The summer mailbag full-to-bursting with questions, friends! Here’s a spot of good news, for a change: a selective SLAC in the East might be looking to fill several American history lines in the next few years! A reader and commenter fills us in on the particulars, and wants to hear from all of you about how you teach North American and/or U.S. history courses:
I recently took over as chair of our 10-person department. We have four historians of the US (including African-American) and six who cover medieval and modern Europe, South Asia, China, and Russia/Eurasia. One American historian has just been body-snatched by a uni with a Ph.D. program, and two of our three remaining Americanists are going to retire in the next five years or so. So, we have an opportunity to restructure our American curriculum, except that most of us who will be doing the hiring are non-specialists. (I actually took a minor field in American women’s history in grad school, but that was a long time ago, but I’m not an Americanist.)
From your blog and other sources I get the sense that the American field has been changing quite a bit, becoming less “exceptionalist” and more integrated into transnational analyses. I also strongly suspect that our Americanists have been providing a much narrower curriculum than other departments of similar size: nothing west of the Mississippi, for example. My question for you is, where do I go to find out the current directions of American historiography, what range of courses would be considered a good program at a small school, and would more generally reflect the current state of the American field? Does AHA provide a field guide?
What do you and your readers think? Just sign me,
Not An Americanist, but I’m Willing to Learn
Think of this as Rotisserie League department building: how would you help Willing to Learn rebuild hir department? I think ze is right that many Americanists–especially those of us teaching either very recent U.S. History (20th century), or very remote American history (1500-1800)–are consciously engaging transnational or comparative history frameworks, such as borderlands or Atlantic World history. All of my regular upper-division courses now engage much more than just Anglo-American history based on English-language sources, whereas that was not previously the case.
What’s going on in your corner of American or U.S. history? How did you revise the courses you may have inherited from an emeritus colleague, and what new courses have you added to the curriculum over the course of your career? (And for you silverbacks out there: how have you revised your own courses to permit you to engage the themes you see emerging in your subfield/s?)
I would also suggest to Willing to Learn that ze might write some really broad job advertisements and then let the job finalists make the case for the importance of their work and what they will bring to the SLAC curriculum. (This has worked really well in my department in recent searches.) But, if I had my ‘druthers? I’d prescribe a Latin@ or Chican@ borderlands historian who either does early American or recent U.S. history; a scholar whose work engages race (again, any period); and a historian of science and technology or an environmental historian in whatever period hasn’t been covered yet. Sci/tech scholars and environmental historians tend to be very sympathetic to transnational approaches to history, because so much of the subject matter in their fields doesn’t respect political boundaries. Also, environmental history might also help Willing to Learn cover more of the geography of the U.S., as it seems to be a much bigger subfield among western graduate programs and western historians. And of course, I’d personally like to see one or more of the Dream Candidates research and teach women’s and gender history in the mix, too.
Over to you, friends! Non-Americanists are certainly welcome to comment, since most of you in North America probably teach in history departments that offer a full compliment of North American and/or U.S. History courses, and I’m pretty sure that some of you have some strong opinions about how American history is done in your neck of the woods!