tv Why Is History Important CSPAN February 3, 2018 7:40pm-8:01pm EST
>> watch american history tv every weekend on c-span3. >> next, we talk with the james grossman, executive director of the american historical association which held its annual meeting in washington, d.c. in january. he explains how the field has changed in the past decade and how he feels the study of history is important, especially in this polarized political environment. this is about 20 minutes. we are at the 20 18th american historical association convention in washington, d.c. this gentleman is a very busy man, james grossman, the executive director. thank you for spending some time with us. james: thank you for taking the time. susan: tell me what is happening here at the marriott over the next couple of days. james: we have 4500 historians who are here to discuss one another's work, to share ideas,
to resurrect old friendships and to be historians. ofan: what is the breadth the kind of historians who attend? james: it includes college undergraduates, college professors, graduate students, high school teachers, people who are not professional historians but are interested in history. and think it is interesting to time talking and listening to historians. it includes historian to work for the federal government, who work in museums, think tanks. even people who have advanced degrees in history that are working and doing other things. susan: if we had dropped into this conference 10 years ago, what would be different then versus what is happening now? james: first of all, the diversity i just described would be different. the number of undergrads is unprecedented.
we worked especially hard this year in trying to bring undergraduates to our conference. they have a special poster competition. we have k-12 teachers then we used to have. we definitely have a lot more people with advanced degrees in history who are doing things other than being professors. in terms of just attendance, it is very different. i think in terms of the modes of presentation. 10 years ago, especially 20 years ago, our conference looked like a lot of other academic conferences, which is you would walk into a room and three people would read papers. one person would comment and the audience would ask questions. that was the standard format. now we have a lot more workshops. we have workshops for teachers, for people who do various kinds of history. we have a lot of professional development sessions. the format has become a lot more
flexible. a lot more roundtable this morning which consisted of one person speaking for 10 minutes about an op-ed he had written and three other historians criticize what he has written, responding and opening up to the audience. --is not the same kind of let's all stand here and talk about our research. the subcategories of history have expanded a lot. i'm talking to people were studied baseball history and medical history. was that prevalent a decade ago? james: probably not. i think people have probably rotted. borroadened. the areas that are considered legitimate. everything has a history is our tagline. the areas that arewhether it is, baseball. it is not just that everything
has a history but there is a reason for which history matters that people don't realize. i was discussing with the number of congress a year ago the american women's history museum that is being discussed. there was a commission created. we were trying to help a member of congress understand why it was important. she understood all about the suffrage, the standard issues people know about. as we were leaving, she mentioned that gardening was one of her hobbies. someone in the group starts to explain to her why gardening is an aspect of women's history, an important aspect in terms of understanding culture, gender. she was shocked. so, part of this also is a way it was historians -- in which historians, having realized everything has a history, have learned to explain to other people why history matters. susan: let's talk about what is happening within the academy.
you have written about this, but across the country, liberal arts programs are seeing a decline in enrollment. what is happening? james: history programs have stabilized and many places have increased in their majors and enrollments. i was at a conference recently in upstate new york. history department chairs at suny campuses. approximately half said their enrollments were up. i'm not sure that's rent is necessarily continuing or going to continue. clearly, there were declines in enrollments -- more than the humanities. something to do with a sense among many people that these are useless majors. --hink that has to do with in a difficult economy, people opposed about jobs as
to careers. when you think about a job, you think about being taught how to do something specific that has a specific job. when you think about a career, you think about the skills that allows you to do five different jobs over the next 25 years. history prepares opposed to careers. when you think about a you for a career. susan: one of the avenues for history majors is also the law schools. not much use for lawyers as digitization is happening. how is that folding into the history? james: i think lawyers are going up, but that made just be in d.c. we think probably the decline in demand for lawyers has had an impact on history majors. there is a big difference between history majors and history enrollments. we tend to conflate these conversations. one of the things we are trying to do is emphasized the people who are studying other things -- engineering, physics, chemistry worth taking. is
one history course, two history courses. not worth taking. because it makes you a better person, but it makes you a better citizen, engineer. if you are going to go to school, what is the first thing a doctor does? she takes the history. doctor who took a history course 30 years doctor a history course 30 years ago, that means names, dates, facts, events. if you are a doctor who has never taken a history course, that is probably what you are thinking. doctor who has course in they last 10 years and you know when you take a history, you are thinking about process, culture, relationships, context, a whole different set of questions and it means a different way of thinking about your patient. this is one way in which we are thinking about enrollment. if you are an engineer and you are working on hov course in the last 10 years and you know when you take a lanes, you have to understand what it is
that is going to get people to use those. any engineering innovation includes a marking aspect, understanding people. that is what you learn when you are a history major or take a course. susan: what is happening at the university faculty level? is there greater and greater composition -- competition for open slots? james: there are fewer spots then there once were. i think that is a result of the decline in enrollments. also, it have to do with the changing labor force composition in academia. red.e are fewer tenu the competition is quite stiff. that are often 200 applicants for a single job. that is one of the reasons why we have put so much effort in the past five years into thinking hard about what a phd is for. what is the purpose of the history phd? is it only to become a professor? history phd's are not
professors of any kind. they are not teaching at the college level. some of them are teaching high but a lot of those history phd's are but a lot of e history phd's are in the private sector, they work for the government, the public-sector, investment banking, marketing. just about everything. what we are trying to do now is to help graduate programs phd program in terms of how it -- how they prepare people for a variety of careers. susan: how much hunger is there among the academy in particular to learn digital technology? are you helping to train phd prn terms of how people on the importance of using twitter, of having a facebook presence, blogs? james: we don't have to teach 20-year-olds the importance of using twitter or facebook. the practitioners that have been teaching for a while. james: twitter is not for everyone, facebook is not for
everyone. facebook -- the expansion of facebook is not among young people, it is among people even older than i am. i don't think there is a lot of teaching there. i think in terms of the digital environment, the aspect of it that is part of undergraduate and graduate education is how to use the digital environment for different kinds of research, to answer different kinds of questions, and to be able to disseminate differently. to be able to use more visual forms of communication. that is in your teaching and your scholarship. to be able to use the digital environment in your teaching, not just in how you present, but how you assess students. the old notion is you hand out a bunch of rulebooks is how you assess student work makes no do all kinds canthe old of interesting things when we have digital tools. susan: would you talk a little
bit more about the digitization of archives across the country and what it has done to people's ability to research things and even change perspectives? james: do it certainly makes ths more accessible. i think there is a misunderstanding in the assumption that it makes everything accessible. an archive cannot digitize everything. part of the skill is figuring out what needs to be digitized, what you wish could be digitized but there are budgetary realities. there has been talks about the national archives not accepting records that aren't digital. not every federal agency has all of the records digitized and not every federal agency has a budget to digitize. if the national archive does not accept paper, it will go into the basement of a facility and rot. i think the availability of archival material digitally increases access enormously
which is wonderful, but i think people have to realize there is still paper and people still have to know how to use paper. there still has to be some support for money so people can use money. paper. the important thing about digitization of archival material is we now have opportunity to have students use the kinds of materials that they never had access before -- to before. you don't have to be teaching in a major city now for your students to have access to the kinds of primary sources that they would not have in some small town in michigan. susan: you give our viewers a sense of what is happening to access to government records. has there been a trend to open up more or is it getting more secretive? james: there was a tremendous tren that began nine years ago. one of the first things president obama did was signed a presidential ordinance that required the declassification of
millions and millions of pages ofmillions and millions of pages of documents. which took a while. it certainly set a work agenda at the national archives. he also changed the procedures so that the default for many documents was not classified. it used to be that the default was you classified something until you figure out why it shouldn't be. one of the things that obama did was rebirth that. documents was not classified. you have to justify it being classified at all. the last eight years, a massive amount of material that were not available in part because of these changes to classification rules, and in part the work of the national archives in digitizing materials, and the library of congress as well. yes, there is a lot more available and it is not just available, it is how you can search available, it isw you can search it. when something is available
digitally, you could search in ways you never could before. susan: are you seeing from your vantage point a greater interest in understanding history with the combustible politics we have been going through for the past x years? james: i think you see this comfortably now. we see more historians being interviewed by media. the washington post has a new feature that a reporter has been working on. post,sday's washington our conference was on the front page as part of the series this reporter has. post, the debate over confederate monuments brought news all across the country the importance of history. you have a confederate monument, the it? you do with you call an what people realizet everything has a history. it? you call an expert. who? a historian. i thinkyou need to bring a histn into the house. we have a session this afternoon
in about an hour on deregulation. which isu deregulate, what has been going on in the federal government in the last nine months -- how do you deregulate without understanding the history of regulation? if you don't know why a regulation exist, how do you start taking it apart? we have a session that is combining historians of federal regulations with former regulators? i do think there has been increased understanding of why the past matters. we have a president, who whether one agrees or not, ran on a platform called make america great again. what is the word again? again is a historical term. what anyone might think, positive, negative, the central slogan of the winning campaign was a historical term. again. you have to ask a historian,
what does he mean by again? what is he talking about? historical context has become much more appropriate. susan: as we run out of time almost, what is the role of popular media such as films, historical novels, which draw on history but note necessarily adhere to all of the facts? what does that do for public understanding and your profession? james: i think it makes people interested in history. i first became interested in history as a child by reading historical novels by kenneth roberts. i read every book by kenneth roberts, who is a historical novelist from many years ago. i read a series called the landmark books -- i am showing my age. these were not professional histories. i was fascinated by these stories. my feeling is that i would love to see people engage history in
whatever way makes them happy. whether it is fiction, television, film. what happens is once people get engaged, then they want to know the facts. if i stand there and start lecturing people -- this is what happened -- they are going to fall asleep. i find when i am on an airplane and get in a conversation with someone and say you are historian, what often happens is i have been watching this. is this good history, is this right? i went to a film last week -- "lincoln." it is not the facts necessarily, it is the level of engagement and getting the generalities right. it. we can quibble with all sorts of things a historian rolls their eyes about. on the other hand, there were things he got right and raised important questions.
compared took back 10 years ago and we close with asking -- if we are here in five years, what is the profession on the precipice of that will really change? james: that is a hard question. i have spent much of the last 43 years trying to learn how to figure out the past. that is hard enough without trying to figure out the future. susan: it hits the agenda for your organization. james: it does. we have to do planning. one of the things we have to think about is changing job markets with people with bachelor's, phd's in history. we have to ask ourselves what does the future look like for people with our degree? what kind of history do people need who are not history majors? does the future look like for people with our degree? what do engineers, what kind of history to engineers need to learn? that is one thing.
another thing we have to be working on for the next five years is figuring out our role as higherwhat education as the landscape of higher education changes. the student body is changing. the stereotype of the 19-year-old college student is a thing of the past. that is now larger numbers of college students are in the mid to late 20's. what does that mean in terms of they kind of assignments we can have? the opportunities that we have. that is one thing -- just thinking about what we are doing with our students in our classrooms. i think also historians are more willing to be engaged with contemporary events. i think my colleagues do understand that it matters that everything has a history and these are opportunities for us all to figure out how to engage a much wider public. susan: thank you very much for the conversation. good luck with the meeting. james: thank you.
you're watching american history tv all weekend every weekend on c-span3. to >> next on lectures in history, university of north carolina at chapel hill molly worthen teaches a class about the history and the intellectual underpinnings of protestant fundamentalism in 20th century of america. she begins with the 1925 scopes monkey trial which taught evolution versus creationism in public schools and gained national attention. she also delves into the origins and growth of pentecostalism which strives for a connection with the divine and includes speaking in tongues. her class is a little over an hour. prof. worthen: let us begin. my name is molly worthen.