This dispatch from the annual meeting of the American Historical Association comes from Zachary Cote, a middle school history teacher in Los Angeles, California. Some of you may remember his great posts from the 2017 AHA in Denver. Enjoy! –JF
In perusing the various sessions here at the AHA, I have noticed two things:
1. Sessions lean more heavily toward teaching the subject over purely new research, and
2. Historians are vocalizing something resembling an identity crisis.
I will address the second point in this post rather succinctly and save my thoughts on the first one for another, more in-depth response. If one scans the AHA 2018 program, one finds sessions dealing with “reflections,” “Why history matters,” enrollment issues, “The State and Future of the Humanities,” among others with similar themes. When I see words and phrases like this I sense urgency and perhaps a bit of fear. Sessions with such topics imply a sort of redefinition of what the profession entails. In fact, when I attended the “Why History Matters” session this morning, I could hear the urgency expressed by professors and graduate students eager to equip their students with the skills that will help them find jobs outside of the academy.
As a middle school teacher, I cannot offer too much commentary on this perceived shift in the historian’s focus, but I can express my excitement. In teaching 8th grade, I can already see in some of my students a disregard for history and historical thinking. This worries me, but it also encourages me to be a teacher that can change their attitude toward historical study. In attending some of these sessions, it appears that my micro-observations are fairly widespread.
I am excited to see the academic side of the historical profession shifting its focus to further bridge the gap between the public and the past. The profession is changing, and I am comforted that at least some in the academy are not only recognizing it, but taking steps to respond.