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History in the Age of Fracture

Like so many of the disciplines making up the humanities, the field of history has for some time been experiencing a slow dissolution, a decline that may be approaching a critical juncture. Students of academic life express this decline quantitatively, citing shrinking enrollments in history courses, the disappearance of required history courses in university curricula, and the loss of tenurable faculty positions in all history-related areas.

But even more disturbing indications of history’s troubled status are harder to measure but impossible to ignore. One senses a loss of self-confidence, a fear that the study of the past may no longer be valuable or important and that history itself lacks the capacity to be a coherent and truth-seeking enterprise, producing genuine knowledge that helps us locate ourselves in the broad expanses of space and time. Some of this derives from the growing vocationalism in American higher education, flowing from a desire that a college degree should lead reliably to gainful employment. But the fear rests just as much on the belief that the road we have traveled to date offers us only a parade of negative examples of oppression, error, and obsolescence—proof positive that the past has no lessons applicable to our unprecedented age.

This loss of faith in the central importance of history pervades all of American society.


On Memorial Day

How do we honor those men and women who have given the “last, full measure of devotion”? “You must begin by wanting to,” is Justice Holmes’ conclusion. It is not by recoiling in pity and fear at the existence of war, pain, and suffering, or at nations willing and able to engage in war when necessary, that we best recall the memory and sacrifices of the military dead. Rather, it is by engaging thoughtfully in our national life that we honor their memory.


How Old Were the Founding Fathers?

While famous paintings of our America’s Founding Fathers typically portray them as middle-aged or older, most were actually much younger than we tend to think during the founding of the nation. Todd Andrlik, in a post for the Journal of the American Revolution, compiled the ages of the Founding Fathers on July 4, 1776, and the results may surprise you.


Gettysburg at 150: The Battle and a Nation Reborn

This July marks the 150th anniversary of one of the most famous and important battles in American history: the Battle of Gettysburg. In commemoration of the event, AEI’s Program on American Citizenship is cosponsoring an event with the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies on the significance of Gettysburg. The event, titled “Gettysburg at 150: The battle and a nation reborn,” will host renowned Gettysburg College professor Allen Guelzo, who will discuss the legacy of the battle and his new book, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion.


ConText: crowd sourcing Madison’s Notes of the Constitutional Convention

On Friday, the Brookings Institution and the Center for the Constitution at James Madison’s Montepelier launched a new project that aims to bring to life Madison’s Notes of the Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787. As Brookings’ Benjamin Wittes explains, “The result is ConText, which launched [on Friday], Madison’s birthday. Organized like the Talmud, ConText surrounds the Notes with layers of commentary—commentary on the history (what was going on in the room), current events (how these events relate to current politics), theoretical and philosophical issues, and subsequent constitutional interpretation and dispute. Like Wikipedia, that commentary will be written by a scholarly community that develops around ConText: historians, constitutional scholars and practitioners, and interested students and lay people. Both the text and the commentary are fully searchable.”