History in Action I

This was the first History in Action workshop on the present and future uses of training in history held on 8-9 March 2013.

Conference Blurb

The historical profession is in the midst of important changes. The traditional role of the research professor of history is evolving, as universities cut funding for the liberal arts, graduate programs shrink, and a new generation of scholars comfortable with innovative ways of disseminating ideas comes of age. Meanwhile, there have never been more opportunities for students with professional training in history to pursue careers outside academia, as studies by the American Historical Association suggest some one- to two-thirds of recent history Ph.D.s already do.  Although history departments are beginning to recognize the new place of history in public life, they have been slow to adapt, in part because outdated assumptions about “public history” continue to obstruct their thinking.

This workshop will seek to break through this impasse.  Over the course of one-and-a-half days, graduate students, professors, and non-academic professionals with university training will join in conversation to take stock of the place of historical thinking in public life and assess the roles and responsibilities of the historian today.  Through five panel discussions, a keynote address, and a concluding small-group exercise, we will explore the role history plays for non-university publics and interrogate the character of the historian in today’s society.  Our final plenary session will be an opportunity to build on what we learn in our panel discussions through a group brainstorming exercise to generate concrete initiatives to supplement historical training here at Columbia.

On this website, you’ll find information about the workshop, including the conference schedule with a list of panelists, descriptions of the panels, and other useful information.

History in Action is possible thanks to the generous support of:

For questions, concerns, or comments about the workshop or the website, please email Noah Rosenblum, the conference organizer.

Panel 1: The Politics of Historical Engagement
Even traditional, academic history can have important non-academic consequences.  On this panel, we will hear from historians at traditional research universities whose academic work has had significant ramifications beyond the world of scholarship, and reflect together on the significance of traditional historical research for the public.

Prof. Elazar Barkan, Columbia University (chair)
Prof. James Millward, Georgetown University
Prof. Robert Paxton, Columbia University
Prof. Baktybek Beshimov, Suffolk University

Panel 2: Academic History in Public
Some academic institutions have already taken steps to bring history to a broader public and produce professional-caliber historical research aimed at non-academic publics.  On this panel, we will hear from some of these researchers and teachers about how they address a non-academic audience, and explore together what their experience means for the training of professional historians.

Dr. Eric Wakin, Columbia University (chair)
Prof. Susan Kern, College of William and Mary
Dr. Bill White, Colonial Williamsburg
Dr. Mark Phillipson, Columbia University

Panel 3: History for the People
Non-university based “public historians” have, for many years, helped curate, preserve, and explore history, and present it to non-academic publics.  On this panel, we will hear from some public historians about how they conceptualize their projects, and discuss together the role historical thinking and historical training plays in their work.

Prof Karl Jacoby, Columbia University (chair)
Dr. Lincoln Bramwell, United States Forest Service
Prof. Eric Frith, United States Air Force Academy
Dr. Sarah Henry, Museum of the City of New York

Panel 4: Thinking with History
A Ph.D. used to be thought of as good training for many non-academic, not to say non-intellectual professions, and not only university research.  On this panel, we will hear from some present-day practitioners of this old idea.  Men and women who have earned Ph.D.s but pursued non-academic careers will consider their relationship to the university and discuss the role historical thinking plays in their current work.

Prof. Matthew Connelly, Columbia University (chair)
Dr. Nils Gilman, Monitor 360 and Humanity
Dr. Jim Grossman, American Historical Association
Prof. Harriet Zuckerman, Columbia University and the Mellon Foundation

Panel 5: Intellectual Responsibilities: History and Allied Disciplines
History can offer an important way for researchers in other academic disciplines to expand their scholarship and reach non-academic publics.  On this panel, we will hear from researchers in history’s allied disciplines about the role historical thinking plays in their work and their public engagement.

Prof. Andrew Delbanco, Columbia University (chair)
Prof. David Rosner, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University
Prof. Ansley Erickson, Teacher’s College, Columbia University
Prof. Debora Coen, Barnard College, Columbia University

Ongoing Exhibition: Historians in Action: The Black Arts Collective of Philadelphia in the Land of Joaquin Murrieta
James T. Roane and Huewayne Watson, of the Black Arts Collective of Philadelphia, work at the intersections of community building, art, pedagogy, and history. They’ll discuss and exhibit some their work with youth in Philadelphia and South El Monte, California.

Concluding Workshop
We will conclude by breaking up into small groups for facilitated conversations to synthesize the conference’s lessons for graduate education and formulate a handful of concrete projects and proposals Columbia might implement to further develop the conference’s themes in the years ahead, and put history to work in public in new ways.

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