National History Center 2008

by Miriam Hauss Cunningham

The year 2008 was an event-filled year for the National History Center, during which it continued programs it had launched earlier, took up some new projects, and made some organizational changes to integrate itself more closely with the American Historical Association.

Congressional Briefings

In its increasingly popular series of congressional briefings, the Center arranged for a presentation on February 13, 2008, by James M. McPherson, professor emeritus of history at Princeton University. Professor McPherson focused on the writ of habeas corpus under President Lincoln during the Civil War. A second briefing on May 9, 2008, highlighted radical Islam before and after September 11, 2001, and featured Professor John O. Voll, professor of Islamic history and associate director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. This briefing was cosponsored by the Middle Eastern Studies Association of North America. Both briefings are available as podcasts on the Center’s website.

Initiatives on History Education

During the year, the Center continued to engage with the issues and challenges of history education through various projects. The Center finished the grant from the Teagle Foundation to study the role of history in liberal education with the publication of its report, The Role of the History Major in Liberal Education. Available for purchase on the AHA’s pub shop, the report, written by Stanley N. Katz (Princeton University) and James R. Grossman (The Newberry Library), with the help of Tracy Steffes (Brown University), urges history departments to reassess their curriculums for history majors, with an eye towards emphasizing the goals and values of liberal education. A history major, the report argues, should “nurture [students’] liberal and civic capacities, in part by integrating disciplinary knowledge, methods, and principles into the broad experience of undergraduate education.”

Seminars on Decolonization

Another continuing project is the series of seminars on decolonization in the 20th century, the second of which was held July 6–August 2, 2008, at the Library of Congress, a cosponsor of the series (which is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation).

The seminar was led by Wm. Roger Louis, Kerr Professor and director of British studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and a former president of the AHA; Dane Kennedy (George Washington Univ.); Philippa Levine (Univ. of Southern California); Jason Parker (Texas A&M Univ.); and Pillarisetti Sudhir (AHA). The 15 participants in the seminar, who were selected from a large pool of applicants, were able to conduct research on various aspects of decolonization and to take part in discussions.

As part of the seminar, the Center arranged two public lectures: one by Dane Kennedy on Decolonization and Disorder, and another by Wm. Roger Louis, who spoke about Palestine and the United Nations in 1947. Professor Kennedy examined the waves of European decolonization through the late 18th through the late-20th century. Professor Louis described the Palestine Crisis of 1947 European empires in their declining years and provided insights into the making of the new postcolonial states. Both the lectures were webcast by the Library of Congress.

Lectures on History of Foreign Relations

In March, the Center held its second lecture in New York in collaboration with the Council on Foreign Relations. Fritz Stern, University Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University delivered the lecture on March 4, 2008. In the lecture titled “Fear and Hitler’s Instant Subversion of Freedom”, Stern discussed how Germany was transformed into a dictatorship so quickly. The lecture is available as a web cast on the Center’s web site.


The Center has a new series of books available, published by Oxford University Press, with each volume focusing on a historical topic that has been substantially reinterpreted as a result of recent scholarship. The series, entitled Reinterpreting History: How Historical Assessments Change over Time, is designed to offer students and the public a better understanding of how and why historical thinking changes.

The first book in the series is Making Sense of the Vietnam War: Local, National, and Transnational Perspectives, edited by Mark Philip Bradley and Marilyn B. Young. It features essays on American intervention, the coming of the war, and endless wars. It is available in both hardback and paperback versions from Oxford University Press.

National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institutes

The National History Center was awarded a NEH summer institute on “Rethinking America in Global Perspectives”, which ran from June 16–July 11, 2008 and was also designated a NEH’s “We the People” project. Hosted at the Library of Congress, “Rethinking America” brought together 25 two- and four-year American history teachers to put American history into context with the world. In an era of increasing global interaction and interdependence, those concerned with the historical, geographical, and cultural dimensions of America are actively rethinking the geographical and chronological boundaries of their subject of study. A growing body of scholarship now prompts American historians to “look…beyond the official borders of the U.S. and back again.” The institute was co-sponsored by the AHA and the Community College Humanities Association. The group was led by John R. Gillis, professor emeritus of history from Rutgers University, and Carl J. Guarneri, professor of history at Saint Mary’s College of California, and featured distinguished faculty members: Charles C. Mann, Elizabeth Mancke, Laurent DuBois, Eliga Gould, Donna Gabbacia, Paul Kramer, Penny Von Eshen, and Alan Dawley—all of whom have made important contributions to this emerging field.

The National History Education Clearinghouse

During 2007 the Center has become a partner in the work of the National History Education Clearinghouse, which has been created by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University and the Stanford University History Education Group in partnership with the American Historical Association and the National History Center. The Clearinghouse is funded by a $7 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education to be the principal online resource for all aspects of K–12 history education (Contract Number ED-07-CO).

The Center brought six authors together with several teachers and administrative officials to discuss the state of history assessments in six states: California, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia. Awaiting approval from the new Department of Education, the papers and the statement issued from the six authors will soon be available on the Center’s web site.

The Center’s Board of Trustees

The Board of Trustees of the National History Center has the following members:

Wm. Roger Louis (University of Texas, Austin), chairman; James J. Sheehan (Stanford University), vice chair; Maureen Murphy Nutting (North Seattle Community College); Secretary; James M. Banner, Jr. (Washington, D.C.), treasurer; Karen Halttunen (University of Southern California), vice president of the AHA’s Teaching Division; Susan Ferber (Oxford University Press); James R. Grossman (Newberry Library); Robert L. Harris (Cornell University); Stanley N. Katz (Princeton University); Deanna Marcum (Library of Congress); Diane Ravitch (New York University); Teofilo Ruiz (University of California, Los Angeles), vice president of the AHA’s Research Division; David J. Weber (Southern Methodist University), vice president of the Professional Division; and Marilyn B. Young (New York University).

Miriam Hauss Cunningham is the assistant director of the National History Center.