"Historians and Their Publics, Then and Now"
Jacqueline Jones, University of Texas at Austin
The annual American Historical Association Presidential addresses reveal an ongoing debate within the profession about the ways historians should—or should not—communicate to audiences outside the academy. Related to this broader outreach effort is the role of the AHA in promoting or resisting narratives that erase the histories of women and people of color. Today, many people seek to learn about history via genealogical research; museums, galleries, and historic sites; blogs; online magazines; historical documentaries and major Hollywood films; cable TV programs; investigative journalism, newspaper op-eds and obituaries; podcasts; and their own DNA analysis. This democratization of the historical enterprise has broadened the reach of professional and nonprofessional historians alike; it has also inspired a backlash among those who see an expansive, accurate, and inclusive account of the nation’s past as somehow dangerous and unpatriotic. History culture wars are not new; however, these wars have assumed a new intensity today. Future historians will assess whether these developments represent, on the one hand, a welcome and growing appreciation for the study of history, or, on the other, the triumph of a view of the past that promotes fiction over fact, myth over truth.