I was recently interviewed by Randall Stephens, the prolific and ubiquitous editor of the blog of The Historical Society (among many other things). I got a chance to answer questions about historical thinking, public intellectuals, the historian’s vocation, the “lecture circuit,” and, of course, Christian America. Here is a taste:
Stephens: You write about the difference between what the public wants out of the past and how historians actually practice history. Is this difference at the heart of the Christian nation debate?
Fea: Yes, I think it is. Before I wrote this book I was aware, at a cognitive level, that most people were in search of a usable past. But the reaction to this book has really opened my eyes to the way ordinary Americans think about history. I don’t believe that there is anything wrong in searching for a past that helps us achieve our present-minded agendas. Lawyers do it all the time. But those who only approach history in this way miss out on the transformative power that the study of the past can have on our lives and our society. In a world in which self-interest, individualism, and even narcissism reign supreme, history forces us to see ourselves as part of a larger human story. It has the potential to humble us. Its careful study has the potential to cultivate civility as we learn to listen to voices that are different from our own. I am working on a book on this topic which should be out sometime in late 2012.
I would like to start a crusade to promote good historical thinking as a means of contributing to civil society. Now if only I could find a wealthy philanthropist or foundation who might be willing to fund my project. (If anyone wants to talk more about this let me know).
Read the rest of the interview here.