From the September 2013 issue of Perspectives on History

"History and the Other Disciplines": The Theme of the 129th Annual Meeting

Jan E. Goldstein, Francesca Trivellato, and Andrew S. Sartori, September 2013

No discipline is an island. In the past hundred years or so, the ways that we study, write, and teach history have changed dramatically, often because of influence from other disciplines. In the interwar period, the encounter of a few French historians with geographers, among others, gave rise to what became the Annales school. Since then, social history has existed in close dialogue with economics, demography, and anthropology. Intellectual history has long had ties with political theory and philosophy, and political history with political science. In the 1980s, literary theory, cultural anthropology, and psychoanalysis nourished the new cultural history. Ecology served as an inspiration for environmental history. Some world historians today seek the aid of neuroscience, genetics, and archeology to recast the millennial history of the human species. And the list could go on. Meanwhile, computer science and new technologies continue to transform our modes of collecting, reading, and interpreting material and textual data.

The interaction between history and other disciplines, in short, has been the source of fruitful innovation and is now a routine feature of our profession. But perils and pitfalls always lurk. Infatuations with other disciplines have at times produced short-lived historiographical fashions. According to some critics, challenges from other disciplines have foisted inappropriate standards and methods on historians, undermining our epistemological certainties or encouraging us to generalize too boldly. Still other critics have accused historians of a quiet disciplinary imperialism: a tendency to adopt alternative methods in a simplified form that tames those methods' most provocative assumptions. Different issues arise when public historians grapple with narratives that necessarily rely on engagements with other disciplines but aim at wider publics, as in accounts of environmental changes or scientific innovation.Where does history stand today in its relationship with other disciplines-whether humanistic, social scientific, or scientific?We invite participants to share their experiences of encounters with other disciplines: how these encounters affected their teaching, research, writing, and public interpretive work, and how they reshaped their fields over time. We encourage panels that explore some substantive historical terrain or topic situated at the intersection of history and another discipline, as well as panels that bring historians into conversation with colleagues from other disciplines in order to reflect on the pleasures and frustrations of cross-disciplinary collaboration. We welcome proposals that revisit the history of the disciplines themselves, including history, but also other humanistic and social scientific disciplines. We envision as fitting under this broad umbrella discussions of the institutional frameworks-whether on campus, among external funding institutions, or in our society at large-that foster and constrain exchanges between history and the other disciplines.

-Jan E. Goldstein (Univ. of Chicago) is the president-elect of the AHA; she will be presiding over the 129th annual meeting. Francesca Trivellato (Yale Univ.) is the chair and Andrew S. Sartori (New York Univ.) is the co-chair of the 2015 Program Committee.The above image is Skyline, New York City. Made only by Tichnor Bros., Inc., Boston, Mass. 1930-1945 (approximate). Courtesy Boston Public Library, Print Department.