From the Archives… National Park Service at 100

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the National Park Service. The NPS, the Organization of American Historians, and the Journal of American History have long been intertwined. To commemorate this day, we peeked into the OAH’s archives to see how the NPS has evolved and grown over the past century.

The 2016 past OAH Meeting in Providence, R.I., featured a number of important conversations marking the centennial. Previewed by Joan Zenzen, a Friday evening plenary with Robert Stanton, Gary Nash, and William Cronon marked the centennial and honored Stanton’s leadership. Live tweets for the plenary are collected here. After the plenary, NPS historian Christine Arato remarked,

“I hope that the work of the NPS in our next century creates spaces for the courageous practices of reciprocity and empathy, skills learned not just through knowing but also in doing. We need these places to be better citizens of the world not only through frank encounters with our past, but in conversation about our responsibilities to one another.”

Other sessions at the 2016 meeting included a panel on “Old Stories, Young Leaders: Oral History and Leadership Development in the National Park Service” and a round table on the centennial.

Lectures are available from several OAH Distinguished Lecturers who specialize in environmental history and public history. Make plans to host an OAH Lecturer in honor of the NPS’s centennial.

Looking back to the turn of the twenty-first century, the JAH featured a 2002 essay by J. Todd Moye on “The Tuskegee Airmen Oral History Project and Oral History in the National Park Service.” The OAH’s radio show Talking History interviewed Chief Historian of the NPS Dwight Pitcaithley in 1998 about the politics of interpretation. Continue reading


Native American History is the Answer to Your Coverage Problems

Adam Jortner is an associate professor of history at Auburn University. He is the author of The Gods of Prophetstown: The Battle for Tippecanoe and the Holy War for the American Frontier (2012), and the forthcoming Blood from the Sky: Miracles and Politics in the Early American Republic (2017). He is also a former member of the script team for Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? on PBS.

Adam Jortner is an associate professor of history at Auburn University. He is the author of The Gods of Prophetstown: The Battle for Tippecanoe and the Holy War for the American Frontier (2012), and the forthcoming Blood from the Sky: Miracles and Politics in the Early American Republic (2017). He is also a former member of the script team for Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? on PBS.

For collegiate or high school history teachers, August is the season of tinkering. With new semesters barreling down, we add and remove readings, change assignments, shift October material to December.

Coverage is the enemy of tinkering. Whether for professional, political, or personal reasons, courses (especially surveys) often have to cover more in less time.

Native American history may not immediately leap to mind as the solution to problems of coverage, but it should. The depth and interplay of Native American worlds, cultures, and politics have been demonstrated by scholars, but they are often underappreciated in pedagogy. The recent volume Why You Can’t Teach U.S. History without Native Americans explodes the myth that coverage demands preclude integrating Native Americans broadly in the history of the United States. When it comes to Civil War, the Great Depression, and the Nuclear Age, Native American history can be a solution to coverage demands.

Let me sell you on two potential lesson plans, based off the essays in Why You Can’t. Then if you’re still reading, we can talk theory. But if you’re tinkerer, you need lessons first.

Let’s start with a religion and violence in America. As an added bonus, this example also functions as a War of 1812 lesson plan. (And let’s face it: unless you are Nicole Eustice or Alan Taylor, you probably need a War of 1812 lesson plan.)

You’ll need a couple of maps of the Indiana Territory as divided by Indian treaties (a good one is available on Wikipedia) and if possible, some of the letters of the territory’s governor, William Henry Harrison, available in Logan Esarey’s 1922 collection.

Map from Wikimedia, created by user ArnoldPlaton.

Map from Wikimedia, created by user ArnoldPlaton.

A quick comparison of modern Indiana maps and early nineteenth-century Indiana maps shows that Indiana then was a little stamp of white settlement, surging up from Kentucky, and the rest of the territory belonged to Indians. Harrison negotiated for several more scraps of land, but when he bought more land in the Treaty of Ft. Wayne, a Native American prophet said no. Tenskwatawa—a devotee of a new religion—rebuked Harrison, declared the north of the territory to be his sovereign region, and built his own city on the banks of the Tippecanoe to prove it. That meant that Indiana was split by multiple territorial claims. (Why You Can’t Teach has a map depicting just that.) From here, teachers can usefully discuss a) how land claims provoked conflict in Indiana, and b) how different maps convey different kinds of information.

If you really want to go for the gold star, you can have students read Harrison’s 1810 message to his legislature, which lays out the arguments Tenskwatawa presented against Fort Wayne, and Harrison’s peremptory response. This message also has Harrison dismissal of Tenskwatawa’s religion as imposture.[1] Tenskwatawa and his brother Tecumseh practiced a novel religion known today as nativism, and Harrison repeatedly described this religion to legislators and superiors in Washington as a kind of evil cult that needed to be destroyed. When Harrison torched Prophetstown in 1811, at the Battle of Tippecanoe, he thought he had succeeded; in fact, Tippecanoe tilted the Old Northwest into the wider War of 1812. Battles erupted across American soil for the next two years. Continue reading


Is it Time to Move on from the 1960s?


Time Magazine cover, May 11, 2015.

Bernard von Bothmer teaches history at the University of San Francisco and Dominican University of California. He is the author of Framing the Sixties: The Use and Abuse of a Decade from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush.

In my history classes I point out, as often as possible, connections between the present and the past. In fact, it is the basic teaching strategy that underlies all the courses I teach. Not only are they interesting, but mentioning comparisons are a useful way of engaging young people, demonstrating how history is alive, how history helps us to understand the present, and how the past is never dead.

There has been a great deal of talk in recent years–or, for that matter, in recent days, with very thoughtful pieces by Todd Gitlin in The New York Times and Rick Perlstein in The Atlantic–comparing the current political climate to the 1960s, especially the late sixties. It is understandable, as we confront many of the same issues from both the left and right: racial tensions, a polarized and divided country, passionate political sentiments. As but one example, Time Magazine’s May 11, 2015’s cover showed a black and white photo of an African-American protester running away from an approaching sea of policemen in full riot gear. On the cover were the words “America, 1968,” with the “1968” date crossed out; above it was written “2015.” It was hard to discern which year the photo was taken, 1968 or 2015.

These recent references to the 1960s are nothing new. In fact, we have been doing this ever since the end of the 1960s.

Richard Nixon attacked George McGovern in 1972 as the candidate of “Acid, Amnesty, and Abortion.” Part of Carter’s appeal in 1976 to some was that you could not possibly imagine him being sympathetic to the Summer of Love or to Woodstock. Ronald Reagan as president referenced JFK more than any of his predecessors. Bill Clinton, our first baby boomer candidate, in 1992 brought memories of the 1960s to the forefront: he told voters he was just like JFK, whereas his opponents caricatured him as emblematic of the counterculture, a womanizing draft dodger. The 1960s were there in 1996 when Dole tried to tarnish Clinton as a symbol of all that was wrong with the baby boomers who came of age in the sixties, versus all that was good about his World War Two era’s Greatest Generation. The 1960s were front and center in 2000, with both candidates children of, albeit very different, 1960s experiences. References to the 1960s only increased in 2004 due to John Kerry’s Vietnam experiences. They were there again in 2008 in John McCain’s attacks on Barack Obama’s supposed ties to 1960s terrorist Bill Ayers, and again in 2012, as we had Mitt Romney as a symbol of 1950s America (versus the 1960s), and, they appear again here in 2016, as Donald Trump channels Nixon’s cry for “Law and Order.” I am sure that we will see even more references to the 1960s in the campaign to come, perhaps with an effort by Hillary Clinton to evoke the idealistic spirit of the 1960s and with a Republican attempt to tarnish her with the stain of the 1960s.

Here we are in 2016, with everyone vaguely commenting how much the current political climate “reminds them of the 1960s.” The 1960s will not go away. Continue reading


Puerto Rico’s Many Crises: A Neocolonial Tale

Harry Franqui-Rivera is a Professor of Global, Caribbean and Latin American History at Bloomfield College, New Jersey. For the past four years he has been a historian and Research Associate at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, CUNY. He is also a public intellectual, cultural critic, and blogger.

Harry Franqui-Rivera is a Professor of Global, Caribbean and Latin American History at Bloomfield College, New Jersey. For the past four years he has been a historian and Research Associate at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, CUNY. He is also a public intellectual, cultural critic, and blogger.

The U.S. non-incorporated territory known as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (Estado Libre Asociado or ELA in Spanish) has come front and center in U.S. mainstream media and political circles. This never happens for a good reason and this time is not the exception. Puerto Rico is burdened by a debt crisis. It owes some $72 billion in public debt.

Though the focus has been on Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, the island is actually going through several crises. Acute economic problems have castigated Puerto Rico for more than a decade now. The economy has been contracting, labor participation has shrunk to 40%, and unemployment fluctuates between 11 and 12 percent.[1] The economic and debt crises have triggered the largest migration to the U.S. mainland in six decades. Over half a million people have left the island since 2000. Those who are leaving are young, educated, blue and white collar professionals. Migration exacerbates Puerto Rico’s problems as the tax base further shrinks.

The previous and current administration have worked to reduce the public debt by implementing many of the austerity measures recommended by the creditors including cutting spending and reducing the public labor sector. The current incumbent governor, Alejandro García Padilla, desperate for revenue, signed into law a bill to increase sales taxes from 7 percent to 11.5 percent—the highest in any state or territory of the United States. Both administrations have tightened the government’s belt and earned the enmity of the public for it. Public debt and the crises have created a political climate I have labelled as “one-termism.” The past three previous governors have not been reelected to a second term and the current incumbent will not seek reelection. This is very uncommon in Puerto Rican history and evidences widespread public discontent.

Puerto Rico’s crises may seem like an economic problem instead of a political one. It is both. The United States acquired the Puerto Rican archipelago in the aftermath of the Spanish–American War of 1898. Puerto Rico is under the territorial clause of the US Constitution and the plenary powers of U.S. Congress. The inhabitants of the islands are U.S. citizens and can vote to elect the local government, but they neither elect any voting representatives to Congress nor participate in presidential elections.


“Closing Clearance Sale” in a Puerto Rican shop.

The political relationship of the U.S. and Puerto Rico is based on the colonial legal framework devised by the United States Supreme Court at the dawn of the the 20th century. A number of cases brought before the supreme court in 1901, known as the Insular Cases, testing the relationship of Puerto Rico (and Hawaii and the Philippines) and the U.S., as well as the status of Puerto Ricans, resulted in decisions that affirmed that Puerto Rico was Foreign in a Domestic Sense. In these cases the SCOTUS held that full constitutional rights do not automatically extend to all places under American control. Inhabitants of unincorporated territories (like Puerto Rico) may lack some constitutional rights, even if they are citizens. These cases also established that Puerto Rico belonged to, but was not part of the United States. In short, the Constitution does not follow the flag.

Efrén Rivera Ramos, Dean of the School of Law at the University of Puerto Rico, has explained the meaning of Congress’s plenary powers over Puerto Rico. He argues that the government of a state of the union derives its powers from the people of the state, whereas the government of a territory owes its existence wholly to the U.S. Congress. In essence, in these cases the Supreme Court gave Congress a tool for colonialism. Light, subtle, colonialism but colonialism nonetheless. Thus the U.S. government can exert an extraordinary amount of power over Puerto Rico that it can’t exert over federated states. Continue reading


What’s in the August Issue of The American Historian?

tah_coverHere’s a quick preview of the newest issue of The American Historian:

The August 2016 issue of the American Historian features three compelling pieces on “Writing History for a Popular Audience.” Geraldo L. Cadava offers helpful advice to historians seeking to write op-eds, while Brandon Proia gives an insider’s look on how to write a history book that appeals to a broad audience. Finally, we have a roundtable featuring three participants, Danielle McGuire, Andrew Miller, and T. J. Stiles, who give a variety of perspectives on how to best write a book geared towards a popular audience and how to navigate the unfamiliar terrain of trade presses.

The issue also includes a piece by Chris Myers Asch on giving students the opportunity to serve as editors for one’s perspective book chapters. Christopher W. Wilson discusses the state of historical films and their pedagogical usefulness while also summarizing the recent History Film Forum launched by the Smithsonian and the NEH. Johnny Smith gives an historical overview of the creation of the term “student-athlete” and questions the myth of amateurism in college athletics. Finally, Susan J. Matt details the history of emotions in U.S. history, giving a broad look at the history of the field and where it is headed. We also have an essay from OAH president Nancy F. Cott on the contentious confirmation process of new Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, various news items from the OAH including an update on the OAH’s collaboration with the National Parks service, and interesting historical facts and tidbits in our Ante and Post sections.

As always, we welcome your comments on both our print and online materials. Please send comments to or tweet at us at @TheAmHistorian. Also, please feel to send us any content or ideas for content to the e-mail address above.


Remembering Julian Bond

Julian Bond in front of the Lincoln Memorial in D.C.

Julian Bond in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Julian Bond made history for the first time as a young activist in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. He was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, known as SNCC, and was the driving force in the organization’s incomparable Communications Department. In the late 1960s he took his activism into the Georgia legislature and after two decades there he returned to communications, using the skill he honed in the Civil Rights Movement to teach, interpret, and help shape our understanding of the movement that he and others propelled forward. Throughout his life, he made and analyzed history, using his public stature, movement work, and intellectual skills to battle for justice. When he passed away prematurely in August 2015, there was a huge outpouring of love and loss.

Emilye Crosby (left) with Julian Bond. Crosby is a Professor of History at the State University of New York . She is the author of Civil Rights History from the Ground Up: Local Struggles, a National Movement.

Author Emilye Crosby (left) with Julian Bond. Crosby is a Professor of History at the State University of New York and is the author of Civil Rights History from the Ground Up: Local Struggles, a National Movement.

Jeanne Theoharis, who learned movement history in one of Julian Bond’s classrooms and worked closely with him in recent years to open the Rosa Parks Papers to the public, tried to manage her grief by writing, “What Julian Bond Taught Me,” published in The Nation two days after his death. I strongly related to her description of what she had learned from Mr. Bond, and how her relationship with Julian grew from student to colleague and friend. In fact, Theoharis spoke for many and her essay prompted movement historian John Dittmer to ask the OAH Program Committee to add a panel that would give conference participants an opportunity to pay tribute to Bond, reflecting on the many ways he influenced us personally and contributed to our nation’s history.

With considerable support from the committee and OAH staff, John, Jeanne, and I pulled together a panel, “Remembering Julian Bond,” which I chaired. The panel was composed of people who knew Bond in different eras and contexts, including film producer Judy Richardson, a SNCC colleague who was a series producer for Eyes on the Prize; author Taylor Branch, whose friendship with Julian went back to 1968 Georgia politics; scholar Theoharis, who took Julian’s class on the Civil Rights Movement as a Harvard undergraduate; historian Hasan Kwame Jeffries, who met Bond at Morehouse College, their shared alma mater; and law professor Timothy Lovelace, who worked with Bond while earning undergraduate, law, and history Ph.D. degrees from the University of Virginia. While we were all spilling over with cherished memories and appreciation for Bond as historical actor, teacher, speaker, activist, and friend, we tried to be brief, leaving time for members of the audience to offer their own tributes. More than 50 people attended and many offered comments and examples that paralleled and extended the panelists’ comments.

Julian Bond (left) and Timothy Lovelace during the Julian Bond Gala, a 2012 retirement event and fundraiser for the Julian Bond Chair at the University of Virginia.

Julian Bond (left) and Timothy Lovelace during the Julian Bond Gala, a 2012 retirement event and fundraiser for the Julian Bond Chair at the University of Virginia.

Judy Richardson met Bond in 1963 when they were both working in SNCC’s Atlanta office, which she described as “a beehive of activity—filled with young people who were changing the world as I knew it.” She highlighted Bond’s Communications work, which included writing press releases about SNCC’s efforts to register Black voters. These were aimed at securing publicity for the project and at helping to protect workers who were being beaten, arrested, and even murdered by white vigilantes and lawmen. (Bond’s last tweet addressed the franchise, observing that “We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act without the Voting Rights Act.”) As a SNCC staffer, Bond also helped craft speeches, like the one delivered by John Lewis at the March on Washington. Richardson emphasized both that the speech was “truly participatory” and that it highlighted economic inequality—an issue Bond spoke out about throughout his life. Continue reading


Learning from the Legal Culture of Gradual Emancipation, or, Misled by the Thirteenth Amendment


Hendrik Hartog is the Class of 1921 Bicentennial Professor in the History of American Law and Liberty at Princeton University. He is also an OAH Distinguished Lecturer.

For some historians, the recurrent debates about the relationship of our “Framers” to slavery and abolition are irritating at best. What those few white men—preeminently Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson—thought and wrote about the presence of slavery is, of course, important. Their words live on and may still play a part in shaping our political culture. But what interests social and cultural historians is how lives were led, even as sentiments were expressed. What did it mean to live in a regime of gradual emancipation, for example in Hamilton’s New York, at the beginning of the nineteenth century? And why should we care about the contradictions that shaped their lives?

For starters, we ought to move beyond our conventional understanding of the relationship of slavery to freedom. Our “neo-abolitionist” commitment to the notion of an antinomic relationship between slavery and freedom, of a binary with an excluded middle, leaves us without resources to understand the in-between legal culture, neither “slave” nor “free,” in which most Americans lived in the years of gradual emancipation.

Until the 1860s, the end of slavery was incremental, not an instantaneous event. Gradual emancipation was defined by a peculiar legal culture in which white people and black people often continued to live habitual lives shaped by coerced labor, even as “freedom” became a norm. Slavery remained a lived experience, in the midst of so-called emancipation. At the same time, it also had become common for right thinking white people to express anti-slavery sentiments, to make known their moral qualms. As Alexander Hamilton did, once or twice.

The moral complexities of such contradictory circumstances should not be unfamiliar to sentient human beings today. Just as the busboy or the gardener or the careworker in the nursing home, who may or may not be a legal migrant, helps constitute our lived experience in the worlds we live in, so it would be in the “free” or freeish society that was emerging along the Hudson in Hamilton’s life. The routine presence of enslaved or semi-enslaved black persons in any number of service positions offers an equivalent to the cheap labor that many of us rely on today.

Alexander Hamilton lived neither in a slave society, as historians have understood that term, nor in anything close to a free society. Gradual emancipation or gradual abolition (the terms were used interchangeably), which is what New York had embarked on in Hamilton’s last years, was a body of distinctive and evolving practices. It was certainly not a switch that flipped people from one status to another, from slavery to freedom. New York’s processes of gradual emancipation lasted more than a generation, at minimum from the last years of the eighteenth century until 1827. Gradual emancipation incorporated habits and ways of being that drew both on moral and social discomfort with slavery and with expectations of continuity. In New Jersey, the practices of gradual emancipation lasted from beginnings in the late eighteenth century until the coming of the Civil War. By then there were still, according to the 1860 census, eighteen New Jersey “slaves,” although New Jersey law labelled them as “apprentices for life.”

Formally, what gradual emancipation meant was that the children born to slaves would not be slaves. Nothing more. And formally, in the law, nothing changed for their enslaved parents. What those children were, and indeed, what they would be called, were matters of controversy. In New York, they would live much of their lives in a peculiar in-between status, owing service to masters until they turned 28 if male, 25 if female. As was sometimes noted, this constituted a large portion of an expected life span. New Jersey’s equivalent “term” required service of young men until they turned 25 and of young women until 21. In both states, these children of slaves would in effect “earn” their freedom through their labor. During their years of service, of semi-slavery or semi-freedom, however one called it, they could be sold, though only for their remaining terms. In New Jersey, courts worked intermittently to distinguish the status of the children of slaves from those of apprentices and other (presumably white) bound servants. Meanwhile, the end of slavery for the parents was never marked by legislation. Some New Jersey slaves would never experience freedom, unless they happened to live to a very old age to survive into the 1860s. Still, by then, and indeed, well before, New Jersey would be known as a free state, part of a non-slaveholding North. Continue reading


Peace Corps Fantasies


Molly Geidel is a lecturer in American Cultural History at the University of Manchester. She is the author of Peace Corps Fantasies: How Development Shaped the Global Sixties.

Can you briefly describe your book?

My book is a cultural history of the 1960s Peace Corps. It’s about the heroic image the early Peace Corps projected of Americans in the world, particularly the emergence of development work as a popular fantasy, the idea that the person-to-person impartation of a kind of general ingenuity can solve global poverty. It’s also about how 1960s volunteers, especially women volunteers, related to this fantasy of heroic development work. Finally, it’s about the influence of development on the civil rights, Black Power, and antiwar movements: I argue that the idea of development work returns home to these movements and begins to reshape the thinking of activists. Because the book is about the migrations of Peace Corps fantasies into places beyond the international development sphere, I also look at representations of the Peace Corps in 1960s popular culture, including the many pulp and young adult novels written about the figure of the Peace Corps girl.

What initially drew you to your topic?

In retrospect, it seems like a million things. I grew up in Vermont, in an area with a large radical and countercultural community. So I was surrounded by the legacy of the sixties, but I also, like many people who grow up with privilege, had a spirit of volunteerism instilled in me from a very young age. As I got a little older, I began to notice that there was development and charity work happening seemingly everywhere, while all the time inequality was worsening and the United States was intervening pretty relentlessly into the affairs of poorer countries. I wondered a lot about how all those things fit together: how liberal volunteerism and radical movement ideas were connected, but also about the connections between global inequality, U.S. power, and the idea that person-to-person development work could bring people out of poverty. So the book is my attempt to work out those puzzles. For me, the Peace Corps—and in particular the image it projected of heroic volunteerism as a solution to structural inequality—provided a key to understanding the way a lot of Americans thought about the world, and particularly about social change, in the sixties and beyond.

How did you develop your archive for this project?

I did my Ph.D. in Boston, so I started out at the JFK Presidential Library; they have founding director Sargent Shriver’s papers as well as an extensive Peace Corps collection. Then I followed the leads I found there to other archives—most importantly the LBJ Library, the National Archives in College Park, and various archives in Bolivia—as well as to 1960s volunteers and activists who agreed to be interviewed. One great thing about doing a project on something iconic and fairly recent is that lots of people you talk to, particularly older people, immediately have a story to tell or an incident to ask about. I could then use my archival research to track these stories, fleshing out and assessing the veracity of things people had heard or vaguely remembered. I also used less conventional research venues—for example, I found many of the Peace Corps girl novels on eBay. Continue reading


OAH Distinguished Lectureship Program at 35

Distinguished Lectureship ProgramAnnette Windhorn has coordinated the OAH Distinguished Lectureship Program since 2001.

The OAH Distinguished Lectureship Program celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. OAH President Gerda Lerner and the OAH Executive Board founded the program in 1981 and during the 1980s, a handful of senior historians, many of them former members of the Executive Board, volunteered to serve as the first OAH Distinguished Lecturers.

“The program’s initial goal was to make available to underserved and underfunded colleges and communities the talents and expertise of leading American historians,” remembers Alice Kessler-Harris of Columbia University, who retires from the program this summer after having served since its inception. “OAH Lecturers were asked to offer one lecture per year in return for which the OAH would receive a standard fee of $750. The modest honorarium, plus travel costs, enabled many institutions that could not otherwise afford to do so to expose their students to leading minds. The speaker would be challenged by new experiences in unfamiliar locations and with unexpected audiences. The OAH used the fee to cover the expenses of running the program and benefitted from the recognition it garnered for providing a service to students of history everywhere.

“The program has been enormously successful,” Kessler-Harris continues, “annually expanding the numbers of lecturers added to the list and increasingly incorporating younger historians with provocative ideas. Ironically, perhaps, its success fostered a second goal—to enhance the OAH budget. The OAH now relies on the funds generated by the Distinguished Lectureship Program to sustain some of its many other activities. By increasing the ‘standard’ lecture fee to $1,000 and then establishing the current range of fees [$1,000 to $5,000 per lecture], the program encourages larger, more robustly funded institutions to offer more generous support without penalizing less affluent institutions. Generous historians continue to contribute their time and energy to the program, taking pleasure in serving wider communities. As they do so, the OAH expands its reach, bringing the best of American history scholarship to new audiences.”

From a few dozen OAH Lecturers in the 1980s, the roster has grown to more than 500 speakers in 2016-2017. Participating speakers include OAH prize winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, Bancroft Prize winners, National Humanities Medal recipients, and elected members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Identified and endorsed by a subcommittee of the Nominating Board and appointed by the President-Elect, OAH Lecturers also include numerous recipients of university teaching awards—the mark of expert communicators and educators. A dozen current OAH Lecturers, including Kessler-Harris, have served since the 1980s, demonstrating their long-term commitment to the profession and the organization: Clayborne Carson, William Chafe, Pete Daniel, Roger Daniels, former OAH executive director Joan Hoff, Stanley Katz, Linda Kerber, Morgan Kousser, Leon Litwack, Mary Beth Norton, and former Journal of American History editor David Thelen.

Since 2001 OAH Lecturers have visited every state in the United States except for Hawaii. (OAH members in Hawaii: contact me and we can remedy this!) The top three most-visited states during this period were New York, Missouri, and Illinois, each hosting more than 100 OAH Lectures. Our speakers have ventured from Alaska to Puerto Rico; Eileen Boris spoke at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2004, while Donna Gabaccia, Ramón Gutiérrez, Virginia Korrol, and the late Alan Dawley worked with teachers engaged in Teaching American History workshops at Universidad Interamericana in San German, Puerto Rico, between 2005 and 2007. Continue reading


Back to the Future: Can Trump Win with Law and Order Like Nixon in 1968?

nixon-law-and-orderMichael W. Flamm is professor of history at Ohio Wesleyan University. He is author of Law and Order: Street Crime, Civil Unrest, and the Crisis of Liberalism in the 1960s (Columbia University Press, 2005) and the forthcoming In the Heat of the Summer: The New York Riots of 1964 and the War on Crime (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016). He is also an OAH Distinguished Lecturer.

Republican Richard M. Nixon narrowly managed to win the 1968 presidential election by exploiting the issue of law and order amid a climate of fear and insecurity. Now Republican Donald J. Trump has declared that he is the candidate of law and order in 2016 and vowed to secure the borders, prevent terrorism, and end violence against the police.

Could Trump win the presidency on this platform? The latest polls indicate that he has a reasonable chance. But despite what some pundits have pronounced, a closer analysis of the historical analogy between 2016 and 1968 reveals significant differences and suggests that law and order may not give Trump the decisive edge it provided Nixon.

First and foremost, the nation seemed on the brink of chaos and collapse in 1968. Crime in the streets was rising and protests on campus were commonplace. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led to riots in more than one hundred cities, including Washington. The murder of presidential candidate Robert Kennedy and clashes at the Democratic Convention in Chicago eroded popular faith in peaceful change and the political process.

Society was also evolving. The sexual revolution and the drug culture were spreading. The women’s movement was growing. And the hippie phenomenon was emerging. For moral traditionalists, it was the perfect storm.

In that troubled climate, law and order was the perfect slogan for Nixon. Amorphous and abstract, it served as a Rorschach test for anxious voters, who could project onto it whatever fear was uppermost in their minds at the moment. For Trump the slogan could also serve as a vehicle for white voters with concerns about globalization or immigration.

But a major problem for Trump is that the “fear factor” does not loom as large today, even though a large majority of Americans believe that the nation is on the wrong track. Anxiety over crime is not as acute. Urban unrest is nowhere near the magnitude it was in the 1960s. The war on terror is not on the same scale as the war in Vietnam. And although cultural battles over transgender bathrooms and gay marriage continue to rage in the red states, social change has widespread acceptance. Continue reading