Saturday, January 26, 2013

Barack Obama: Historian

Anyone who listened to Barack Obama's inaugural address caught the references to the past--Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall. As Jim Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, writes:

Ironically, while Obama pins his argument on historical thinking and what “history tells us,” his vision of education identifies only training teachers in math and science, preparing students to build roads and laboratories. Historians are likely to question this vision. But we are less likely to question the president’s broader message: history matters. Pundits have already noticed his decision to identify three particular historical examples of civil rights activism, which include Stonewall, as well as the more conventional references to Seneca Falls and Selma. Indeed, even Selma is an interesting choice in its emphasis on voting rights in particular rather than the broader frame of the more commonly cited 1963 March on Washington. Obama is the first president to place the struggle for gay rights front and center in the continuing struggle to fulfill the promise of the nation’s founding documents. He does this by doing the work of a historian: selecting and prioritizing elements of the past, and placing them into a narrative.

Grossman challenges historians to comment publicly on Obama's speech and share the comments with the AHA.  Stay tuned.