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.”
In my initial academic encounters with Germany in the late 1980s and early 1990s, one of the things that impressed me was the availability of handbooks as well as specialized encyclopedias such as Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe. The textbook series Oldenbourg Grundriss der Geschichte was a new experience for me. Each volume offered a concise, chronologically organized survey (with key terms in the margins for rapid orientation), followed by a substantial historiographical discussion and bibliography. At the time, I did not appreciate the massive effort behind such compilation and systematization efforts. I just found these tools were quite practical for orienting myself in a given historical subject. Why didn’t we have such useful tools in the United States?