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Doing Recent History

On Privacy, Copyright, Video Games, Institutional Review Boards, Activist Scholarship, and History That Talks Back

Claire Bond Potter

Publication Year: 2012

Recent history—the very phrase seems like an oxymoron. Yet historians have been writing accounts of the recent past since printed history acquired a modern audience, and in the last several years interest in recent topics has grown exponentially. With subjects as diverse as Walmart and disco, and personalities as disparate as Chavez and Schlafly, books about the history of our own time have become arguably the most exciting and talked-about part of the discipline.

Despite this rich tradition and growing popularity, historians have engaged in little discussion about the specific methodological, political, and ethical issues related to writing about the recent past. The twelve essays in this collection explore the challenges of writing histories of recent events where visibility is inherently imperfect, hindsight and perspective are lacking, and historiography is underdeveloped.

Those who write about events that have taken place since 1970 encounter exciting challenges that are both familiar and foreign to scholars of a more distant past, including suspicions that their research is not historical enough, negotiation with living witnesses who have a very strong stake in their own representation, and the task of working with new electronic sources. Contributors to this collection consider a wide range of these challenges. They question how sources like television and video games can be better utilized in historical research, explore the role and regulation of doing oral histories, consider the ethics of writing about living subjects, discuss how historians can best navigate questions of privacy and copyright law, and imagine the possibilities that new technologies offer for creating transnational and translingual research opportunities. Doing Recent History offers guidance and insight to any researcher considering tackling the not-so-distant past.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-viii

It is common in acknowledgments for authors to thank their editors. But in our case, we owe more than a debt of gratitude to Derek Krissoff , our wonderfully supportive editor at the University of Georgia Press. The Since 1970: Histories of Contemporary America series was really...

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Introduction: Just over Our Shoulder: The Pleasures and Perils of Writing the Recent Past

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pp. 1-19

Recent history—the very phrase seems like an oxymoron. Yet historians have been writing accounts of the recent past—of events that have occurred in their own lifetimes and that they perhaps participated in only a few years previously—since printed history acquired a...

PART 1: Framing the Issues

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pp. 21-56

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Not Dead Yet: My Identity Crisis as a Historian of the Recent Past

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pp. 23-44

A colleague recently stopped by my office to express his concerns about a research project on racial politics in the late 1980s and 1990s that one of my students had proposed for his approval. The proposed research, my colleague feared...

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Working without a Script: Reflections on Teaching Recent American History

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pp. 45-56

“I remember at the time it was a big deal but I didn’t quite understand why. It was only aft er I read about it in the textbook that I understood how huge it was.” This captures one student’s contribution to a discussion about the very recent past...

PART 2: Access to the Archives

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pp. 57-111

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Opening Archives on the Recent American Past: Reconciling the Ethics of Access and the Ethics of Privacy

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pp. 59-83

in 1968 five medical students from universities in the Northeast spent the summer in the Mississippi Delta serving as interns in a public health clinic. Over the course of the summer, the students conducted medical assessments of impoverished African American...

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Who Owns Your Archive? Historians and the Challenge of Intellectual Property Law

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pp. 83-111

I shouldn’t have to violate federal law to give a paper at a major history conference. The plan was to present my work on how copyright law had been used to prevent and allow use of civil rights movement images, and to what end...

PART 3: Working with Living Subjects

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pp. 113-182

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The Berkeley Compromise: Oral History, Human Subjects, and the Meaning of “Research”

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pp. 115-138

The study of recent history almost demands that scholars augment their archival research with oral history interviews—if, in fact, interviewing is not already the central methodology being employed. This expectation, however, runs...

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The Presence of the Past: Iconic Moments and the Politics of Interviewing in Birmingham

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pp. 139-154

The civil rights demonstrations and keen resistance to desegregation in Birmingham, Alabama, loom large in the national imagination. Police dogs and fire hoses turned on black schoolchildren made international headlines in the spring of 1963, putting...

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When Radical Feminism Talks Back: Taking an Ethnographic Turn in the Living Past

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pp. 155-182

As I sat down with feminist journalist Susan Brownmiller in the fall of 2009 to do the first oral history I had ever done, I could not help but be reminded of what different worlds we occupied in the mid- 1980s. Coming off her best- selling book...

PART 4: Technology and the Practice of Recent History

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pp. 183-246

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Do Historians Watch Enough TV? Broadcast News as a Primary Source

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pp. 185-199

Thomas J. Sugrue’s Sweet Land of Liberty, published in 2010, has been praised as a “major contribution to our understanding” of the struggle for racial equality in the United States and a “bold . . . rewriting of civil rights...

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Playing the Past: The Video Game Simulation as Recent American History

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pp. 201-223

In march 2003 the First Recon Battalion (nicknamed First Suicide Battalion) of the U.S. Marine Corps entered Iraq as part of the effort to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power. Much like the characters of so many Hollywood combat films, elite soldiers from different...

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Eternal Flames: The Translingual Imperative in the Study of World War II Memories

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pp. 225-246

The installation of an “eternal flame” is a common feature of memorial sites around the world. The symbol captures the ephemerality of the past in the immateriality of fire and highlights the enduring significance of the past for the present...

PART 5: Crafting Narratives

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pp. 247-293

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When the Present Disrupts the Past: Narrating Home Care

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pp. 249-273

In 1987 a dedicated group of African American women began to organize in Los Angeles neighborhoods, at polling booths, and in front of the county Board of Supervisors. Home health aides themselves, they sought to reach a vast...

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“Cult” Knowledge: The Challenges of Studying New Religious Movements in America

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pp. 275-293

In 1999 a journalist from time magazine traveled to Eatonton, Georgia, to interview members of a controversial new religious community that had recently relocated to the area. The reporter asked Minister Marshall Chance...

Contributors

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pp. 295-297

Index

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pp. 299-311

Further Reading

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pp. 313-


E-ISBN-13: 9780820343716
E-ISBN-10: 0820334677
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820334677
Print-ISBN-10: 0820334677

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Since 1970: Histories of Contemporary America

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Subject Headings

  • United States -- History -- 20th century -- Historiography -- Methodology.
  • Historiography -- United States -- Sources.
  • Historiography -- Methodology.
  • Historiography -- Technological innovations.
  • History, Modern -- Historiography -- Metholodolgy.
  • United States -- History -- 21st century -- Historiography -- Metholdology.
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