montana history?

A few days later the second op-ed piece appeared by Bret Stephens. He wrote about Sweet’s “groveling apology” in response to “howls of protest on Twitter from left-wing academics.” Stephens suggests that Sweet “probably did not realize in the cancel culture we inhabit, apologies intended as bids for forgiveness are almost invariably taken as admissions of guilt.

Stephens then recounts the Elmina Castle material from the President’s message. Then he unloads:

… his column — which bent over backward to showcase his liberal bona fides — ignited the usual progressive furies. Anyone looking for further confirmation that modern academia has become a fundamentally ideological and coercive exercise masquerading as a scholarly and collegial one need to have looked no further. It will be interesting to see if Sweet manages to hold onto his post as the American Historical Association’s president.

Note to Stephens: The same issue of the newsletter lists the next President and other officers for the coming year.

Putting that aside, there are several observations which can be made.

1. The contretemps highlights the fears students on the wrong side of the culture wars must feel if by mistake or because of a requirement for their major they venture into the wrong class.

2. Sweet’s criticism in the Elmina Castle incident were primarily directed against the local tour guide, the tourists who expect a positive message when visiting a site (like a plantation), and moviemakers. None of them are really AHA scholars. He would have benefited from better editing to make the point.

3. Should Historians Leave the Ivory Tower and Become Social Advocates?: The Political Consequences (November 1, 2021) was the title of my blog about an article by Karlos K. Hill entitled “Community-Engaged History: A Reflection on the 100th Anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre” in American Historical Review. Hill doesn’t retreat from the idea that scholars should not be ivory-tower academics, he owns it.

4. “Presentism” is too strange a term to have the same impact as “critical race theory” in the culture wars.

5. The incident does not bode well for debate on culture war topics. As the 250th anniversary of the birth of the country approaches, AHA is not positioned to take a leadership role in the discussion about the event. There is nothing to suggest that the organization as whole has the necessary skills to negotiate the chasm which exists within the American people. Then again, who does?< Clearly Sweet touched a raw nerve among many members of the guild. One may anticipate that Project 1619 review similarly will lead to howls of anguish once the AHA forum is published. That contretemps is far more likely to explode into the general public arena given the school –board debates and political posturing which have occurred so far. Batten down the hatches

What Should You Call Middle Passage Descendants?

The Name Game by Shirley Ellis (


At first glance, the question of what name to use for Middle Passage descendants might seem like a strange one. After all, people have a name and for whatever reason that is, once they have a name, no matter what happens to them or how they are treated, that remains their name. That is the way it is for Armenians, Chinese, Irish, Italians, Jews, and all the 574 recognized Indian nations.

However, that is not the case with Middle Passage people. Their name has changed.

My father was born a Negro. Then he was black. Late in life, much to his discomfort, he became an African-American.

Everyone in this country who traces their ancestors back to Africa has experienced a panoply of racial identifiers over their lives, with some terms imposed and others embraced. In the course of a single day in 2020, I might be called black, African-American or a person of color. I’m also labeled, in a way that makes my brown skin crawl, as diverse, ethnic or a minority (Marc Lacey, the National editor of The New York Times, June 27, 2020 cited in my blog: John Lewis and “the Sad Demise and Eventual Extinction of the American Negro”: Erasing History (8/5/20).

Since Lacey’s message approximately 18 months ago, the name has changed again.

The constantly changing name for Middle Passage people poses a dilemma for historians and museums. What name do you use for such people? Do you use the historically accurate name from the time period of the people you are discussing – meaning the name they used themselves for self-identification – or do you use the name from the present and impose it on the past? Then what do you do if the name changes again in the present? Do you amend your article or book and change the exhibit labels to fit the current usage? Or do you keep the name you had even if it is now obsolete and a sign of backwardness?


Let me begin to answer these questions by turning to Tulsa in 1921 as an example. Previously I wrote about an article by Karlos K. Hill entitled “Community-Engaged History: A Reflection on the 100th Anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre” in The American Historical Review (Should Historians Leave the Ivory Tower and Become Social Advocates?: The Political Consequences). In that article, Hill quotes Booker T. Washington as dubbing the Greenwood District “the Negro Wall Street of America.” Holland Cotter in “A Monument of Past and Present” (NYT 6/5/21, print, 6/3/21 online) also refers to that designation by Washington. But in a multi-authored 5-page article in the same publication, “What Was Lost in the Tulsa Race Massacre” (5/30/21, print, 5/24/21 online), the authors refrain from using the Negro designation.

Turning back to the Hill article, Negro appears three other times. Washington is cited as being part of the National Negro Business League. White Tulsans are quoted as referring to the events there as a “negro rebellion.” Finally in a photograph showing the Greenwood District burning, someone wrote on the photograph itself, “Running the Negro out of Tulsa.” Clearly, the actual residents of the time called themselves “Negro.” But Hill never uses that designation himself to identify the people he is writing about. He uses the terminology of 2021, now 2022. In this case, the historian decided has he no obligation to use the name the people used themselves.

PS It should be noted that Hill, in the Department of African and African American Studies, never refers to the Middle Passage people in Tulsa as African Americans either. That term also is becoming obsolete: change your exhibit labels!


A similar scenario occurs in the article “The Rooms Where It Happened” by Sandra Garcia (NYT 10/17/21 print, 10/15/21 online) about the Harlem Y.M.C.A. in the early 20th century. In the article she refers to a painting titled “Evolution of Negro Dance.” She cites Langston Hughes calling the surrounding area “the Mecca of the New Negro” and quotes him a second time using that term. She even uses “Colored” here four times in reference to the Y.M.C.A. chapter. However, she never refers to the actual people themselves as Negroes.

PS She never calls them African Americans either. Say goodbye to that term. It has reached its expiry date. The demise of “Fifty Years an African American” will be the subject of a future blog.


In “What Thurgood Marshall Taught Me” by Stephen L. Carter, Yale School of Law (NYT 7/18/21 print, 7/14/21 online), he writes the following about Marshall:

When I went to work for him in the summer of 1980, the Judge was still using “Negro” to refer to the race. He hated the term “black” — back then spelled with a lowercase B — which had often been an opprobrious way of talking about the people to whose fight for equality he’d devoted his life. Whenever anyone raised the question (and for the most part nobody dared), he would answer that he’d spent his life fighting for the capital N in “Negro” and wasn’t going to let “a bunch of kids” (sometimes put more strongly) tell him what he should call himself.

Today we scarcely recall the titanic struggle over capitalizing “Negro.” The New York Times, for instance, didn’t make the change until 1930, when Marshall was already in his 20s. A number of newspapers waited until after Brown was decided.

A couple of years before his retirement, the Judge switched to “Afro-American,” but he never seemed comfortable with the term. Across the many hours we spent together during the final year of his life, “Negro” remained his descriptor of choice. He’s the reason I don’t consider the word an insult.

Thurgood Marshall reminds us that the words “Negro” and “slave” were not slurs or terms of insult and were freely used by Negroes and Middle Passage people until they were told otherwise. It should be noted that Afro-American referred to in the article also has been abandoned.


Consider three examples from Columbia University. The first is a repost of something I wrote over 3 years ago revised with examples from the American Historical Association (AHA). The second and third are from John McWhorter in a podcast this past October 14, 2021 and an op-ed column in the NYT on January 7, 2022.

History at Columbia University: Report from a Battle Front in the Culture Wars (4/10/18)

The first article [in the Columbia Daily Spectator] to catch my attention was the front page one entitled “When Professors Make Insensitive Comments, Who Speaks up?” The article recounted the experience of one of two nonwhite students in an American studies seminar last year (apparently the junior year of the student who spoke up). In that seminar the professor informed the class that when studying the 1960s, it was acceptable to use the word “Negroes” to refer to African Americans since that was the term even black people used then to refer themselves.

The student took offense to this usage and communicated it to the professor via email with associated links why the usage was offensive. There was no change in speaking by the professor according to the student and the student subsequently ceased paying attention in class. When contacted by the newspaper, the professor responded:

“It is in fact true, as a matter of historical record, that African Americans in the ‘50s and ‘60s wanted to be called ‘Negroes.’ Denying that practice would be a falsification of history.”

So what? The needs of the present trump the requirement for historical accuracy.

One should note, of course, that since then even the use of “African American has become problematic. While it is still permissible to use it, it is not the term one should use as the examples above show. Similarly the lowercase spelling of “black” is now unacceptable.

Two examples from the current issue of Perspectives on History published by the AHA show how some other history professors avoid doing what the Columbia history professor did. The first example is James H. Sweet, the president of the organization. In his column, he refers to “’20 and odd’ Africans” in Jamestown in 1619. Notice what he did. The historically correct wording from the primary source document refers to “Negroes” and not “Africans.” Sweet knows this. He deliberately avoided using that term. This is an example of self-censorship. When else does he do it?

The very next article raises a similar question. The article by James Grossman, the Executive Director of AHA, and Waldo E. Martin is a tribute to historian Leon Litwack, died 2021 at age 91. They refer to his book North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States, 1790-1860, published in 1961, as pathbreaking study still assigned undergraduates today. Later they refer to Litwack talking about “Black Americans as agents of history, an agency that battled and ultimately transcended victimization.”  This concept of seeing Middle Passage people as people of agency is an important one. They devote the paragraph to the importance of choosing words carefully as part of the learning process. Yet Litwack was about 41 when he published his pathbreaking book about Negroes and undoubtedly it was the word he used for decades as Judge Marshall did. One wonders if teachers using his book with “Negro” in the title self-censor also. Suppose, for example, a teacher decided to replace the term “Civil War” in texts with “War of Northern Aggression”? What message are historians delivering when they replace the words used in history and/or by scholars with their own preferred terminology?

Woke Words With John McWhorter, a Times Virtual Event (10/14/21)

In this podcast, The New York Times columnist and Columbia University professor examined four words that had been submitted by the public for review. One of them was Negro. The questioner, whom McWhorter knew, asked if Negro had become the new N word which is not to be spoken out loud. The source was her college-student son [Marshall’s “bunch of kids”] who had informed her that it become taboo which surprised her.

McWhorter’s response was an emphatic (in a mild-manner way) decisive “NO.” He stated that the word “Negro” is not going to be reclassified as a slur. Yes, the word should not be used to refer to Middle Passage descendants today, that would be “tacky.” However, it is a historically-valid name that is not a slur. It is the word the Middle Passage descendants used themselves as a name for themselves and their organizations. He notes that if one is studying the history and literature of the Middle Passage people they are going to encounter the word citing Martin Luther King and some writers as examples. He objects to the idea that a professor should treat the word as a slur. He categorically asserts that there is “No way on my watch… shall we decide that the word Negro is a slur.”  He certainly is not going to tell his older relatives who grow up as Negroes that the very word these living people used for decades to refer to themselves is a slur.

I Can’t Brook the Idea of Banning ‘Negro’ by John McWhorter (1/7/22)

McWhorter returned to this topic over concern over recent developments that necessitated a reaffirmation of his position.

I wrote recently that William Dawson’s “Negro Folk Symphony” is “smashing,” one of the most stirring pieces of classical music I know. But I hear from an experienced conductor that several orchestras have turned down his requests to perform or record it with them, out of wariness of the word “Negro” in its title.

He objects to this cancelling of a work of art due to its containing the word “Negro” in the title.

McWhorter is well aware that people have now defined “Negro” to be a racial slur. He cites some examples of this behavior in his column and fights back. Even though people freely referred to themselves throughout most of the 20th century as Negroes, he recognizes:

The new idea seems to be that saying or writing “Negro” is not simply archaic, but a contemptuous insult in all contexts.

He goes on to note:

… its usage persists in hallowed names such as the United Negro College Fund and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. The precursor organization to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (note the outdated “Colored” even there) was the National Negro Committee….“Negro” was, for example, a default expression in the writings and speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. Must we place it out of bounds any time a non-Black person recites or refers to King’s words?

McWhorter wonders

What purpose does it serve to generate this new lexical grievance? I’m not saying we should revert to everyday use of “Negro” — it is indeed out of date. But does Black America [ed. He does not use the term “African American” either] need yet another word to take umbrage at and police the usage of? Do we, in Black America, need fellow travelers — sorry, allies — to join us in this new quest, eager to assist in the surveillance out of some misguided sense that this is “doing the work”?

One also wonders how many Black people, beyond a certain anointed cohort, really find the reading aloud of the word “Negro” from an old text offensive. In the Vermont controversy, for instance, the state librarian at the time, Jason Broughton, who is Black, pushed back on the contention that the word “Negro” in itself is racist.

McWhorter is fighting a valiant but losing battle. He reminds me of Joe Biden through most of his presidency so far thinking that it was possible for Republicans and Democrats to work together. Not in this reality. Of course, as adamant as McWhorter is, it is the college snowflakes and not his ancestors who are the wave of the future. McWhorter can bemoan the “certain anointed cohort” all he wants and it won’t do any good. He can bemoan the dismissal of the arts by Negroes all he wants and it won’t do any good.

This weekend, the nation pays homage to one of the greatest users of racial slurs in American history. Think of the all roads that now need to be renamed if we are to be purified. Think of the all the buildings that now need to be renamed if we are to be cleansed. Think of all the statues that now need to be toppled if we are to be corrected. We are required to censor ourselves. There was slavery and then there was the Civil Rights era. The time in between and the people alive then have no name.


Before turning to the next iteration for Middle Passage people, it is necessary to examine how white people destroyed Negro communities in the post-WW II era.

National Award-Winning Play (2019) by Stacey Rose performed at the Barrington Stage Company


Should Historians Leave the Ivory Tower and Become Social Advocates?: The Political Consequences


Should historians leave the ivory tower and become social advocates? The question was raised in the current issue of American Historical Review (AHR) in an article by Karlos K. Hill entitled “Community-Engaged History: A Reflection on the 100th Anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.” Much of the article chronicles the author’s own participation in the commission for that anniversary. Those actions are not the subject of this post. Instead, his comments about the role of the historian are.


The first part of the article describes the actions of one hundred years ago and some afterwards. Part II of the article begins with:

THERE IS A GREAT DEAL OF DISAGREEMENT about how historians should best engage with their communities and with the communities impacted by the histories they study.

Hill then refers to an earlier exchange in AHR on “Historians and Native American and Indigenous Studies.” That exchange was the subject of two previous blogs here Native American and Indigenous Studies: Another Culture Wars Episode and Violence and Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS). Hills takes issue with historian David Silverman’s criticisms of the other scholars in this exchange and adds:

…his anxiety over what is rigorous, objective history gets to the heart of what I have been mulling. I suggest that as historians we can do legitimate scholarship that advances the field while simultaneously engaging our communities in ways that confront and address the present-day legacies of anti-Black violence and racial injustice. Working on the history of the Tulsa massacre has shown me that community-engaged history is not methodologically dubious; it is substantive and effectual.

Fair enough. Historians disagree on the value of a certain investigative approach and of the potential dangers of bringing personal agendas into community-engaged history particularly if the scholar is a member of the community. However Hill overlooks the consequences if that approach is applied in other communities such as a Confederate one.

Hill then adds a new wrinkle to the debate:

I write this as a scholar whose identity has evolved to be in service to the community. A few years ago, I had reached a point where conferences and papers and books were not enough to keep my passion alive. I found myself asking, How does scholarship live in the world, connected to real-world issues for my community that are complex and unique?

As I read this, Hill is stating that a scholar should do exactly what Silverman criticized scholars for doing.

But each historian has different subject expertise, a different skill set, and different passions, and therefore being a catalyst for progressive, inclusive social change will differ for each of us, depending on where we are situated.

Again, as I read Hill, he presupposes that historians should be advocates for progressive inclusive change. The only difference is that different historians will advocate for different communities based on their different expertise and passions. The concept of “ivory tower” scholarship or “objective” scholarship has been cast aside.

Hill arrived at this point based on his own personal experiences.

I am tired. I am burned out because of the realities of being a Black man in America and being a Black scholar in academia in Oklahoma. I am burned out because the American history I study is violent and difficult even though it is so important….   And yet here I am. I persist in doing work as a historian that I think is essential for healing and change.

Hill is quite open about his definition of a historian: the historian should be a catalyst for progressive and inclusive social change to heal the historian’s community.

He declares that:

we (historians) possess tremendous power to promote social justice in ways that align with community goals, healing, and identity making.

He is especially concerned with what is taught is schools and what is taught to the teachers who teach in those schools. In Section III, Hill observes that in Oklahoma, while Tulsa now is included in the social studies standards, “there has been no statewide effort to create a curriculum to teaching it.” The rest of the section includes his recounting of his teacher-training workshops to address that shortcoming. He concludes with:

What is it that people are really asking? The answer that I am sitting with and mulling right now is this: Accurate, engaging history of racial violence that is rooted in the real needs of community members who are still feeling the tremors of the horror triggers people to imagine a future that they never had thought possible before. And in enabling that kind of reimagining, it also enables self-actualization.

Add “self- actualization” of the community to the job description of historians.

In the final section, Hill reflects on the lessons the learned from his experience with the commission. One methodological lesson was in the value and difficulty of teamwork. It is difficult because “Not many of us learned in our PhD programs how to conduct collaborative research.” Here is a specific change recommendation. I wonder if there is a difference in the training of public historians than for academic historians. Public historians are not trained to be “ivory-tower” historians and have more experience working the communities their museums and history organizations serve than do academic historians.

Hill observes that his “work with the Centennial Commission has reaffirmed for me the tremendous power historians have to effect societal change.” His final thoughts express the path he believes historians should take:

Social change occurs because I know they care, and I believe they will live in the world differently because of the community we have built. In my view, this is what historians can do to help bring about social justice. Our most important credential in building relationships with the community is not our expert knowledge but our desire to serve.

Historians should serve the community.

Hill shows himself to be a strong proponent of mandates provided they are the right ones. After all, suppose the views of anther community are diametrically opposed to the progressive inclusive social change advocated by Hill? Doesn’t that community have the same right for historians to serve them? Then it becomes a battle to the death in local school board elections everywhere or at the state level such as in Virginia.


What makes a mandate good or bad is in the eye of the beholder. In the current issue of Perspectives on History” by the American Historical Association (AHA) [Yes, I am a member and receive print copies of these two publications], James Grossman and Beth English, the executive directors of the AHA and the Organization of American Historians (OAH) respectively co-authored an article on combatting misinformation. Their concern was that “The Integrity of History Education Is at Stake.”

They reported that AHA and OAH were part of a coalition of over 25 organizations called “Learn from History.” The goal of the coalition is to

combat deliberate misinformation about the current state of history education and the ways that historians write about and teach the centrality of racism to the evolution of American institutions. 

This coalition was not the first foray of AHA and OAH into the political arena. Previously they had joined 147 organizations

…to condemn legislation that was introduced or enacted in 27 state legislatures with the aim of discouraging or prohibiting the straightforward coverage of topics in which issues of racism, sexism, and other “divisive” concepts arise.

The coalition expressed concern for teachers who face retribution for daring to defy such mandates. They “oppose cynical, politically motivated attempts to misrepresent what is taught in history classrooms…”

Welcome to the political arena. These history organizations are now officially part of the culture wars as warriors against the Trumpicans. There are consequences to that political stand.


To complete this trifecta of AHA publications, I turn to “A Snapshot of the Public’s Views on History” from the website. Here is a snapshot of the lessons learned from the survey.

First, our respondents had consistent views on what history is—and those views often ran counter to those of practicing historians. Whereas the latter group usually sees the field as one offering explanations about the past, two-thirds of our survey takers considered history to be little more than an assemblage of names, dates, and events…. In sum, poll results show that, in the minds of our nation’s population, raw facts cast a very long shadow over the field of history and any dynamism therein.

Social change, actualization, progressive inclusion were not attributes associated with historians. Hill would agree hence his call for a change in historians.

We also learned that the places the public turned to most often for information about the past were not necessarily the sources it deemed most trustworthy.

The top three sources involved films and TV in some manner. College courses and history lectures ranked towards the bottom. Visits to historic sites and museums were in the middle. Fortunately for the history profession, when it came to the trustworthiness of the various venues, the results were reversed. Museums and history organizations were held in high regard and films and TV not so much. One caveat I would add, is that people nationwide can see the same movies and TV shows and remember them while visitations tend to be local and smaller scale. I venture to say people know more about Spartacus from Hollywood than history.

As historians become political advocates for their community and take a stand in the cultural wars, the inevitable consequence is to jeopardize that aura of trustworthiness.

Another key point from my perspective is the correlation between what people think history is and the way history is taught. History is not simply an assemblage of names, dates, and events but if that is the way it is taught then that is how it will be defined by students who become adult voters.

So what are the lessons to be learned from this perusal of recent publications by the American Historical Association?

1. Historians are warriors in culture wars.
2. Historians accept the concept of legislated mandates provided they are the right ones.
3. In a community-based history approach, historians have the right to serve both Confederate and Union communities.
4. Every school board election is or will be a battlefield.
5 .To change the meaning of history to the public requires changing the way it is taught as a series of facts (dates, names, places).

The national narrative has unraveled. It will continue to do so as we approach July 4, 2026. And the country will unravel as well as separate communities teach separate truths and no one develops a national narrative for the 21st century.

“Indigenous” versus “Indian”: What Word Should Be Used?

This blog is a continuation of a study deriving from an “Exchange” in the journal of the American Historical Association. The title of the Exchange is “Living with the Past: Thoughts on Community Collaboration and Difficult History in Native American and Indigenous Studies.” It consisted of a review of two books on King Philips War (1676) and one organization, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA).

The first blog I wrote on this Exchange addressed the critique of and the defense of the NAISA and its scholarship by the participants (Native American and Indigenous Studies: Another Culture Wars Episode).

The second blog on this Exchange, Violence and Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS), focused on the subject of violence in one of the two reviewed books. For whatever reason, the author of that book did not participate in the Exchange while the author of the other book did. The absence of the author’s participation meant the accusations about the shortcomings in the scholarship were not refuted.

In this blog, I wish to address a topic not included in the Exchange but implicit in it. This has to do with the terminology used by the scholars, specifically the words “Indigenous” and “Indian.” In many instances the author has no choice – the reference is to an organization, conference, book or article title which has the word “Indigenous” or “Indian” in it. I did not scrutinize the Exchange to differentiate between when the use of a term was the author’s choice or not. In 32+ pages of the journal, the word “Indigenous” was used 110 times. In the same space the word “Indian” was used 34 times. This roughly 3:1 ratio is not a scientific experiment. I suspect many of the 34 times the word “Indian” was used in the Exchange was because the author had no choice, for example if one was referring to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian or the American Indian Quarterly. The question I have, in baseball terms, is what is the value added in the use of “Indigenous” over “Indian”? What is the reason for the change?


Speaking of the NMAI, I had the opportunity to participate in three online presentations by the NMAI since I read the Exchange. In all three instances, an immediate question raised or anticipated was what to call “Indians.” Since many of the participants were teachers and the NMAI specifically was reaching out to the education community in these programs, the urgency and immediacy of this question suggests that teachers do not want to commit a politically incorrect faux pas and be hauled off before the Thought Police by a white parent of a white student claiming insensitive and disrespectful language is being used in the classroom.

The NMAI is well aware of the situation. It even has prepared a “cheat’ sheet teachers can use. In general terms the Indian and white instructors in these sessions say that the people prefer to be called who are they are whatever that particular tribe or nation name happens to be. This makes sense.  One says Japanese-American about an American citizen of Japanese descent for instance. When referring to people collectively, say not to Polish-Americans but to all Americans of European descent, then the preferred terms according to the NMAI are American Indian, Indian, Native American, or Native which can be used interchangeably.

NMAI is aware that the term “Native” can be problematic. The reason is Americans born in the United States are native Americans as well (see If You Are a Native New Yorker, Are You a Native American?: The Weaponization of “Native” and the Culture Wars). In fact, since I started writing this blog I have come across multiple attestations of people being referred to as native New Yorkers or of a particular borough. True, one person’s ancestors can have been a Native American earlier than when your immigrant ancestors first had a child born in the United States, but one’s “nativeness” is determined at your birth, not by you parents or distant ancestors. At some level the NMAI may be aware that privileging one group as more “Native American” than another group can be a micro aggression to a non-Indian person born in America.

Strangely enough, the term “Indigenous” did not come up in these sessions as a suggested name for Indians. For more on this topic see Warrior, R., “Indian,” in B. Burgett and G. Hendler (eds.), Keywords for American Cultural Studies (2014). Personally, I think “Turtle Island people” or “Turtle-Island-Americans” would be a more respectful name. It draws on the actual Indian culture without privileging it.


The question remains what is the value added of the term “Indigenous” instead of “Indian”? One may also add what the purpose was in the invention of the term in the first place?

Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians out of Existence in New England is a book by Jean O’Brien who participated in the Exchange. The description of the book is:

Across nineteenth-century New England, antiquarians and community leaders wrote hundreds of local histories about the founding and growth of their cities and towns. Ranging from pamphlets to multivolume treatments, these narratives shared a preoccupation with establishing the region as the cradle of an Anglo-Saxon nation and the center of a modern American culture. They also insisted, often in mournful tones, that New England’s original inhabitants, the Indians, had become extinct, even though many Indians still lived in the very towns being chronicled. This book argues that local histories became a primary means by which European Americans asserted their own modernity while denying it to Indian peoples. Erasing and then memorializing Indian peoples also served a more pragmatic colonial goal: refuting Indian claims to land and rights. Drawing on more than six hundred local histories from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island written between 1820 and 1880, as well as censuses, monuments, and accounts of historical pageants and commemorations, the book explores how these narratives inculcated the myth of Indian extinction, a myth that has stubbornly remained in the American consciousness. (Bold added)

In the book there are no uses of the term “Indigenous” and 7 examples of “indigenous.” That suggests to me the usage is based on the traditional meaning as native to a place. Exactly when “indigenous” shifted to being “Indigenous,” I don’t know. The book also uses the term “Indian” approximately 1500 times. Evidently there was no problem in the Indian author using the term “Indian” and no obligation to use “Indigenous.”

On the book jacket, Philip J. Deloria, who also was part of the Exchange, wrote:

Driven by a creative reading of hundreds of local histories, Jean M. O’Brien’s Firsting and Lasting reinvigorates the old question of the ‘vanishing Indian‘ in surprising ways, taking readers into the contradictions surrounding race and modernity, and offering an ur-history of the politics of tribal termination, dual citizenship, and cultural politics.

Deloria is the author of the three books Playing Indian, Indians in Unexpected Places, and Becoming Mary Sully: Toward an American Indian Abstract.

The book jacket description of the book is:

In Firsting and Lasting, Jean M. O’Brien argues that local histories became a primary means by which European Americans asserted their own modernity while denying it to Indian peoples. Erasing and then memorializing Indian peoples also served a more pragmatic colonial goal: refuting Indian claims to land and rights. Drawing on more than six hundred local histories from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island written between 1820 and 1880, as well as censuses, monuments, and accounts of historical pageants and commemorations, O’Brien explores how these narratives inculcated the myth of Indian extinction, a myth that has stubbornly remained in the American consciousness.

 This description provides a constructive basis for individual historical societies in both the three states mentioned and elsewhere to examine how the Indian stories in their own communities have been dismissed, ignored or erased. That is consistent with my previously stated view that historical societies should tell the story of their land from Ice Age to Global Warming. The identification of the Indian history would seem to be a productive undertaking although I doubt most individual historical societies have the resources to do so or that there sufficient number of experts who can be consulted to help them.


Unfortunately, local historical societies may not have gotten the message that it is acceptable to investigate the Indian history in their own community. Here is one example.

“Village Erasing ‘Indian’” was the front page headline of an article in The Freemans Journal, Cooperstown, New York. It seems that a Village trustee noticed the wording on a history marker at Council Rock, an Indian meeting place where the Susquehanna River flows out of Otsego Lake. The resident was shocked to see the text was: “Council Rock: Famous Meeting Place of the Indians.” The Trustee was aghast saying:

“I was shocked that I hadn’t noticed it previously. The sign refers to Native Americans as ‘Indians.’ It’s racially insensitive and incorrect, and it needs to be updated.”

That outrage sparked another Trustee to voice concern about another sign about the Indian Grave a few blocks from the meeting.

The first Trustee expressed concern about “this moment of social awareness and racial awareness” in the United States and called for contacting the New York State Department of Education responsible for state history markers. It was felt that the village needed to get out ahead of the “problem.”

A more intelligent Trustee commented that the “we shouldn’t assume what is politically correct or culturally correct. We need to do our due diligence.” This comment demonstrates the elevation of politically correct standards as the basis for rendering a decision. Think about that for a moment. A village government acknowledged that it was obligated to comply with politically correct standards even though Indians have expressed no objection to the term. The only issue for the village was the determination of what those standards was.

The reporter concluded the article with the droll comment that “The Indian Hunter” statue, the most famous statue in the village, was not mentioned during the deliberations.

As one might expect, the June 22, 2020, meeting led to a community response on the newspaper’s website. Here are some salient remarks.

1. One resident expressed the notion that to be truly sensitive to Native Americans meant returning the lands in Cooperstown taken from them. He suggested starting with the lakefront homes of one Trustee and the mother of a second Trustee.
2. One anonymous resident went to the NMAI website showing the information reported above. It noted the acceptability of the term “Indian” and the preference to call Indians by their tribal name.
3. A third resident responded to the oversight of not mentioning the Indian hunter statue. After all, hunting depicts Native Americans in a stereotypical appearance that could offend someone. [Apparently hunters are an offensive image to Indians. Indeed it is hard to image any culture anywhere at any time having a hunter as a hero.] This person went on to call for the removal of the statue of James Fenimore Cooper and changing the names of Fenimore Park, Fenimore Museum, and Cooperstown itself. After all, who knows what might be offensive to someone in the future. Ironically this article appeared in the local paper [yes, one still exists in Cooperstown] right next to right my blog Schuyler Owned People: Should Schuylerville Change Its Name? which the paper had published. This resident may have been speaking tongue-in-cheek as the comment ended: “Better to take it all down and change all the names. George Orwell would be proud.”
4. One resident was rather upset. “Who in the hell said ‘Indian’ is racist? No white person has that right? And it if was offensive, don’t you think it would have been changed years ago.”

The reference may also have to a previous village project which involved working with Mohawks and Oneidas where the issue of “Indian” hadn’t been raised.

The answer to the resident’s question about who determined the word Indian is racist would seem to be white people, not all white people, just some white people as this editorial states in discussing a related issue on the use of the term “Native American.”

Native American vs. American Indian: Political correctness dishonors traditional chiefs of old

This editorial by the Native Sun News Editorial Board (Sioux) in Rapid City, South Dakota began with that question and an answer.

Who decided for us that we should be called “Native Americans?”

It was the mainstream media of course….

The activist Russell Means preferred the name American Indian. He would say that just as you have Mexican Americans, African Americans, or Asian Americans, you should have American Indians….

During the activist days of the 1960s and 70s the U. S. Government responded to the activists’ protests by proposing the term “Native American.” And so the anti-government activists decided to accept the name Native American, a name suggested by the United States Government, a government that they despised. Say what?

That sad part of this entire fiasco is that so many of the so-called “elitist Indians” have allowed themselves to be bullied into using the name “Native Americans” and even “Native” by a white media that seems to have set the agenda for what we should be called. [The questions then to be asked is why did these white people did this and since whites are the dominant culture, what can Indians do to resist?]

One elderly Lakota man from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation said recently, “If some Indians want to be called Native Americans or Natives, let them be called that, but I was born an Indian and I shall die an Indian. [This comment matches the words of Marc Lacey, the National editor of The New York Times: My father was born a Negro. Then he was black. Late in life, much to his discomfort, he became an African-American (John Lewis and “the Sad Demise and Eventual Extinction of the American Negro”: Erasing History).

So if you travel to any Indian reservation out west you will soon discover that nearly all of the indigenous people refer to themselves as “Indian,” especially the elders who are still fluent in their Indian language. As Chief Oliver Red Cloud said a few years before he died, “I am Lakota and I am Indian.”

As an Indian newspaper we must be very careful that what we call ourselves is not dictated to us by the white media. We have been Indians for a few hundred years and the name carries our history. Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Little Wound (Read their quotes) all called themselves “Indian” and they said it with pride. Should we dishonor them by saying they were wrong?

Political correctness be damned: We will use “Indian” if and when we choose. We will not be intimidated by the politically correct bunch or the white media.

The question raised by the teachers and the debate in Cooperstown suggest if Indians have not been intimidated by the politically correct, then non-Indians have. That still leaves open the question of the value added by using the term “Indigenous” instead of Indian.

To be continued.

Building Bridges between Historians and K-12 History Teachers

This post continues the report on the education session from the annual conference of the American Historical Association. It derives from a blog by Sari Beth Rosenberg. She is a U.S. history teacher and writer in New York City. Shei helped write the new social studies high school curriculum for the New York City Department of Education and is also a frequent curriculum consultant at New-York Historical Society. Specifically she wrote about a session on January 5th at 8:30AM organized by the AHA Teaching Division, “The Role of History Educators in a Time of Crisis.” The first part of the session was covered in the previous post The American Historical Association: Status Report on the Field of History This post covers the other presenters.

Joe Schmidt (New York City Department of Education)’s Passport to Historian-History Teacher Collaboration

He explained that he views curriculum and curriculum development as an important forum for teachers and historians to work together. That has been a major part of the model for the New York City Department of Education teacher-created curriculum. Schmidt shared the process in creating the Passport to Social Studies, the NYC DOE teacher-created curriculum aligned with the 2014 NYSED Social Studies framework as well as the New York City Social Studies Scope and Sequence. So far, the Social Studies team has created curriculum for K-10 (45 unit guides total).Grades 11-12 are expected to be completed by the end of the year.

This description hones in on a critical element in the education process: control over the curriculum. Typically at conferences one learns about what one teacher or one historical society did. Such efforts live and die with the one teacher or principal who supports such cooperation. Not even all the teachers in a single grade in a single school or school system may join in. And when the initiating teacher leaves, the initiative dies. Rarely is the presentation about a school system or district change yet alone a state-wide change. Here it would seem that New York City can go its own way, an option few school districts have.

Schmidt shared that the key to creating the curriculum was a shift to focusing on pedagogical content knowledge, where history educators translate historical research results into developmentally-appropriate material for students. Therefore, a major change in the new curriculum is a greater focus on historical thinking as the foundation, not having students memorize a laundry list of facts. To help teachers and students with this change, Schmidt and the curriculum team created a series of Historical Thinking Skills Tools. These one-to-three page organizers help scaffold students work with historical concepts, including “Continuity and Change Over Time” as well as “Turning Points.” For example, the Turning Points Tool allows students to not just say why a particular moment was a turning point, but it also challenges them to unpack if it was a turning point and the implications of this in history.

Aside from bridging the work of historians into the curriculum used by history teachers, Schmidt hosts a series of History Book Talks, open to all New York City social studies teachers. Over the years, he has invited many high-profile historians, including Joanne Freeman, Kevin Kruse, Julian Zelizer, and Kevin Gannon, to discuss their work with history teachers, often resulting in a lively Q&A, where both content and pedagogy are discussed. These book talks are a successful model of how to forge connection as well as collaboration between teachers and historians.

I applaud the bringing in scholars to talk to the teachers. Obviously not every teacher in the NYC school system could attend. Nor can such scholars visit every school system. In the IHARE Teacherhostels/Historyhostels where we visited historic sites, guest presentations by scholars were part of the program. Again, not every teacher can attend such programs and I felt constrained as to how often I could invite a scholar to participate without abusing my welcome. What this highlights is not only the need to change the curriculum, specifically for local and state history, but to change the teacher training. If the certification and professional development process required learning about local and state history, then one would not need to invite the luminaries; the colleges offering undergraduate and graduate credit would be obligated to teach local and state history as part of the certification process. Similarly the professional development programs would do the same.

In the general discussion, Schmidt shared that part of his job is reaching out to historians every day, oftentimes cold calling them. Nine times out of ten they respond to his calls. He encouraged classroom teachers to reach out to nearby colleges and universities.

How often do you get called by a teacher?

Trevor Getz (San Francisco State University)’s Inside Scoop on How the “Economy of the Academy” is Affecting Pedagogy

As a history professor, Getz was able to provide more insight as to why pedagogy is often ignored at the university level. He shared that he thought he was a good teacher based solely on the fact that his “student evaluation scores were high.” Getz did not really “engage with history education” until getting involved with the development of the New York City Department of Education Passport curriculum. Only in that capacity did Getz begin learning about backward-design and the other mainstays of curriculum development. He revealed: “We (as college faculty) get very little professional development.” In fact, if a college professor does end up getting sent to a PD in pedagogy, it is punishment for low student evaluation scores.

Getz explained that integral to understanding why pedagogy is essentially ignored at the university level, one must understand the “economy of the academy”: a system solely based on getting your research published, in particular “the monograph.” As long as you have reasonable teacher evaluation scores, your main focus in academia is based around your research. This system makes it so that historians do not value conversations with teachers where they can talk and learn about pedagogy. Since there is little to no interaction between the two parties, the survey courses taught at the college level “deviate very little from high school standards.” For the most part, professors do not take into account what students might have already learned in high school.” What ends up happening is that the history survey courses are a terrible introduction to learning about history on the college level. Getz concluded his remarks with this important point: “Without vertical integration between teachers and university faculty, we do not get a sense of how to move from 9-12 to 13-16 grades.”

One common if not standard session now at history conferences involves careers outside the tenure academic track. These sessions are for the graduate students facing dismal hiring prospects for the traditional college professor position. They also acknowledge the publish or perish mantra that dominates the profession. One problem is the skill of history professors as teachers in their own undergraduate classes. Subject knowledge does not equate to teaching skill to impart that knowledge to others. A related challenge is teaching k-12 history teachers to be effective as k-12 history teachers. These skills don’t rank high in the university arena.

Getz explained that until a cultural shift happens at the college and university level, professors won’t deviate from the existing system. However, he cited AHA’s Gateway Project as being at the forefront of change.

In the discussion, Martell, covered in the previous blog, emphasized that universities need to incentivize history professors to work in schools and make it a part of their work to collaborate with K-12 teachers. However, he stressed that it is crucial to teach content and pedagogy together.

One way to reach teachers was online through blogs.

Martell suggested that since teachers don’t have time to use whole texts in their classes, historians can publish a short blog piece when they publish a longer article.

Schmidt added that this is a great idea as long as historians add citations to the abbreviated blog pieces.

I think this is an exciting idea. Fulltime teachers tend not to have time for book-length studies or academic articles assuming they even had access to them (see the previous blog for that issue).  If school districts and/or state education departments identified specific topics based on the curriculum where teachers would benefit from say, 1000 word blogs, that would spread the scholarship far beyond the teachers who could be reached in a classroom. Admittedly, Martell and Schmidt probably were thinking of national issues and not state and local ones. But consider the possibilities. Suppose a scholar wrote about such centennial issues as women’s suffrage or prohibition. Then the local scholar could write about what they meant in the individual community. Of course there always would be the risk of a student learning that great-grandpa opposed the women’s’ vote or operated a speakeasy! Not only would such blogs provide content information, they also would serve as models for high school students as to what a term paper should look like.

Lots of things are possible but without the support of the people who control the curriculum, everything is likely to be piecemeal and ephemeral.


The American Historical Association: Status Report on the Field of History

The American Historical Society (AHA) held its annual conference earlier this month. In addition, it has released some messages of interest. In this blog, I cover two news items and part of a conference session on “Building Bridges Between Historians and K-12 History Teachers.” The news items are:

1. Making history information more accessible to the history community even if one is not a member of a given organization or institution (like a college).
2. The status of history majors today.

From the Executive Director

Research Access and Scholarly Equity

James Grossman and Becky Nicolaides | Jan 10, 2020

Access to research materials—both print and digital—is crucial for any historian engaged in scholarship and teaching. For historians working outside of well-resourced colleges and universities, gaining access to these materials has become increasingly difficult, particularly with the increasing breadth and depth of commercial databases often accessible only to scholars affiliated with a well-resourced university.

This trend is an often-overlooked aspect of the changing landscape of historical research. More and more research material has been digitized by commercial database companies, who then control its dissemination. These firms rely on institution-to-institution contracts with large, well-funded university libraries. Historians working within these universities have full access, while those on the outside are excluded, placing them at a severe disadvantage in their ability to produce first-rate scholarship and excel as teachers. For a complex set of reasons, providers rarely offer individual subscriptions to scholarly databases. At the same time, contracts with vendors often make it difficult (or even impossible) for libraries to grant access to individuals outside these institutions. These structural barriers create difficult challenges for many historians….

Faculty with inadequate access cannot keep up with the latest scholarship for teaching and have circumscribed access to the primary sources that enliven a classroom and stand at the center of highly regarded history pedagogy….

Many independent scholars, museum professionals, public historians, and K–12 educators share the common status of nonaffiliation with a university, which excludes them from remote access to important databases. Recent degree recipients are cut off from library access upon graduation, impeding their ability to continue research and publication to better situate them in job markets or continue their research activity regardless of where they are employed….

The AHA encourages history departments to provide full library access to their own scholar alumni and to unaffiliated historians in their regions. History departments and academic units can play a positive role by supporting the scholarship of their alumni and by bringing more unaffiliated scholars into their orbit. Providing these historians a university affiliation—whether as a visiting scholar or by whatever means is feasible—will help close the gap between those with and without adequate research access. These actions will enable every historian to fully realize their potential as scholars and contributors to our discipline.

To read more click here.

History Enrollments Hold Steady as Department Efforts Intensify

Results of the 2019 AHA Enrollment Survey

Julia Brookins and Emily Swafford | Jan 15, 2020

Ask any department chair, and most faculty, what the most vexing data point during the academic year is and the most likely answer would be “enrollments.” In a data-obsessed age when it seems everything is tracked and analyzed, few data points matter as much in higher education as enrollments. For many institutions, department funding is tied directly to enrollment numbers. Courses that don’t meet minimum enrollment requirements are canceled, snarling the distribution of teaching responsibilities among faculty and narrowing the intellectual range in the curriculum. Fluctuations in enrollments and majors—a close relative of enrollments data—are cited as reasons to create or cancel tenure lines. A lot is riding on what academic slang calls “butts in seats.”…

Nonetheless, the AHA’s survey continues to identify strategies faculty can use, in conjunction with administrative partners, to address the lackluster trends. Respondents with stable or increasing enrollments described several concrete strategies to attract students. These included offering more online courses, hiring charismatic junior faculty members to teach new courses that students find exciting, and expanding departmental recruitment activities. In addition, successfully recruiting majors and minors, as might be expected, had a positive effect on overall enrollment.

To read more click here.

The Role of History Educators in a Time of Crisis: Building Bridges Between Historians and K-12 History Teachers

The following is excerpted from a blog by Sari Beth Rosenberg. The author is doing what I do when I write about the proceedings of conferences. She is doing so at the direct request of the AHA.  She is a U.S. history teacher and writer in New York City. Sari helped write the new social studies high school curriculum for the New York City Department of Education and is also a frequent curriculum consultant at New-York Historical Society. Specifically she wrote about a session on January 5th at 8:30AM organized by the AHA Teaching Division, “The Role of History Educators in a Time of Crisis.” The panel was chaired by Joe Schmidt (New York City Department of Education) in conversation with Trevor Getz (San Francisco State University), Christopher Martell (University of Massachusetts Boston), and Judith Jeremie (Brooklyn Technical High School). She writes that she left the session determined to redouble her efforts in finding more ways for historians and history teachers to join forces in meaningful ways. This is a subject near and dear to me. See most recently County Historian’s Roundtable: Lessons from Putnam County.

Chris Martell’s Two-Way Bridge Between Historians and Teachers 

Based on his paper, “A Two-Way Bridge: Building Better Partnerships between Historians and History Teachers/Teacher Educators,” Martell’s main message was that we need to move from historian/history teacher interaction to collaboration. That means we need to start presenting at each other’s conferences [see Putnam County blog] and utilize more digital platforms for sharing our resources and teaching strategies. He began by discussing how there are a few thousand self-identified historians and professors in the United States, but there are currently 1.1 million elementary school teachers. These educators are often overlooked when we talk about who teaches history. Meanwhile, beginning in 2008, we have experienced the steepest decline in history majors. Considering that 18% of 300,000 history majors report they wish to pursue careers in K-12 education, this does not bode well for the future of public education. How do we stoke the flames of enthusiasm for the study of history?

Martell’s answer is to partner history teachers with historians. In his studies, he found that K-12 history teachers often struggle to keep their content updated with the latest research and struggle to find helpful resources. They find historians inaccessible, most school-based professional development is not focused on content, and most of the history journals are not open-sourced. Martell realized that social media has become the new territory to best improve interactions between historians and history teachers. In response, he started a social media campaign, #BridgingHistoriansandTeachers, to get historians and history teachers to follow one another. It has been an effective venture thus far. In thirty days, Martell followed 42 historians. 33 of those historians followed him back and promised to follow back any K-12 historians who followed them. If Martell’s initiative continues, he hopes that historians and educators can learn about each other’s work and engage in meaningful conversations about classroom activities. He also emphasized the need for more PD opportunities that link content and pedagogy so teachers can actually implement the material in their respective classrooms. He cites the University of Massachusetts Boston/ Boston Public Schools model as one to which we should emulate.

Martell has touched on the issue of content and of being current in history scholarship. Presentations at each other’s conferences is a step in the right direction, but how many people can attend a national, state, or regional conference? And besides social media there still is something to be said for face-face discussions. After all, teachers still teach their students in the classroom. Here is where we need to examine the requirements to become a social studies or elementary school teacher and then to maintain one’s status once one becomes one. This includes the classes offered in the certification process and the professional development programs needed to keep teachers current. It also means as regular readers of my blog know, going out to the places where history happened and meeting with the local history museums and societies. It means attending summer programs that occur elsewhere or outside the school room. There are limits to what history organizations can accomplish in working with teachers if the system is rigged against teacher involvement with history organizations. And the history organizations themselves need to keep up with what the scholars are doing. Think of the NPS study on Imperiled Promise (for the last of multiple blogs on this topic see Imperiled Promise: History and the NYSOPRHP. It’s not just the elementary and social studies teachers who have a “history deficit.” When do the history staff at museums and historical societies get to learn what’s going on in the academic world?

So as not to make this blog too long, I will continue reporting on this AHA session in my next blog.

Sessions of Value at the American Historical Association Even If You Can Not Attend: Civics

The annual conference of the American Historical Association will be held January 3-6, 2019, in Chicago. I will not be attending the conference. I have reviewed the program book and there are many sessions which are of value to history organizations, municipal historians, and educators. Below are the abstracts of these sessions. If someone is attending the conference and would like to report on them to the history community, that would be appreciated.

This post focuses on sessions related to civics. The previous one addressed education. Some of the papers presented are available on the web by clicking on them.

Historians and the Public Sphere in Turbulent Political Times

Chair: Daniel M. Bessner, University of Washington
Panel: Daniel M. Bessner, University of Washington
Patrick Iber, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Nancy MacLean, Duke University
Rebecca Onion, Slate Magazine
Alejandro Velasco, New York University

Session Abstract

Recent political developments in the U.S., including the election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency of the United States, have engendered an outburst of popular historical writing. From books that explore the connections between the contemporary United States and the Weimar Republic to essays that analyze the deep-seated origins of American racism and xenophobia, historians have entered—and been welcome into—the public sphere in ways unimaginable as recently as two years ago. This roundtable, which consists of historians of various ranks, genders, and backgrounds, will address the problems and prospects of professional historians writing for a broader public in a moment of profound transformation and anxiety.

While historians have been encouraged to fight for the influence of our ideas in the public sphere, the conditions now making that possible seem fraught with potential problems. Trump, after all, campaigned on a platform that derided expertise, and described reported facts as “fake news.” How do professional historians cope with an environment in which many of their arguments raise present-day political concerns? Is there a risk of normal professional work being branded as a partisan activity—as something akin to “fake history”? At the same time, social media platforms make possible the wider dissemination of our work and allow us to interact with readers almost immediately. But they can also create the possibility of writing for popularity rather than complexity, or they bring with them the risks of abuse and harassment.

This roundtable will discuss the manifold public roles professional historians may play in the present moment. Questions we seek to address include: How do we balance roles as writers, activists, and pundits? How can we write effectively for a larger audience? How can historians bridge the gap between the academy and the public? To what ends should they do so? Can historians and the public learn from each other? How can we respond when we become the center of a public firestorm? And, perhaps most importantly, how should we think about professional obligations and responsibilities in these unsettled times? By examining these questions in depth at the American Historical Association’s annual meeting, we hope to begin a conversation that will reverberate not only throughout the seminar halls of the university, but in the public sphere as well.

Loyal to Their Own Cause: African American Public Memory, Commemoration, and Contestation

Chair: W. Fitzhugh Brundage, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Papers: Who Are the Real Americans? African American Civil War Memory and Narratives of Loyalty Ashleigh Lawrence-Sanders, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

“Legacies of Triumph”: African American Women’s Memorialization in Public History Sites
Alexandria Russell, University of South Carolina

“Belles Who Were There . . . 1960 Sit-Ins”: The Gendered Narratives and Commemoration of the Greensboro Sit-Ins Jasmin C. Howard, Michigan State University

This Costume Called My Skin: Black Historic Site Interpreters on the Front Lines of Public Memory Elon Cook Lee, Rhode Island School of Design

Comment: The Audience

Session Abstract

Loyal to their own Cause: African American Public Memory, Commemoration and Contestation is an exploration of how African Americans have been publicly memorialized in the contested physical landscape of the United States thereby critically engaging memorialization in both the North and South. The controversies surrounding the removal of Confederate statues in Charlottesville, Durham, Baltimore and various other southern locales last year has sparked conversations about how legacies are commemorated in contested spaces and thereby represent contested loyalties. Historically the South has been situated as a terrain fraught with racial violence and trauma where contestation associated with race has often led to blood shed. Contrastingly, the South is simultaneously situated as a homeland and a place of comfort. Engaging the South as a site of both collective pleasure and pain for African Americans, panelists seek to further examine the troubling of dominant and often limited southern narratives about African Americans throughout history. Relatedly, panelists seek to transgress narratives that frame the South as the predominant space for scholarship on early African American History by exploring the North as well as a contested space. Prior to the twentieth century Great Migration to the North, the North was a space of dynamic and complex African American life. Further, the lives of enslaved and free African Americans in the North during enslavement deserves further study. The history of African American life in the North during and after enslavement was also a site of pain and pleasure which is exemplified by the violence of Northern slavery and twentieth century urban race riots coupled with the opportunities that the North presented for African Americans fleeing the South during enslavement and Jim Crow.

Understanding the distinct contours of how African Americans have been memorialized highlights the intersection of race, gender, class, and space in public history. Panelists will examine the trajectory of African American commemorations from the seventeenth century to the modern-day, through their discussion of the roles of enslaved men and women in the North through an examination of current public historical interpretation in New England, freedmen and freedwomen as memory crafters of the Civil War, the commemoration of African American student activism at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and African American women’s memorialization in the 1970s. In short, this panel seeks to make three notable interventions. We seek to showcase efforts by Black southerners to commemorate their past and contest White southern public memory because White Southern nostalgia or the lost cause is but one type of loyalty. African Americans are also committed to their own narratives and memory. Secondly, we seek to examine African American commemoration as a gendered process. Lastly, we seek to examine both commemoration in the North and South in order to produce rich scholarship and public history that is more reflective of true African American life. Timely in nature, we assert that to understand American historical memory we must reconsider African American public history through an examination of contested memory and spaces throughout the United States.

The American Revolution in World History: A Teaching Roundtable

Chair: Thanasis Kinias, Northeastern University
Panel: Marcus Filippello, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
Jason Herbert, University of Minnesota
Amy-Elizabeth Manlapas, The Paideia School
Serena Zabin, Carleton College

Session Abstract

This round table will address the conference theme of ‘loyalty’ through a discussion of teaching the American Revolution in world-historical context. The standard narrative of the American Revolution is familiar and seldom problematized in survey courses at the high school or undergraduate level. Placing the American colonial rebellion in its global historical context gives students access to unfamiliar perspectives: British, French, and Spanish; Native American/First Nations; African diaspora; and so on. The participants in this round table are high school teachers, doctoral students, and university faculty members. They are both Americanists and world historians, with specializations that include the British Empire, Indigenous history, British and Spanish colonial America, and Africa.

Each panelist will speak briefly about how she or he uses world-historical context to challenge students’ preconceptions about the American Revolution. The chair will then moderate a conversation among the panelists and audience about how each other’s approaches can enhance all of our teaching of the American Revolution.

This round table is sponsored by the World History Association, which is committed to facilitating discussion of world history pedagogy among teachers and academics.

Prison/Education: Historians Take on a National Debate

Chair: Robert Smith, Marquette University
Panel: Jessica Neptune, Bard Prison Initiative, Chicago
Claire Potter, The New School
Shana Russell, Rutgers University at Newark
Liz Ševčenko, Rutgers University at Newark
Heather Ann Thompson, University of Michigan

Session Abstract

What role should historians be playing in the debate about mass incarceration in the United States? This roundtable proposes that understanding the role that “prison” plays in the American social order offers multiple opportunities for engagement, critique, publicly engaged scholarship, and activism. With these opportunities also come responsibilities to different constituencies. Participants in this roundtable will speak about their engagement with one or more of the publics engaged in rethinking the role of mass incarceration in our society: our students, in and out of prison; prison authorities and employees; a public that is often divided about the utility of prison for the social order and the justice system; public funding for scholarship that encourages debate but prohibits the politicization of that debate; and a reading public that requires well researched scholarship to re-engage and re-evaluate the rise of incarceration in our society.

Roundtable participants include a best-selling popular author who engages popular audiences, media producers, incarcerated people and their families; two directors of a public history project who facilitate college students doing community-based historical research on the local impact of incarceration; a scholar who taught a college course on comparative incarcerations under the auspices of the NEH Enduring Questions program; and the Director of the Bard College in Prison Project in Chicago.

The Student as Citizen: Loyalties, Disloyalties, and the Politics of Education

Chair: Jon Hale, College of Charleston

Papers: “To Participate in Their Own Destinies”: Detroit’s Community Control Movement and the Struggle to Redefine the Black High School Student as Citizen Dara Walker, Penn State University

The Moral Politics of Divestment: South Africa, the Anti-apartheid Movement, and American Higher Education in the 1980s David Busch, Carnegie Mellon University

Learn for America? American Studies in the College Classroom, 1945–60 Mario Rewers, Vanderbilt University

Comment: Andrea L. Turpin, Baylor University

Session Abstract

In 1965, Fredrick Rudolph published a small essay titled, “The Neglect of the Student as a Historical Tradition.” As the title suggested, he lamented the lack of scholarly attention paid to students and the way they shaped ideas of education. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Rudolph wrote this piece in 1965, a year after the 1964 Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley captured national headlines. Historians since have taken up his call, especially scholars of social movements who have brought to light the ways student activists helped establish black, ethnic, and women studies on American college campuses. This panel continues in this tradition and brings together scholars who explore the relationship between students and state institutions (social, educational, political, and cultural). How did state institutions conceptualize students as citizens? What mechanisms or practices did these institutions use to realize their vision of “the student as a citizen”? How did students respond to these practices and mechanisms? And what politics and social forces did they marshal in their responses? The scholars of this panel take up these questions, among others, in their papers that explore students and politics in mid-century America.