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tv   Why Is History Important  CSPAN  April 29, 2018 8:10am-8:31am EDT

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capital tour. our guest starting at 9:30 a.m. eastern. next, we talk with james grossman, executive director of the american historical association, which held its annual meeting in washington, d.c. in early 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. susan: we are at the 2018 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.
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susan: what is the breadth of the kind of historians who attend? james: it is everything. 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 spend four days talking and listening to historians. it includes historian to work who 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.
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they have a special poster session competition. we have more k-12 teachers than we used to have. we have 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, workshops 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
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. roundtableg, a 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. it is not the same kind of -- let's all stand here and talk about our research. susan: would the subcategories of history have expanded a lot? in these studies i'm talking to , people who studied baseball history and medical history. was that prevalent a decade ago? james: probably not. i think people have probably broadened. not just the things people are interested in, but the things that are considered legitimate areas of teaching and research. the tagline is that everything has a history. whether it is gardening, baseball. and it is not just that everything has a history. there are ways in which all history matters that people
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don't realize. i was discussing with a member of congress about one 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 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.
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what is happening? james: actually, history programs have stabilized and in many places have increased in 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 that trend is necessarily continuing or going to continue. clearly, there were declines and enrollments -- not in liberal arts, but more in the humanities. i think that has something to do with the sense among many people that these are "useless majors." i think that in a difficult economy, young people thinking about jobs as opposed to careers. when you think about a job, you think about being taught how to do something specific that has a
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specific job. when you think about a career, you think about the skills that allow you to do five different kinds of jobs over the next 25 years. history prepares you for a career. susan: one of the avenues for history majors is also the law school. there is a decline in the number of law schools in the country. not as much used 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 -- that might just be in washington, 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. history enrollments, one of the things we are trying to do is emphasized to people studying other things -- engineering, physics, chemistry -- why it is worth taking one history course, two history courses.
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not because it makes you a better person, which we think it does. but it makes you a better citizen, engineer. if you are going to go to medical school, what is the first thing a doctor does? susan: she takes the history. james: what does that mean? who took aa doctor 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. if you are a doctor who has taken a history course in the 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 lanes, you have to understand what it is that is going to get people to use those. any engineering innovation
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includes a marketing aspect, includes 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? with historians is there greater , and greater competition for open spots? james: of course there is. there are fewer spots then there than 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. there are fewer tenured. -- fewer tenured track slots. there 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? 25% of all history phd's are not professors of any kind. they are not lecturers,
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adjuncts, teaching at the college level. some of them are teaching high school, but a lot of those 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 rethink their phd program in terms of how they prepare people for a variety of careers. susan: how much hunger is there among the academy in particular to learn digital technology? and are you, in fact helping to , train 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. susan: i'm thinking about the practitioners who have been teaching for a wild. james: twitter is not for everyone, facebook is not for everyone. in fact, remember the expansion of facebook is not among young people.
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it is among people even older than i i don't think there is a am. 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 as well as in 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 blue books, and that is how you assess student work. that makes no sense when we can do all kinds 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: it certainly makes things more accessible.
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it makes more things 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 of the archivist 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 to the basement of the federal agency 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.
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there still has to be some support for travel money so people can use paper. the important thing about digitization of archival material, as well as teaching, is we now have opportunity to have students use the kinds of materials that they never had access 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: can 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 trend to open up more that began nine years ago. one of the first things president obama did was signed a presidential order that required the declassification of millions and millions of pages of documents. which took a while.
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it certainly set a work agenda at the national archives. he also changed the procedures so that the default for many kinds of 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 reverse that. you have to justify it being classified at all. in 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 that it is available, it is how 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
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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 called "retropolis." tuesday's washington post our , conference was on the front page as part of the series this reporter has. the debate over confederate monuments brought news all to communities around the country the importance of history. you have a confederate monument, what do you do with it? you call an expert. who? a historian. i think what people realize that everything has a history. you need to bring a historian into the house. we have a session this afternoon in about an hour on deregulation.
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how do you deregulate, which is 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. positiveone may think, the central slogan of the , negative, winning campaign was a historical term. again. you have to ask a historian, what does he mean by again? what is he talking about? or is he wrong?
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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 don't 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 think 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. and i was fascinated by these stories. my feeling is that i would love to see people engage history in whatever way makes them happy.
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they can. 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 they say something like i have , been watching this. is this good history, is this right? i went to a film last week -- "lincoln." i got that a lot for the lincoln film. it is not the facts necessarily, it is the level of engagement and getting the generalities right. and, we can quibble with it. all sorts of things a historian rolls their eyes about. but on the other hand, there were things he got right and raised important questions. susan: we look back compared to 10 years ago and we close with asking -- if we are here in five
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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 -- it fits the agenda for your organization. james: it does. 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 employment landscape look like for people with our degree? what kind of history do people need who are not history majors? what do engineers, what kind of history do 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
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in higher 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. 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 becoming much 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. --- now, live, we continue our
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series, 1968: america in turmoil. rolek back at the media's 50 years ago. americans were eyewitnesses to vietnam, astronauts on the moon, chaos in the streets, and assassinations. and news magazines captured america at its most andtile, vulnerable, violent, while shaping the stories they covered. walter cronkite in 1968 delivered his on air assessment that the luddy experience of vietnam is to end in a stalemate. our guest, former veteran and nbc journalist, marvin kalb, founding director of the shore mediaeen center on policy. and pulitzer prize winning photographer, david hume kennerly, a west coast-based

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