James Grossman: Obama and His Historians: A Suggestion
James Grossman is executive director of the American Historical Association.
As a historian, not to mention as the executive director of the AHA, I was pleased to read in the New York Times yesterday that President Obama listens to historians and discusses history but is “no history buff.” He appears to be serious in thinking about the past and how he can learn from it, rather than being merely satisfied with a handful of anecdotes. Moreover, he certainly included distinguished and thoughtful scholars in the sessions described in this article.
But I offer a suggestion that might help him even more. President Obama hopes that a group of eight presidential biographers will help him think not only about “what he could learn from the men they had studied,” but also what he might learn about the American people. I humbly suggest that the group be diversified a bit, with the addition of a few social, cultural, and intellectual historians. None of us knows everything—not even the most distinguished presidential biographers. A president who “admitted he was having trouble communicating his vision to the country” might benefit from insights into what it was about 1930s America that enabled Franklin Roosevelt to communicate so effectively (i.e. not just what it was about Roosevelt). Likewise, a president “struggling to understand the Tea Party and a level of opposition he said was ‘not normal’ by historical standards” would have benefitted from the insights of scholars who have studied social movements and political culture “from the bottom up.”...
comments powered by Disqus
- Richard III Really Ate and Drank Like a King
- Where’s the one place in the world where nobody’s messed with WW II relics?
- Secrets of the Clinton Library
- Beloit College is out with its annual list of what freshman know ... Tiny Tim? Carl Sagan? Forget about it.
- India Bans Indira Gandhi Assassination Film
- A prominent historian of science dies and no one takes notice
- A pro-Hamas Left emerges among historians, complains Jeffrey Herf
- Classicist Mary Beard celebrated by the New Yorker as “The Troll Slayer”
- Ilan Pappé praised in Iran as a "prominent anti-Zionist Israeli historian and intellectual"
- It's hard to be an optimist today, but Juan Cole is