Recasting Recent American History through Video: Politics and Race in a Televisual Age

AHA Session 211
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Continental C (Hilton Chicago, Lobby Level)
Robert Browning, Center for C-SPAN Scholarship and Engagement and Purdue University
In Search of the “First” Black President
Leah Wright Rigueur, John F. Kennedy School of Government
Bill Clinton and the MTV Presidency
Kathryn Cramer Brownell, Purdue University
Robert Browning, Center for C-SPAN Scholarship and Engagement and Purdue University

Session Abstract

The end of the Cold War and the emergence of a global economy ushered in dramatic changes as international boundaries disappeared abroad and tensions over sexuality, gender, and race exploded at home. Now with two decades of perspective, historians have begun to grapple with these changes. This innovative panel will interrogate recent American history through video, as four historians have teamed with the newly established Center for C-SPAN Scholarship and Engagement to explore frameworks for periodizing recent American history and to generate new modes of presenting historical research. Last spring, historians gathered at Purdue University to debate the place of the 1990s in American history, and the scholars here will build on those discussions to further push the field of recent American history. By focusing on the media politics surrounding the 1992 election, Kathryn Cramer Brownell examines how the growth of market populism in the cable industry during the 1980s and 1990s transformed citizens into consumers, ultimately encouraging both news programs and presidential contenders to cater to audiences a “media consumers” first, citizens second. As Nicole Hemmer examines, conservatives effectively capitalized on this landscape as grassroots activists, political consultants, and party operatives constructed a new-post Reagan conservatism in Congress and the media. Eric Larson’s research examines how the nascent Global Justice or “Anti-Globalization movement,” shaped policy and public attitudes toward NAFTA and the World Trade Organization, and, in doing so, processed social tensions over the meanings of whiteness, sovereignty, and economic security Race fueled economic and political shifts, but, as Leah Wright Rigueur argues, the attitudes of African Americans also shaped the parameters of the partisan debate. Together, these papers offer case studies that provide windows into the larger political, economic, and culture transformation of American society at the end of the twentieth century.

This panel, as an experimental session, will use the technological innovations in media from the last thirty years to expand our research base and to launch innovative ways to present this research. Scholars on this panel will present their research, and the Center for C-SPAN Scholarship and Engagement will take the place of a traditional commentator, preparing video clips from the C-SPAN Video Archives that reflect – and raise new questions -- about the research presented in each of these papers. Rather than sending papers in advance of the conference to a commentator, panelists will submit each paper to the C-SPAN Archives, and researchers at the Center for C-SPAN Scholarship and Engagement will produce a short video that compiles primary video sources for each topic. The director of the Center, Robert Browning, will present these 2-3 minute clips prior to each presentation, setting the stage for the historical analysis to follow. C-SPAN has agreed to film the session as well, and at the end of the panel session will compile short videos of the scholarly presentations with the primary video sources, ultimately creating short documentaries to disseminate the discussion and the findings of the panel to new audiences.

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