Article Commentaries

For my article readings, the first of the potential choices to jump out at me was Steve Hochstadt’s “The Future of American History”. What initially interested me about the article was just how jarring a contrast it presented with my experience of participation in the Century America Project to date. Thus far, I’ve enjoyed what seemed to me to be a unity of purpose, and, for the most part, of perspective, regarding the experience of the Great War amongst the students and instructors in this course, and if these impressions are to any degree in error (or to whatever degree they are in error), nonetheless, the interaction between the participants has been, for the most part, overwhelmingly positive and cooperative in nature.

Hochstadt’s article, by contrast, describes a very different academic environment. It’s often said that history is written by the victors, but the milieu of historicism that Hochstadt describes calls more to mind William Faulkner’s observation that the past is not dead, nor even past. For the National Association of Scholars on the one hand, and Hochstadt and his ilk on the other, the field of History appears to be a very present thing indeed, and less a sanctuary of scholarship than a battlefield, where opposing armies are locked in existential struggle for control of contested territory. As such, Hochstadt’s article, with its us-versus-them theme, reads rather like some of the propaganda pieces I’ve been looking at as part of my research for this course, an impression which the arresting and symbolic juxtapositions comprising the accompanying artwork help perpetuate.

While the experience of reading this article was, in consideration, something of a disappointment, in that my own personal experience of interacting with other history students and historians has largely been one of shared love for our chosen discipline, it was nonetheless useful for putting my work with this course into perspective, allowing me to better appreciate both the positive aspects of my scholastic career to this point and the potential political uses, consequences and repercussions of our work as historians, no less potent today in 2015 than they were in 1915.

The second article I looked over was Joseph Locke and Ben Wright’s “A Free and Open Alternative to Traditional History Textbooks”. Being in somewhat reduced circumstances financially, at least by the standards of most of the modern Western world, the sometimes exorbitant-seeming costs of academic textbooks comprise an issue of definite interest to me. I also have some personal experience with textbook-less history courses, having two now under my belt with one of our local faculty members at U of A Augustana, who has not used physical textbooks for years now, preferring that to assign online resources for coursework, as well as leaving it up to the students themselves in some cases to track down the materials in question in order to encourage familiarity with the use of various academic database search-engines. All things considered, I found this approach quite helpful (and not just in monetary terms!) and so wish Locke and Wright continuing success in their endeavour.

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