I’ve been enjoying the latest columns by AHA president William Cronon, here and here. I’ve also enjoyed the continued discussion of said columns by Tenured Radical and Clio Bluestocking. Quite a few others have commented, but these are two that have crossed my desk.
I like the general thrust of Cronon’s advocacy—particularly the need for professional historians to engage a broader public. (This gets into the whole “useable past” versus “past as a foreign country” thing. I’m not committed to either, but find that “useable past” to be a handier approach to teaching surveys of all kinds.) For some time now I’ve been conceptualizing the academic/popular divide as a conversation that two different groups are having about the same thing. The two separate conversations will have their own organization, dynamics, questions, directions, and outcomes and at no point do the two conversations interact with one another. I love both conversations and don’t really see the need to mash the two together, but wish there were a way for the two to better inform one another. (Thus my description of how I try to work with Glenn Beck Guy in class.)
Cronon’s concern about the divide is hardly new. Indeed, it is a perennial subject of hand-wringing by academics, and I’m sure everyone is tired of this problem that never gets solved. I share Clio’s reservations, but I have to admit I like the way Cronon talks and thinks about that problem better than anyone who has addressed it before.
There. I’ve got 250 words and I haven’t said a thing. At least I can scratch “post something about Cronon” off my list of things to do!