Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Another angle on professionalism

William Cronon has been one of my favorite historians ever since 1991, when he published the definitive account of 19th-century Chicago and its hinterland, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West.

Now he's the president of the American Historical Association with some interesting thoughts on that profession in the March 2012 AHA newsletter Perspectives on History:

. . .professional historians who work in the academy should be immensely grateful when they are joined in an organization like the AHA by professional historians who make documentaries, design web sites, post blogs, curate exhibits, teach school, and publish popular books. Only if we all gather together under the same big tent will we be able to learn from each other the ways good history can be more effective in reaching the many audiences that hunger for its insights. Forty million people watched Ken Burns's documentaries on The Civil War. Barbara Tuchman probably influenced more people's understanding of the First World War than any other historian of her generation. Public school teachers shape the historical consciousness of many millions more students (and citizens) than college teachers ever will. And so on and on.

How do we avoid professional boredom? By making sure we don't define "professional" too narrowly.
Read the whole thing!

6 comments:

Christy Fillerup said...

I wonder if he would consider genealogists as worthy of entry into this "big tent." His opinions may present an opportunity for genealogists to further gain entree into the world of academic historians. But how to test the theory . . .

Harold said...

Good point, Christy. I'm not sure where to take this either, but let's keep our eyes open. I wouldn't have heard of this at all if I hadn't joined AHA.

Dawn Watson said...

Thank you for this post, Harold.

Angela said...

It is interesting to see his inclusive perspective. We too need to be careful about not defining our "profession" too narrowly.

Cathi at Stone House Research said...

Maybe you could interview him for your blog, Harold?
Thanks for posting this.

Judy G. Russell said...

Love the open tent, Harold, and hope we can always be inclusive -- there's plenty of room under the big top!