From the National History Center column of the October 2011 issue of Perspectives on History
Reinterpreting History: The NHC–OUP Collaboration Continues
Susan Ferber, October 2011
The Reinterpreting History series, an initiative of the National History Center and Oxford University Press, was established to address a key element in the historian's craft: how the interpretation of specific historical events evolves over time. Each original, edited volume analyzes how historical issues change when viewed from a diversity of perspectives and from one generation to the next. Overseen by series editor Wm. Roger Louis and Susan Ferber, OUP acquisitions editor, the series has established itself as a high-quality and accessible introduction to various historiographies for scholars and students alike.
The inaugural book in the series, Making Sense of the Vietnam Wars (2008), edited by Mark Bradley and Marilyn Young, combines essays with local, national, and transnational viewpoints and examines scholarship from American and Vietnamese perspectives, alongside materials from the Soviet Union, China, Eastern Europe, France, and Great Britain. Bradley and Young's introduction elucidates conceptual and methodological shifts in this vast scholarly literature. The volume was lauded as "path-breaking" and "exceptionally well-researched" by Walter LaFeber and called "a crucial addition to the library of anyone interested in the histories of the Vietnam Wars" in the Journal of American History.
Jack Greene and Philip Morgan tackled historical analyses of the Atlantic world in their Atlantic History: A Critical Appraisal (2009). The collection assesses this popular explanatory framework alongside alternate perspectives, such as continental history, hemispheric history, and global history. It presents a range of early modern experiences, among them Spanish, Portuguese, British, French, Dutch, African, and indigenous. Noting that "much has been written in abstract terms about what Atlantic history is and is not," colonial historian Karen Ordahl Kupperman praised the book for providing "an excellent entrée to the theory and practice of Atlantic history informed by the latest research." The Journal of World History identified it as "the state of the art in the rapidly growing field of Atlantic history….This book will be the source of first resort for students and scholars seeking to deepen their understanding of the history and historiography of the early modern Atlantic world….It seems likely that Atlantic History will define the topic for years to come."
The newest volume, which will be published in January 2012, explores the emerging field of human rights history. Edited by Akira Iriye, Petra Goedde, and William Hitchcock, The Human Rights Revolution: An International History seeks to explain the rise of international justice in the wake of crimes against humanity, women's rights, indigenous rights, and the right to health care, among others. The essays connect this abstract concept to its application, from the mid-20th-century United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, Geneva Conventions, and Nuremberg trials, to events in the 1970s and beyond, such as campaigns over Greece, Indonesia, and East Timor, the growing importance of Amnesty International and NGOs, the terms of the Helsinki Accords, the role of international scientists in human rights, and public debates over female genital mutilation. Russian historian Benjamin Nathans offered this prepublication comment: "By their very nature as universal claims, human rights demand an international history. With this path-breaking and highly readable volume, that history takes a quantum leap forward." And Germanist Eric Weitz noted that "together, the individual chapters illuminate a wide range of topics … [and] provide an engaged, critical perspective on the most important issue of our time."
Other volumes in development will examine the Cold War in the Third World, exploration in history, the Jacksonian era, the French Revolution, and the dawning of a post–Cold War world.
Those who are interested are encouraged to request examination copies for their teaching, to attend sessions at the American Historical Association annual meetings in which these volumes originate, and to contact the series editors about ideas for future volumes.
Susan Ferber is executive editor for American and world history at Oxford University Press–USA.