Some Links related to the Historian’s Profession

“History, Historians, and ‘the Current Moment,'” Perspectives, November 2017

Jim Grossman, executive directer of the American Historical Association, reflects on what historians can do in these challenging times. Not surprisingly, communication is front and center, but his suggestion is more nuanced and very in tune with this period of myriad small publics: “Historians know lots of things that matter in the current moment. Find your niche. Identify an audience.” Continue reading “Some Links related to the Historian’s Profession”

The Writing Lesson

Woman seated at table, looking at book, pencil in hand, about to something
The Writing Lesson  by Morris Schulman, sponsored by the WPA, ca. 1935–43, and digitized by the New York Public Library.

This image of a middled-aged African American woman won’t let go of me. Seated at a table doing her writing lessons, many years of experience clearly visible on her face, she reminds me that much knowledge is not bound up in the written word. At the same time, her patient work suggests the power of the written word. She clearly wants to learn how to write. Why? Perhaps she was part of the Great Migration and her urban life required new skills or offered new opportunities? Perhaps it was a point of pride or so that she could read and respond to texts important to her emotional or spiritual life?

The picture also embodies learning by the artist through the Works Progress Administration. Besides reminding me about the techniques and skills the WPA fostered, it makes me wonder about the personal encounters between different worlds that the production of this piece must have entailed. What did those involved take away from the experience?

Mark Stoneman holds a PhD in history and is an editor at the German Historical Institute, Washington, DC.

Sources: Child Labor in the United States

On this May Day, it is interesting to read a Progressive Era speech by Florence Kelley from December 1905 entitled “The Federal Government and the Working Children.”[1] Kelley was arguing for a federal solution to the dearth of accurate and timely data about child labor in the United States. The industrial and agricultural interests that objected to a federal role, she pointed out, were quick to band together when it came to demanding protection for their own commercial interests.

Never again can it be a matter of merely local concern what hours the children are working. They will be the Republic when we are dead, and we cannot leave it to the local legislators, here and there, to decide unobserved what sort of citizens shall be produced in this or that State, whether they shall be strong in body, mind and character, or whether they shall grow up enfeebled by overwork in early childhood.

Of course, compiling and disseminating the data would have political consequences. Continue reading “Sources: Child Labor in the United States”

History of Knowledge and Contemporary Discourse on Science

The polarizing contemporary debate on science in the United States could be extraordinarily interesting for historians of knowledge, if it were occurring in the past. Still, if we could divert our attention from the news for a moment, we might find it offers some food for thought.

In the midst of the current conversation, which is experiencing renewed fervor under the new administration, the Twitterverse is exploding with talk of “truthiness,” “alternative facts,” “fact-based journalism,” “fake news,” and “lies.” This rhetoric encompasses not just climate science but also everyday policy-making and “s/he said” – “s/he said” arguments. It is easy to get caught up in this conversation, whose ideological and epistemological battle lines seem so clearly drawn, but one thing gets lost—most of the time, anyway. Continue reading “History of Knowledge and Contemporary Discourse on Science”

‘More than forty miles of shelves’

The handwriting on this fascinating image taken inside the British Museum Library, ca. 1906, reads, “More than forty miles of shelves, two millions of books, and ‘of the making … is no end.’” The accompanying summary at the Library of Congress appears to get something wrong, however: “Photograph shows the book stacks in the reading room of the British Museum library, London, England.” This scene shows an important aspect of this library’s support for reading and research, but it should not be mistaken for part of a reading room. Continue reading “‘More than forty miles of shelves’”

Knowledge and Citizenship

Caryn McTighe Musil at the Association of American Colleges and Universities has written a short programatic article on what the humanities can offer in current disputes over immigration in the United States. Her recommendation that curricula “include a focus on citizenship” suggests one way in which education and knowledge can figure into social, cultural, and political developments in societies with significant levels of immigration.[1] Many of us take citizenship for granted, having, for example, the good fortune to know precious little about statelessness.[2] Musil’s present-oriented intervention is interesting for the history of knowledge because her recommendations for curricular and other forms of public engagement with these issues suggest a possible historical research agenda too, one that extends well beyond the United States.[3]

3g03808u
Poster from 1919 encouraging immigrants to naturalize.
Source: Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/95507947/

  1. Caryn McTighe Musil, “Clashes Over Citizenship: Lady Liberty, Under Construction or On the Run?,” Diversity and Democracy 20, no. 1 (Winter 2017),
  2. On statelessness in twentieth century, see Miriam Rürup, “Lives in Limbo: Statelessness after Two World Wars,” Bulletin of the GHI 49 (Fall 2011): 113–34,
  3. An example from Germany: Simone Lässig, “History, Memory, and Symbolic Boundaries in the Federal Republic of Germany: Migrants and Migration in School History Textbooks,” in Migration, Memory, and Diversity: Germany from 1945 to the Present, edited by Cornelia Wilhelm (New York: Berghahn Books, 2016), chap. 5.
Suggested citation: Mark R. Stoneman, “Knowledge and Citizenship,” History of Knowledge, March 10, 2017, https://historyofknowledge.net/2017/03/10/knowledge-and-citizenship/.

The ‘Academic Nachwuchs’ Label in Germany

Ein Forscher, eine Forscherin ist meines Erachtens mit Abschluss der Promotion wissenschaftlich mündig.

After earning a PhD, a scholar has, in my opinion, reached academic adulthood.

I have only ever heard the German term Nachwuchs in an academic context, which I understood to be a label for people rather junior in the profession, “trainees” or “young ones,” if you will. The word sounds strange enough when talking about people with one or more books behind them, families, substantial teaching experience, and so on. Nachwuchs can even mean “offspring,” however, which fits perfectly with the parental term one uses in German for a dissertation advisor—Doktorvater  or Doktormutter. Continue reading “The ‘Academic Nachwuchs’ Label in Germany”