A Salute to Rick Shenkman and His Contribution to History
Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University. His latest book — his tenth — is The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s .
When I was in graduate school and attended my first American Historical Association, I was shocked. I could not believe how little the historical establishment did to make us graduate students feel welcomed, to feel part of a broader historical community, to feel some sense of nobility, of excitement, of camaraderie, regarding our joint mission as pastmasters, as truth-seekers and tellers. Over the years, I regret to say, I have seen few colleagues do all that much in any contexts to foster that sense. I, for one, harbor great guilt that so many of our graduate students seem stuck in the same trauma cycles of depression, discouragement, loneliness, anomie, alienation, and, sometimes abuse by the system or their elders, that too many of us endured.
Our collective failure – our outrageous negligence – makes Rick Shenkman’s achievement with HNN, the History News Network, all the more impressive.
Day in, day out, year in, year out, Rick has not just been our community builder -- he’s been our town crier, our cheerleader, our scold, our coach, our teacher in so many ways. His website has got scholars thinking thoughtfully, critically, substantively at a time when we historians have stopped interacting with one another on so many levels. His efforts have resisted so many of the trends that have proven so toxic to free, open, dialogue in today’s academe. You click on HNN to find compelling, relevant articles in a time of scholarly monasticism, to find lively, accessible articles in an era that prizes stylistic turgidity, to find robust, respectful debate in a moment that prefers finger-pointing and virtue-shaming to free-thinking and open-minded-learning
The fact that Rick has done this with so little support – financially, institutionally, emotionally, existentially – from the profession at large is scandalous. The fact that he has done this while continuing his legendary career as a thoughtful historian who can sell tons of books while generating important, substantive, academic debates is miraculous. And the fact that he is passing “his baby” in such good, robust shape, to his successor, is a magnanimous act on his part.
We look forward to continuing to learn from HNN, to engage with HNN, to feel a sense of historical camaraderie thanks to HNN, under the able leadership of the new editor-in-chief Kyla Sommers. And we hope that Rick continues to challenge us, to teach us, to inspire us – on these pages and the pages of the future books he will undoubtedly start writing in earnest, after nearly twenty years of double-triple-quadruple duty, overworked, underpaid – but not unappreciated!
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