Engaging Historiography: An Interview with Andrew Shankman and Johann Neem

Will Mackintosh

In this Winter issue, the Journal of the Early Republic is launching a new regular feature called “Engaging Historiography.” I sat down with co-editors Andy Shankman and Johann Neem to hear the origin story for this new series and to explore their intentions and their hopes.

The germ of the idea for “Engaging Historiography” emerged from conversations Andy was having with David Waldstreicher when they were partnering as co-editors. They were struck by our simultaneous misfortune and good fortune to be scholars at a time when support and respect for the humanities among those who make policy and funding decisions is distressingly minimal, and yet when there has never been a greater volume of fantastic and diverse scholarship. As the material conditions supporting humanities scholarship have become alarming, at least for now, the collective scholarly achievements of the profession have never been more significant and impressive.  After David finished his term as co-editor, Andy continued these conversations with Johann. He was excited that what he and David had been talking about really appealed to Johann too; independent additional third-party confirmation, as it were.

Andy and Johann are hoping that “Engaging Historiography” will situate readers in broader contexts through which they can understand the importance of contemporary scholarship. And at the same time, they think “Engaging Historiography” will help readers of the JER to understand how extensive and, often, long-lived are the conversations that they care about. Pieces in “Engaging Historiography” are meant to be standard article-length, 10,000 words or so, and will not simply remind scholars of what’s out there right now. The editorial team will ask authors to think beyond the immediate so that we, as historians of the early republic, see how a field has evolved from older works that remain part of our collective knowledge and that can continue contribute to our ongoing conversation. They suspect that along the way a great deal of important work will get second (perhaps third or more) lives, and a scholarly conversation that takes place not just across space but also over time will be enriched because of these pieces.

These pieces are particularly important today because, in response to limiting funding and employment opportunities, graduate programs in history are admitting fewer students and pushing for shorter timelines to complete PhDs. This expectation means that graduate students have less time to steep themselves in various historiographical traditions. Moreover, there is pressure on historians—even with first books!—to produce something that has a crossover audience, yet the primary purpose of basic research in history is to make a contribution to historiography.

“Engaging Historiography” is a series meant for our modern moment, when it can be it can be hard to find quiet time to read as deeply and widely as we all wish we could. The reality of having too little time and far too many demands on that time is particularly a challenge for contingent faculty who are often assigned courses at the last minute and need to rush to get their syllabi together. The editorial team’s hope is that the feature will support the teaching and research needs of all historians by helping them understand better, and contribute to, the fields in which they are engaged, whether that be in the classroom, in public settings, or in scholarship.

The essays are not meant to reproduce the traditional historiographical essays or surveys of a field that we’re familiar with, and that we also find quite valuable. Instead, we see these essays as arguments that reflect the perspective of an active scholar. In this sense they are closer to intellectual history than to surveys of a field.

The first essay in this series in the winter 2022 issue was penned by Christina Snyder, entitled “Many Removals: Re-evaluating the Arc of Indigenous Dispossession.” It should by hitting your mailboxes any day now!

10 December 2021

About the Author

Will Mackintosh is associate professor of history at the University of Mary Washington and the founding editor of The Panorama.

Recent Contributions to the JER
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