tv Why Is History Important CSPAN May 20, 2018 3:35pm-4:01pm EDT
in washington dc in early january. he explained to the field has changed in the past decade and why he feels the study of history is important, especially in this polarized, local environment. this is about 20 minutes. we are at the 2018 american historical association convention in washington dc. jim grossman is a very busy man. thank you for spending time with us. >> thank you for taking the time. >> tell me what is happening here at the marriott hotel and the adjoining hotels -- adjoining hotels. 4500 historians are here to discuss work, to share ideas, to resurrect old friendships, and to be historians. >> what is the kind of historians that would attend? >> it is everything. collegeundergraduates,
professors, graduate students, high school teachers, people who are not professional historians but are interested in history, and think it is interested to spend four days to listen and talk to historians. that includes a story to work for the federal government, ,istorian to work in museums think tanks, and even people who have advanced degrees in history but are working doing other things. >> if we had dropped into this conference 10 years ago, what would be different than we saw been what is happening now? >> the diversity i just described to you 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 session competition. teachers than we used to have, and we definitely 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. in terms of modes of presentation, 10 years ago, especially, and 20 years ago, our conference look like a lot of other academic conferences. you walk into a room and three people would read papers, one 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, a lot more professional development sessions. so the format has become much more flexible, a lot more roundtable session. i had a session this morning which consisted of one person speaking about the comment he had written in the new york times, and three other historians discussed what she had written. then they opened it to the audience.
it is not the same kind of, let's all stand here and talk about our research. >> was at the subcategories of history also expanding a lot? in the interviews i'm doing i talk to people studying baseball history and medical history. was all that as prevalent a decade ago? >> i would say people have probably broadened in terms of the sort of things, such as people being interested in, but the sorts of things that are considered legitimate areas for teaching and for research. the tagline is everything has a history. whether it is gardening, baseball, and it is not just that everything has a history, but there are ways in which history matters that people don't realize. i was discussing with a member of congress about a year ago ,merican women's history museum because there was a commission created.
we were trying to help members of congress understand why this was important. she understood all about suffrage and the standard issues people know about. as we were leaving, she mentioned that gardening was one of her hobbies. someone in the group started to explain to her why gardening is an aspect of women's history. an important aspect in terms of understanding culture, gender, and she was shocked. also was the ways in which historians, having realized everything has a history, have learned to explain why history matters. >> let's talk a little bit about what is happening in the academy. you have written about this, but across the country, liberal arts programs are seeing a decline in enrollment. what is happening there, do you think? havestory programs stabilized and many places have increased in their majors and enrollments. i was at a conference recently
in upstate new york of history department chairs at campuses and approximately half said there involved -- their involvement was up. i'm not sure of that trend will continue to keep up. there were more declines in the humanities. i think that does have something to do with, among people, these are business majors. , inink that has to do with a difficult economy, young people thinking about jobs as 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 allow you to do five different kinds of jobs over the next 25 years. history prepares you for a career. >> one of the avenues or history majors for law school, and there
is a decline in the number of law schools in the country. there is not as much use for lawyers. how is that folding into history? >> i think lawyer uses going up. that may just be washington, d.c. though. but, we think that the decline in demand for lawyers has had an impact on history majors. there's a big difference between history majors and history enrollment. we tend to inflate the conversations. history enrollment, one of the things we are trying to do is studyingle who are other things, engineering, physics, history, why history is worth taking. not because it makes you a better person, which we think it does, but we also think it makes you a better physicist, engineer, and if you are going to medical school, what is the first thing the doctor does when she meets patients? she takes your history.
a you are a doctor he -- doctor, that means names, dates, facts. if you are a doctor that has never taken a history course, it is probably what you think it is. if your doctor has taken a history course in the last 10 years, they know they are thinking about processes, culture, and relationships. it is a whole different set of questions. it means a whole 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 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 than there once were. i think that is a result of the decline in enrollments. also, it have to do with the -- has to do with the changing labor force composition in academia. there are fewer tenured track slots. there are often 200 applicants for a single job. but, 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, 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. or they work for the government, , the public-sector, investment banking, marketing. just about everything.
so, 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. i am on twitter. in fact, remember 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 ask different kinds of questions, and to be able to disseminate differently. to be able to use more visual forms of communication. and 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 that, -- that, 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. 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 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. but 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. 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. 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 history with the combustible politics we have been going through for the past x years? james: i think you see this constantly now. we see more historians being interviewed by media. the washington post has a new
feature called "retropolis." in fact, 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 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. 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. whatever one may 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? or is he wrong? historical context has become much more appropriate. -- much more important. 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 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 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 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. >> on c-span3, we are also taking your questions and history andc-span the question is, which party changed the most since 1968? the vote right now, with more than 25,000 testing their vote, saying the democrats changed the
56%. republicans are at 44%. >> thanks to everyone who voted in our polls on 1968, american turmoil. more than 100,000 votes were posted on issues ranging from the vietnam war to the presidential election, two women rights and race relations. you can tweet us questions and comments during live events, see video previews of upcoming programs, or look back to what happened on this day in american history. .n twitter, at c-span history american history tv is on c-span3 every weekend featuring museum tours, archival films, and programs on the presidency, the civil war and more. here's a clip from a recent program. 'sch week american history tv railamerica brings you archival films that provide context for
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>> you can watch this and other american history programs on our website, where all of our video is archived. that is c-span.org/history. tonight, on afterwards. with heraron reich book. she is interviewed by natalie and her. -- anjur. >> one of the jobs of being old is passing the torch, taking what you have known or accomplish or want to done and passing it on to younger hands. >> watch afterwords tonight, 9 p.m. on c-span2's book tv. announcer: about 50 years ago on april 23, 1968, several hundred columbia university students gathered to protest the
vietnam war and the schools plan to build a public park. after tearing down a fence, the group occupied several campus buildings. negotiations between the university and the students failed, and six days later, new york city police were called in. protesters and bystanders were beaten, and 700 were arrested. up next on "reel america," columbia revolt, a 50 minute film by the new york film collective document of the events from the student protesters' point of view including scenes with access to the occupied holdings, and negotiations with campus authorities. narrator: a modern university is the cradle of the nation's future. today it not only preserves and transmits knowledge and values, it serves