Speaking of History: Conversations with Historians

Speaking of History: Conversations with Historians

Speaking of History: Conversations with Historians

Speaking of History: Conversations with Historians

Synopsis

Speaking of History is a collection of fourteen interviews with prominent historians that originally appeared in The Historian between 1990 and 1993. Each of these scholars discusses at length historical methodology, the notion of historical perspective, and ultimately how he or she interprets the past. In the process they explore convenient myths about class, culture, gender, environment, ethnicity, nationality, race, religion, and the nature of work. What is of particular significance about this set of interviewees is the fact that each has approached the process of research and historical writing by applying a variety of techniques from the broad spectrum of the humanities, liberal arts, and social and natural sciences; each has avoided narrow specialization by comparing the particular contexts they study with other times and places. Collectively, they see the study of history in a global perspective. In the process, each raises questions that help to explain the past, understand the present, and anticipate the future.

Excerpt

The historians in Speaking of History were interviewed between 1990 and 1995. All of them have interpreted the past differently from other historians. All have exploded myths about class, culture, gender, environment, ethnicity, nationality, race, religion, or work. All have drawn upon the social and natural sciences, steeped themselves in researching specific topics, and avoided narrow specialization by comparing the particular contexts they study to other times and places. Finally, all see their work in a global perspective, which raises new questions that help us explain the past, understand the present, and anticipate the future.

Besides interviewing individuals with innovative and global approaches to the past, I selected historians who reflect the increased diversity among those who have been teaching, editing, and writing history at U.S. colleges and universities since the Second World War. I sought variety in age, background, culture, and education. Of the fourteen historians in this book (including myself), five were born in the first two decades of the twentieth century and had retired by the time I interviewed them in the early 1990s (Thomas D. Clark, Gilbert C. Fite, William H. McNeill, Theodore H. Von Laue, and C. Vann Woodward). The six born during the 1920s and 1930s (Walter L. Arnstein, Natalie Zemon Davis, John Demos, Joan M. Jensen, Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid Marsot, and Helen Nader) have considerable professional influence in the 1990s. The three youngest historians (Roger Adelson, Darlene Clark Hine and Stephen Pyne) were born in the 1940s. Only three of the fourteen historians were born abroad, while the rest grew up in different parts of the United States with distinct political cultures. All fourteen historians came from middle- or working- class backgrounds, but the parents of a few may be considered financially and/or professionally privileged. The parents of eleven of the fourteen historians can be identified as Christian (mostly Protestant), two as Jewish, and one as Muslim. Only one African American historian is included among the fourteen. All but three of the historians were educated at public schools and most of the historians earned most of their degrees at public colleges and universities. The five female historians reflect the increasing number of women who have entered the history profession in recent decades. Six of the historians have specialized upon certain parts of . . .

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