Beginnings and Endings: The 1995 Meeting Program
Robert L. Harris Jr. and Ann-Louise Shapiro, December 1994
In recognition of the 50th anniversary of World War II, the program of the 1995 American Historical Association meeting focuses on the aftermath of war in different times and places. This historical marker provides an opportunity for scholars to reflect on the manner in which historians have explained and represented periods of disruption and restabilization. With the global changes set in motion after the war and recent developments, particularly those in eastern Europe, it is time to assess the extent to which the forces and processes unleashed by the war are finished. How do we determine beginnings and endings? To what extent do we obscure issues with the rhetoric of endings, especially the "end" of the Cold War era? How should we think about the relationship between the "end of the postwar world" and the new era that we are entering?
These issues and others will be addressed throughout the three-day meeting, which will begin with a plenary session, "1945–1995: The 'End' of the Postwar Era." A distinguished panel of international scholars including Carol Gluck (Columbia Univ.), Eric J. Hobsbawm (Univ. of London), Jurgen Kocka (Free Univ. of Berlin), Ali A. Mazrui (Binghamton Univ. and Cornell Univ.), and Marilyn Young (New York Univ.) will consider the significance of global political and economic transformations, changes in demography and gender relations, the problem of nationalism, and the role of public memory.
With the achievement of nonracial democracy in South Africa, have we reached the end of racial colonialism throughout the world or has imperialism been replaced by regional and international organizations? Are we witnessing the birth of "recolonization" in a new form? What part does public memory play in efforts toward recovery and reconciliation? To what extent was the Cold War a stabilizing force, especially for the global economy? Does the demise of the Cold War portend greater instability and chaos? We anticipate a very lively discussion of these questions and more at the plenary session.
Shifting from a global perspective to a consideration of the United States, a second plenary session will address similar themes on the question of American pluralism and identity. Sheldon Hackney, chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, has proposed a "national conversation" on American identity and diversity. In the post–World War II era, the United States has become a very different nation from what it was at the beginning of this century. How does ongoing demographic change affect our understanding of the meaning and implications of pluralism? Are there ties that bind Americans together across lines of race, ethnicity, gender, class, religion, sexual orientation, region, age, and disability? Can individuals and groups maintain their own cultural identities without threatening national cohesiveness? What is at stake in competing ideas about multiculturalism? How do we discuss these issues, understand our past, and prepare for the future? Joining Sheldon Hackney for an examination of these issues will be AHA President Thomas C. Holt (Univ. of Chicago), Darlene Clark Hine (Michigan State Univ.), David A. Hollinger (Univ. of California at Berkeley), and John Kuo Wei Tchen (Queens Coll. at City Univ. of New York).
1995 marks numerous anniversaries, including the 25th anniversary of the Journal of Interdisciplinary History. A panel featuring Nobel Laureate Robert W. Fogel (Univ. of Chicago) will examine the achievements of interdisciplinary historical research over the past 25 years, especially the intersection of economics and history, the problems that such efforts have yet to overcome, and prospects for the future.
On September 18, 1895, Booker T. Washington delivered his Atlanta Exposition Address, one of the most significant speeches in American and African American history. A panel, chaired by the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Washington and former AHA President Louis R. Harlan, will analyze the Atlanta Exposition Address 100 years after its delivery. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Harvard Univ.), Stephen E. Lucas (Univ. of Wisconsin at Madison), and Gwendolyn Robinson, director of Chicago's DuSable Museum of African American History, will discuss the rhetoric of Washington's speech, often referred to as the Atlanta Compromise, and its reception then and now. This session featuring a historian, a literary critic, and a communications expert reflects the effort to organize sessions that cross disciplinary, geographic, and temporal boundaries to address themes of broad theoretical, methodological, and pedagogical importance.
Reaching back further in time, the program marks the 900th anniversary of the beginning of the Christian Crusades and the rise of European colonialism. An exciting session, "1095 and After: Cultural/Colonial Encounters in the Era of the Crusades," will explore the cross-cultural perceptions and prejudices that arose out of the Crusades, the location of medieval merchants in foreign colonies, and the transformation of traditional sites and institutions through conquest and reconquest. "Crusade: Holy War or Holy Vengeance" will examine more specifically the role of the Christian Church in the Crusades.
How we remember the past, especially from different cultural, geographic, and social vantages, is an important theme for several sessions: "Remembering World II"; "Icons of the Past: The Construction of Memory at Concentration Camp Sites in Austria, France, and Germany"; "Presentation and Representation in the Renaissance"; "Hiroshima: A 50-Year Retrospective"; "The City Remembered: Collective Memory and Urban Transformation in the 20th Century"; and "Collective Memory and Historical Analysis: A History of Ambiguities." The last session looks at postwar Germany as the center of international historical debate on the nature of collective memory, social practices that aim to represent the past, and the uses of historical preservation techniques. It is concerned specifically with the distinction between "historical" memory and "collective" memory and the problems involved in interpreting and representing the past.
"Picturing World War II: The Visual Record and Its Legacies" considers the images that we use to represent the past. What types of images are projected to the public and how are they manipulated for different purposes? Images of World War II during and after the conflict have changed over time, and there are distinct differences in the use of pictures, newsreels, and the construction of documentaries.
The use of film for interpretive and instructional purposes will be further examined in "Dramatizing the American Revolutionary Past: Educational Possibilities and Problems"; "Goin' to Chicago: The Saga of the Black Migration"; "Kings of the Hill: Baseball's Forgotten Men"; and "The First Congress of the Peoples of the East."
Several sessions are devoted to thinking about historiography and the nature of historical practice. The recent book, Telling the Truth about History by Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacob, has generated considerable discussion within the historical profession. The work responds to challenges posed by relativism and postmodernism. Martin Bunzl (Rutgers Univ.), John Higham (Johns Hopkins Univ.), and Bonnie Smith (Rutgers Univ.) will consider the book's treatment of objectivity and scientific methods and the authors' defense of
"practical realism" in the course of seeking the truth. The session, "Prospects in the Philosophy of History: Responses to Joseph Margolis, The Flux of History and The Flux of Science," takes up similar issues in the confluence between rigor and objectivity and the problematic of "narrative realism."
"Alternative Modes of Historiographical Thought in Late 19th-Century Europe" probes discourse on the scientific character of historical studies in Europe, particularly Germany, during the late 19th century. The tension between scientific status and humanistic inquiry has been a perennial problem. What have been the areas of agreement among historians and social theorists of historicist, positivist, and Marxist persuasion?
Joan Kelly, in whose honor the AHA awards an annual prize for the best book in women's history and/or feminist theory, raised many questions in her pathbreaking work about periodization, family history, and class and gender. Kelly also asked the critical question "Did Women Have a Renaissance?" A retrospective session on Joan Kelly's work will address whether research now suggests that periods of so-called "renaissance" or "golden age" had negative effects on women's status and whether there were other eras not necessarily considered as "renaissance" or "golden age" that had more positive effects on women's status. Panelists will examine these questions from the vantages of the Italian Renaissance, classical Rome, African principalities, the Mexican Revolution, and the modern nationalist movement in India.
The making of United States foreign policy during the Cold War is the focus of several sessions. The panel "The Cold War, the United States, and Vietnam: Diplomacy and Foreign Relations" features the work of graduate students selected in the first competition of the dissertation grants program of the National Endowment for the Humanities. They will consider the interaction between America's domestic political culture and efforts to export the "American Way," the decisive role of radical Vietnamese political culture on the Cold War in Vietnam, and the foreign relations of the National Front for the Liberation of Vietnam. The latter two papers draw on recently available Vietnamese archives. "The CIA and the Cold War under Truman and Eisenhower" also relies on newly declassified intelligence records to probe the unprecedented role that the CIA took on after World War II as part of America's new national security establishment. The panel will consider the CIA's relationship with the two presidents, their use of the CIA as a covert instrument of foreign policy, and the CIA's processes for determining the scope and nature of the Soviet strategic threat.
"Questions of Nuance: Understanding American Liberalism during the First Decade of the Cold War" looks at the struggles that arose in the American liberal community after the end of World War II. How do we define "Cold War Liberalism?" How did differences in perceptions of an external threat influence fragmentation within the liberal community? This session will examine the categories of liberal and conservative during the Cold War Era and the manner in which liberal organizations were affected by the debates over communism and civil liberties.
A special feature of the program will be a workshop on Sunday, "Legacies of the Second World War: Teaching about Germany and Japan," that will look specifically at teaching strategies for examining the ways in which responsibility for the war and war crimes are viewed in each country 50 years later. Local teachers will be able to receive one unit of graduate course credit through St. Xavier University. Several other sessions and activities have been planned especially for classroom teachers, such as "When Students Write Their Own Historical Record: Empowering Young People to Generate Historical Archives and Narratives"; "Comparative Approaches to World History"; "Improving World History Instruction through National Standards and Better Assessment"; "World History: Teacher Preparation through High School–College Collaboration, The Philadelphia Story"; and a book discussion with Peter Novick, author of The Holocaust, for precollege history teachers. Each session should address the pedagogical as well as the methodological and theoretical implications of the presentations.
Eighty-seven scholars from abroad, representing six continents and seventeen different countries, will participate on the program. A glance at the topical index suggests the range of thematic interests within the historical profession. The 1995 AHA meeting offers an opportunity to become familiar with the major currents of historical study around the globe, its controversies, and where we draw lines of demarcation in probing beginnings and endings.
—Robert L. Harris, Jr. (Cornell Univ.), and Ann-Louise Shapiro (Wesleyan Univ.) are chair and cochair of the 1995 AHA Program Committee.