History refused to amble along languidly this summer. In my first weeks at the AHA—I becamePerspectives editor in June—the Supreme Court ruled that marriage is a constitutional right for all, with Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion explicitly building upon what’s become known as the “historians’ brief.” Demonstrating that the definition and meaning of marriage have evolved over time, that everything, even marriage, has a history, the brief had a critical impact on social life in the United States.
Only a short time later, however, tragic and horrific events intruded on the public consciousness— namely, a white supremacist’s massacre of nine African Americans in a Charleston, South Carolina, church, and the surfacing of yet more viral videos of deadly encounters between black citizens and white police officers. It’s hard not to believe that we’re on the verge of momentous changes in racial justice, but they are unlikely to take place without significant struggle.
Here, again, historians are finding opportunities to shape the way Americans experience the pain, anger, and frustration coming from these events. In the controversy surrounding the public place of Confederate flags and memorials, historians of the South (including museum professionals) did everything from write editorials to share lesson plans to engage in dialogue with local groups about the issue. In June, the Journal of American History published a remarkable special issue on the carceral state, and the AHA is anticipating many sessions at the 2016 annual meeting that will address the subject.
It’s clear that historians don’t wait patiently for change to come. Our efforts to contextualize the present as we interpret the past are vital to the future of the republic.
—Allison Miller, editor
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