Zimmerman on Historians and the Public

A Teachers College Record Online Commentary by Jonathan Zimmerman on Historians and the Public begins like this:

[abstract:] If we really want to improve historical understanding in this country, we’ll create new venues—and new incentives—for public engagement and instruction. Or we can continue to speak exclusively with each other, acting shocked—shocked!—when nobody else understands us.

Hey, check out those yahoos down in Florida!
Can you believe it?
What a joke!

[See this previous post here for background on the Florida reference – Tony]

Those are the types of words we’ve heard from my fellow historians about a recent Florida law, which declared that “American history shall be viewed as factual, not constructed.” And the historians are right: the measure reflects a profound and troubling ignorance about the rules, logic, and structure of our discipline. It also fits snugly into a liberal caricature of the South and especially of Florida, where—snicker, snicker—the president’s own brother signed the measure into law.

Jonathan argues:

… this whole sordid episode is also—in large part—our fault. That’s right: it’s our fault. For the past four decades, most professional historians have simply ignored the lay public. And the public has returned the favor, displaying little real interest—and even less understanding—about what we actually do. Make no mistake about it: the Florida law is indeed a joke. But the joke, dear historians, is on us.

The complete commentary is well worth reading. Since I have subscriber cookies on my computer, I can’t tell if it’s accesible to nonsubscribers; but I think when they put a commentary up like that on their front page it is accessible by anyone for one week, and after that to subscribers only. Anyway, the $15/yr subscription is well worth it.

My question (posted as a comment there): Why isn’t this commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and/or other venues that are actually read by those whom he’s addressing? The very point he’s making suggests they won’t see it at the Teachers College Record.

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