April 20, 2015

OAH Presidential Address: On Social Amnesia and Neutrality as Public Performance

This past weekend Patty Limerick, Faculty Director and Chair of the Board of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado, delivered the presidential address at the OAH 2015 annual meeting. Her address, "Historians as Public Intellectuals: A Cost-Benefit Analysis, Seen from the Interior" considered how historians can help society avoid amnesia.

To revive the profession and its place in American culture, Limerick encouraged members of the Organization of American Historians to think less about professors and the academy and more about the story, or stories, that bring life to their work. Limerick used herself as an example of a historian who lived the kind transition she is encouraging: moving from an early career scholar focused on speaking to her field (with monographs like Legacy of Conquest) to a historian who speaks to a larger public audience about the importance of historical context (writing briefs for Congress, hosting public events and forums through the Center of the American West, and applying historical methods to endeavors other writing books).  In both kinds of efforts, Limerick sees her role as supplying historical perspective in order to better understand and shape the future. Rather than detract from her role or status as a scholar, Limerick argues that her work engaging the public brings greater credibility to her scholarship and enhances her purpose as a historian.

Limerick's speech is well timed as as the April 2015 issue of Perspectives on History also considers the current state of the profession. Perspectives provide a roundtable on a related concern: "History as a Book Discipline. It's worth reading after watching the entire presidential address, which can be found here courtesy of History News Network. 

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