Letters to the Editor

Historians as Content Persons

Arnold H. Price, May 2003

To the Editor:

A real miracle has happened. The AHA has taken on the cause of the public historian: not only by an article in Perspectives, but also spearheaded by its very own president (see James M. McPherson, "Putting Public History in Its Proper Place," Perspectives, March 2003). Oh quae mutatio rerum! It is not too soon to give some consideration to the role of the public historian. We public historians have suffered enough. For example, when I was on the staff of the AHA, the AHR refused to credit me with this professional affiliation and identified me in a book review with "Washington, D.C."

Perhaps this is the place for me to introduce the concept of a "content person." This term applies to nonacademic historians (or other professionals) employed essentially because of their capacity as historians. Thus I was appointed an area specialist (central Europe) at the Library of Congress solely on the basis of my PhD. When I told a former professor of my new position, he asked, "Price, how can you take on such a job without being a trained librarian?" But this is exactly the role a content person can perform.

A striking example of historians functioning as content persons was the role of they played in intelligence research during World War II, especially in the Research and Analysis branch of the OSS. None of us had any experience or prior training in this field. But many—most notably Sherman Kent—became outstanding at this kind of work.

Again, I cannot but express my highest appreciation for McPherson's article.

—Arnold H. Price
Bibliographer emeritus,
Library of Congress
and former staff member, AHA