Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A call for studying the recent past

Reporting from the annual meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA), Inside Higher Ed notes that esteemed historian and blogger Juan Cole called upon the profession to make its work relevant by writing about the recent past.

"Historians have an important role to play in adding depth and sophistication to our understanding of events when they do their work, yet many are reluctant to examine recent events, Cole said. Some historians are not comfortable dealing with the recent past and think that some topics are either too hot to touch or difficult to examine more than superficially because they were recent."

The University of Georgia Press has taken a leading role in promoting exactly this sort of work through its new series SINCE 1970: HISTORIES OF CONTEMPORARY AMERICA, and especially through the forthcoming volume DOING RECENT HISTORY, edited by Claire Potter and Renee Romano.  Alice Echols says that “Potter and Romano demonstrate that tackling recent history poses unique challenges, and they offer absolutely indispensable guidance in meeting them." 

The newest book in the series is RUMOR, REPRESSION, AND RACIAL POLITICS, by George Derek Musgrove. In the spirit of Cole’s message to the AHA, it provides historical context for current events – specifically the accusation of ethics violations leveled against prominent black elected officials like Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters.