Remapping Debate

Robert Townsend, a former deputy director of the American Historical Association and the current director of the Washington office of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, is the author of History’s Babel: Scholarship, Professionalization, and the Historical Enterprise in the United States, 1880-1940

Townsend demonstrates that, a hundred years ago, there was a broad group of people involved in the “historical enterprise” and integrated within the ranks of the American Historical Association. These included archivists, librarians, state historical society workers, high school history teachers, and university professors. 

By 1940, however, tenured research professors and their concerns came to dominate the American Historian  Association and its activities, with the rest of the “babel” marginalized.

In this interview, Townsend discussed the consequences of this split for how historians have participated in (or not participated in) debates related to school curricula, museum interpretation, and other public issues. We also discussed other difficult issues that currently face historians, including possible changes to graduate training and the costs and benefits of historical writing having become so super-specialized.

Direct download: Townsend.mp3
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June 4, 2014 — Joseph Viteritti, a professor of public policy in the department of urban affairs and policy at Hunter College in New York City, is the editor of a new collection of essays entitled, “Summer in the City: John Lindsay, New York, and the American Dream.” Viteritti and the volume’s other authors reassess Lindsay’s mayorship and the city he governed from 1966 to 1973. Lindsay’s approach to issues of poverty, racial discrimination, economic development, and other issues of the day, Viteritti says, are worth remembering even if — or perhaps especially because — so many things about New York have changed in the 40 years since he left office.

Direct download: viteritti.mp3
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May 7, 2014 — Kate Brown is an associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of the new, prize-winning book, “Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters.” Her study focuses on the cities, people, and (increasingly toxic) environments surrounding the world’s first plutonium-manufacturing centers — one in the Soviet Union, and one in eastern Washington State, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. In the conversation, Brown describes the production-over-safety attitude that led the military and corporate contractors at Hanford to slowly release more radioactivity into the biosphere than did the Chernobyl disaster. At the same time, she explains what bound workers to a (pl)utopian town at Hanford’s gates, Richland, Wash.

Direct download: Kate_Brown.mp3
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March 26, 2014 — Benjamin Waterhouse is an assistant professor of History at the University of North Carolina and the author of the new book, “Lobbying America: The Politics of Business from Nixon to NAFTA.” Waterhouse follows the role that business associations — particularly the Business Roundtable, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the National Association of Manufacturers — played in the conservative drift in American politics since the early 1970s. In the conversation, Waterhouse discusses how business changed the tenor of political discourse (and fought off Ralph Nader and “consumerists”). He also rejects the notion that theU.S. doesn’t have an  “industrial policy” — it’s just an industrial policy that has favored large firms through policies like NAFTA.

Direct download: Waterhouse.mp3
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Feb. 12, 2014 — Jake Rosenfeld, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Washington, is the author of “What Unions No Longer Do.” The book traces the consequences of the decline of the labor movement in the United States — for union members and non-members alike. In the interview, we talk with Rosenfeld about some of the deep changes wrought — including those affecting wages, the utility of strikes as a weapon for labor, and the influence of workers’ voices in the political arena — and discuss the difficulty of rebuilding the movement.

Direct download: Jake_Rosenfeld.mp3
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Jan. 29, 2014 — Mason Williams, a historian and postdoctoral fellow at the New-York Historical Society and The New School, is the author of “City of Ambition:FDR, La Guardia, and the Making of Modern New York.” In this interview, Williams discusses La Guardia’s critical role in implementing the New Deal in the New York City context and his vision of the role of government, and compares his perspective and approach with the opportunities and challenges facing New York City’s new mayor.

Direct download: Mason_Williams.mp3
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Dec. 11, 2013 — Robert J. Sampson, the Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University, discusses his book, “Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect.”

Sampson’s work argues for the importance of the “neighborhood effect” — the notion that neighborhood contexts are in and of themselves important determinants of individual well-being — and demonstrates the durability of neighborhood inequality across Chicago. Fueling Sampson’s work are not only data on poverty, racial segregation, and unemployment, but also measures of trust, “collective efficacy,” and altruism. These measures, partly collected through the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, a multi-year collaborative research initiative in which Sampson participated, reveal a complex portrait of the Chicago environment where the individual, the local, and the global intersect.

In the interview, Sampson discusses the relationship between suburbs and cities, the role of nonprofit organizations in Chicago neighborhoods, and the relationship between neighborhood inequality and capitalism.

Direct download: Robert_Sampson.mp3
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