Publication Date

September 18, 2023

Perspectives Section

AHA Activities

Post Type

#AHRSyllabus, American Historical Review


Cultural, Economic, Indigenous, Political, Public History

The new #AHRSyllabus project launches in the September issue of the American Historical Review, the journal’s first sustained effort at bringing teaching and pedagogy into its pages. This collaborative and collective syllabus project is designed to help teachers and students look “under the hood” at how historians currently practice history. Each edition of the syllabus will feature a practical hands-on teaching module that foregrounds innovative uses of historical method in the classroom. All modules will be freely available to encourage wide classroom adoption.

Sep23 coverThe #AHRSyllabus project that launches in the September 2023 issue of the AHR marks the first time in its history that teaching has had a significant presence in the journal. It will feature practical hands-on teaching modules for the classroom that foreground innovative forms of historical practice in the classroom. #AHRSyllabus modules are freely available on the AHA’s website.

The #AHRSyllabus project emerged out of a series of focus groups the AHR hosted in partnership with the AHA’s Teaching Division involving more than 100 teachers from high schools, community colleges, liberal arts colleges, regional public universities, and Research 1 universities across the country. A strong consensus emerged in these discussions around having the AHR make a pedagogical contribution to the discipline by developing topical teaching modules that help students see how history is made.

For this inaugural module of the #AHRSyllabus, we invited the interdisciplinary historical smells team Odeuropa to introduce best-practice techniques for teaching sensory history in the classroom. In “Knowing by Sensing,” they offer short textual and video presentations that explain approaches to teaching the history of smell and how it can enrich student learning about political, social, and cultural history. The module also provides teachers with a step-by-step guide for getting historical scents into the classroom and organizing smell walks that allow students, as Odeuropa puts it, “to sniff their way through history.” Future #AHRSyllabus modules will include teaching with material culture, historical gaming, graphic history, and innovative approaches to historiography.

This month, the AHR History Lab features another installment in the Engaged History series, “Mismonumentalizing and Decolonizing.” Organized by Durba Ghosh (Cornell Univ.), it brings together five essays by academics and practitioners working with groups committed to inclusive historical representation. As Ghosh writes, the contributors “propose ways that public art, campaigns to commemorate urban spaces, and local projects of documenting history honor the past in ways that recognize public attachments to history.” The authors of these essays—Jayanta Sengupta (the recently retired director of Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata), Mathura Umachandran (Univ. of Exeter), Arielle Xena Alterwaite (Univ. of Pennsylvania), Tawny Paul (Univ. of California, Los Angeles), Thomas J. Adams (Univ. of South Alabama), and Sue Mobley (Monument Lab)—move between a variety of commemorative spaces, from Kolkata, London, and Frankfurt to Los Angeles and New Orleans (respectively), in order to document and understand the entanglements of public history and politics.

Future #AHRSyllabus modules will include teaching with material culture, historical gaming, graphic history, and innovative approaches to historiography.

Also in the September lab is an interdisciplinary forum led by R. Darrell Meadows (US National Archives and Records Administration) and Joshua Sternfeld (National Endowment for the Humanities) that considers the methodological and epistemological challenges of artificial intelligence (AI) systems for historical practice and provides a primer for applying AI techniques to research in historical newspaper collections. History Unclassified closes out the lab with Kenda Mutongi (Massachusetts Inst. of Technology) and Alan de Gooyer’s (Williams Coll.) “African History and Meleko Mokgosi’s Your Trip to Africa,” which explores how the work of the US-based Botswanan visual artist Meleko Mokgosi offers a powerful lens to rethink the writing of African history.

The issue’s articles examine Indigenous histories, revolution in the Americas, and transnational histories of the Cold War. In “Escaping Empire,” Stephanie Mawson (Univ. de Lisboa) explores the flight of Indigenous communities from the Philippine lowlands into mountain spaces, showing how flight was a frequent and widespread phenomenon in response to Spanish colonization during the 17th century. In dialogue with recent scholarship on colonial frontiers and Indigenous hinterlands, Mawson demonstrates how upland and lowland regions in Southeast Asia that are usually viewed as separate spaces had shared histories of resistance, migration, and trade throughout the colonial period. Jeremy LaBuff’s (Northern Arizona Univ.) “Prolegomena to Any Future Indigenous History of the Ancient World” offers a series of case studies from Hellenistic Anatolia to illustrate how the casual use of the term “Indigenous” can lead to serious misunderstandings of imperial and colonial dynamics and Indigenous self-understandings. A theoretically grounded and historically based understanding of indigeneity, he argues, requires reexamination of the logic behind power relations and imbalances, and provides new opportunities for generative comparison with the more familiar colonialism of the modern period.

In “The Arms Trade and American Revolutions,” Brian DeLay (Univ. of California, Berkeley) charts how an international arms trade came to bind the revolutions in British North America, Saint-Domingue, and Spanish America in dependent relationships. The decisions of France and Spain to secretly arm and then openly support the British North Americans, he argues, made their revolution a success. North American merchants became the indispensable arms dealers to the hemisphere’s later revolutionaries, but the United States never offered terms remotely as generous as those it had enjoyed during its own independence struggle. Haitians and Spanish Americans had to navigate a cutthroat market to obtain the tools of independence, a development DeLay believes haunted their postcolonial histories.

Two final articles explore international histories of the late Cold War era. Martin Wagner’s (Freie Univ. Berlin) “Excoriating Stalin, Criticizing Mao” examines the entangled official reexaminations of the past in the 1950s Soviet Union and in China after the death of Mao. In 1956 and 1978, Nikita Khrushchev and Deng Xiaoping confronted their communist parties with a painful past and reevaluated the leaders’ respective legacies. Although they faced similar challenges in dealing with the ramifications of arbitrary rule and cults of personality, Wagner shows how Soviet and Chinese strategies to party history sharply differed and the lasting implications of those differences for the post-Maoist Chinese state. In “Empowering African Girls?,” Sarah Bellows-Blakely (Freie Univ. Berlin) focuses on efforts by actors from a pan-African women’s organization and the United Nations to create and internationalize frameworks for what they termed girl-focused economic policymaking in the 1980s and 1990s. Exploring the interplay of capitalism, poverty, and the silences of history, Bellows-Blakely combines feminist and postcolonial methodologies to demonstrate how the creation of dominant policy frameworks and the internationalization of knowledge involved not only the diffusion of ideas but also their erasure.

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Mark Bradley
Mark Philip Bradley

University of Chicago