Radical History Review 88 (2004) 163-165
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The Subjects of Radical History
Ian Christopher Fletcher
As I write, the spring semester is winding down. In class yesterday, we discussed globalization, the focus of our world history textbook's last chapter and the backdrop to another book the students are reading, Kim Stanley Robinson's near-future sci-fi novel Red Mars. Musing on the notion of the "end of history," as well as a point made in the textbook that various contemporary movements seek to ground politics in religion, I mentioned the convergence over the weekend of Passover, Easter, and the great Shi'i pilgrimage to Karbala' we had all witnessed on television. Until a week or two ago, people around the world had been demonstrating against the war. As the global peace and justice movement pauses to get its bearings in the new situation, it is the turn of the Iraqi people. I wondered aloud where events were headed in (liberated? occupied? dual-power?) Iraq. Only a few days before, Iraqi communists had emerged from clandestinity in Baghdad to put out the first uncensored newspaper to appear on the morrow of the fall of the Ba'athist regime. Everywhere Iraqis are caring for the injured and ill, protecting their neighborhoods, queuing for food, water, and fuel, and looking for the disappeared or at least their graves. Not "the nation" or "the people" in any monolithic sense, to be sure, but movements and communities of all sorts, acting according to discrepant yet overlapping conceptions of quotidian, political, and spiritual time, are visibly making history. Endings are turning into beginnings.
What is radical history, and how and why do we teach it? A decade ago, in the spring of 1993, Radical History Review launched a new journal section, "Teaching Radical History." In their "Introductory Comments," Van Gosse and Priscilla Murolo set forth its goals: "To provide an arena for sharing problems and strategies, to provoke [End Page 163] debate and contention, and to facilitate a greater consciousness of our common mission. ... Because teaching is our central public and political engagement, we think that one of the best ways to enhance our practice as radical historians is to exchange information and ideas about what we do in our courses." 1 Beginning with the crucial pioneering work of Van and Priscilla, a dozen Radical History Review collective members have helped edit the section, and over two dozen installments have appeared so far in the journal. To our delight, many teachers (and a few students!) have come forward over the years to contribute their ideas and insights and make the section a long-running success.
A survey of the essays and syllabi we have published reveals the remarkable range and richness of radical history not only in classrooms but also in community museums, union halls, and elsewhere. The "archive" includes installments on the African diaspora, Latin American history, and many aspects of U.S. history, from race to radicalism to popular culture to Vietnam and the sixties. There have been installments on labor history, the histories of gender and sexuality, and the histories of medicine, science, and social policy. We have engaged with the problems and possibilities of teaching area studies and transnational history, comparative and world history, (anti-) imperial and postcolonial history. Radical history is not just a body of knowledge, of course, but a practice carried out in all kinds of creative and challenging exercises and projects developed and described by our contributors. Our section has addressed such topics as doing oral history, using film in history courses, mentoring students, and undertaking activist forms of learning. Upcoming installments will present still more cutting-edge courses and wide-ranging discussions of what, how, and why we teach.
This installment is no exception. "Teaching Radical History" is very pleased to publish thought-provoking accounts of two fascinating courses. Elizabeth Reis's "Teaching Transgender History, Identity, and Politics" introduces us to the issues that inform her course exploring the emerging field of transgender history. Similarly, Raymond Craib's "Peasants, Politics, and History: Teaching Agrarian History and Historiography...