The Organization of American Historians and the Writing and Teaching of American History

The Organization of American Historians and the Writing and Teaching of American History

The Organization of American Historians and the Writing and Teaching of American History

The Organization of American Historians and the Writing and Teaching of American History

Synopsis

The field of American history has undergone remarkable expansion in the past century, all of it reflecting a broadening of the historical enterprise and democratization of its coverage. Today, the shape of the field takes into account the interests, identities, and narratives of more Americans than at any time in its past. Much of this change can be seen through the history of the Organization of American Historians, which, as its mission states, "promotes excellence in the scholarship, teaching, and presentation of American history, and encourages wide discussion of historical questions and equitable treatment of all practitioners of history."
This century-long history of the Organization of American Historians-and its predecessor, the Mississippi Valley Historical Association-explores the thinking and writing by professional historians on the history of the United States. It looks at the organization itself, its founding and dynamic growth, the changing composition of its membership and leadership, the emphasis over the years on teaching and public history, and pedagogical approaches and critical interpretations as played out in association publications, annual conferences, and advocacy efforts. The majority of the book emphasizes the writing of the American story by offering a panorama of the fields of history and their development, moving from long-established ones such as political history and diplomatic history to more recent ones, including environmental history and the history of sexuality

Excerpt

From March 29 to April 1, 2007, thousands of historians gathered in Minneapolis to attend the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians (OAH). Not merely another meeting, this one marked the group's centennial. This rich collection of essays emerges from that occasion. in addition to looking at what the oah is and how it has developed, the essays trace the writing of American history over the past century.

The organization was born out of a discussion among directors of Midwestern historical societies, who named the group the Mississippi Valley Historical Association (MVHA) and decided that the promotion of historical research should be its top priority. During the early years, Frederick Jackson Turner's idea of the importance of the American West loomed large in the mvha, and members discussed, among other things, whether history could be scientific, could be used for social betterment, and should be popularized.

After midcentury, the group changed in a number of ways. Membership grew rapidly for a time, and in 1965, leaders and members changed the name to Organization of American Historians. Soon, African American and women historians challenged the domination of the oah by white men, and beginning in the 1970s, the oah became increasingly concerned about the status and role of history in American life, the teaching of history in the schools and colleges, and jobs for historians. By the 1990s, the oah had developed a staff headed by a full-time executive officer and had been drawn into “culture wars” that included debate in the public arena over how history was being and should be written and taught.

In five early chapters, three historians, Michael Kammen, Arnita Jones, and I, tell this story, and two others, Stanley Katz and William Chafe, muse about the oah and democracy. Katz suggests that this historical group has become a . . .

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