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American Historians Reflect on an Enduring Fascination
France has long attracted the attention of many of America's most accomplished historians. The field of French history has been vastly influential in American thought, both within the academy and beyond, regardless of France's standing among U.S. political and cultural elites. Even though other countries, from Britain to China, may have had a greater impact on American history, none has exerted quite the same hold on the American historical imagination, particularly in the post-1945 era.
To gain a fresh perspective on this passionate relationship, Laura Lee Downs and Stéphane Gerson commissioned a diverse array of historians to write autobiographical essays in which they explore their intellectual, political, and personal engagements with France and its past. In addition to the essays, Why France? includes a lengthy introduction by the editors and an afterword by one of France's most distinguished historians, Roger Chartier. Taken together, these essays provide a rich and thought-provoking portrait of France, the Franco-American relationship, and a half-century of American intellectual life, viewed through the lens of the best scholarship on France.
Life Histories and the Historian of South Asia
Judith M. Brown, one of the leading historians of South Asia, provides an original and thought-provoking strategy for conducting and presenting historical research in her latest book, Windows into the Past. Brown looks at how varieties of “life history” that focus on the lives of institutions and families, as well as individuals, offer a broad and rich means of studying history. Her distinctively creative approach differs from traditional historical biography in that it explores a variety of “life histories” and shows us how they become invaluable windows into the past. Following her introduction, "The Practice of History,” Brown opens windows on the history of South Asia. She begins with the life history of an educational institution, Balliol College, Oxford, and tracks the interrelationship between Britain and India through the lives of the British and Indian men who were educated there. She then demonstrates the significance of family life history, showing that by observing patterns of family life over several generations, it is possible to gain insight into the experiences of groups of people who rarely left historical documents about themselves, particularly South Asian women. Finally, Brown uses the life history of two prominent individuals, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, to examine questions about the nature of Indian nationalism and the emergent Indian state.
Writing History in the Digital Age began as a “what-if” experiment by posing a question: How have Internet technologies influenced how historians think, teach, author, and publish? To illustrate their answer, the contributors agreed to share the stages of their book-in-progress as it was constructed on the public web. To facilitate this innovative volume, editors Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki designed a born-digital, open-access, and open peer review process to capture commentary from appointed experts and general readers. A customized WordPress plug-in allowed audiences to add page- and paragraph-level comments to the manuscript, transforming it into a socially networked text. The initial six-week proposal phase generated over 250 comments, and the subsequent eight-week public review of full drafts drew 942 additional comments from readers across different parts of the globe. The finished product now presents 20 essays from a wide array of notable scholars, each examining (and then breaking apart and reexamining) if and how digital and emergent technologies have changed the historical profession.
Explorations in Southern Autobiography
Drawing on two decades of teaching a college-level course on southern history as viewed through autobiography and memoir, John C. Inscoe has crafted a series of essays exploring the southern experience as reflected in the life stories of those who lived it. Constantly attuned to the pedagogical value of these narratives, Inscoe argues that they offer exceptional means of teaching young people because the authors focus so fully on their confrontations—as children, adolescents, and young adults—with aspects of southern life that they found to be troublesome, perplexing, or challenging.
Maya Angelou, Rick Bragg, Jimmy Carter, Bessie and Sadie Delany, Willie Morris, Pauli Murray, Lillian Smith, and Thomas Wolfe are among the more prominent of the many writers, both famous and obscure, that Inscoe draws on to construct a composite portrait of the South at its most complex and diverse. The power of place; struggles with racial, ethnic, and class identities; the strength and strains of family; educational opportunities both embraced and thwarted—all of these are themes that infuse the works in this most intimate and humanistic of historical genres.
Full of powerful and poignant stories, anecdotes, and testimonials, Writing the South through the Self explores the emotional and psychological dimensions of what it has meant to be southern and offers us new ways of understanding the forces that have shaped southern identity in such multifaceted ways.