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Tales from the New African Archive

Carina Ray

This article recounts how I came to write for the Pan-African magazine, New African, and draws on my personal experience as a columnist to discuss a range of issues, including the challenges I faced writing for a non-academic publication as well as the controversies that arose within the magazine over my own racial identity. I also highlight how opinion writing, in particular, tends to generate a highly personalized form of criticism, in which the author rather than his or her ideas can come under attack. I conclude by arguing that if the humanities are to survive the current economic crisis, which has caused many to question the utility of a liberal arts education, universities need to more actively support the efforts of scholars who are writing for audiences beyond the narrow confines of academia.

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A Time without Soldiers

Writing about Kashmir Today

Suvir Kaul

In this article I ask what it means to turn to scholarly analysis to understand better the historical lineages of an urgent contemporary political situation. I first wrote on Kashmir in a journalistic fashion because I was appalled by the militarization and routine suspension of civil rights that I saw when I went there in 2003. Since then I have been thinking of analytical frames in which to provide a longer history for the political mess I observed and continue to observe, which leads me to read in the “field“ in order to understand issues as they developed before 1989—when militancy in Kashmir broke out. What limits on my understanding are put in place by my early writing, which was motivated by sorrow and anger, rather than by the criteria that we expect motivates historical analysis? What kinds of insight are enabled by that same beginning?

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Transparent Global History? The Contribution of Vienna Global Studies

Susan Zimmermann

Since the 1980s faculty and visiting lecturers at the University of Vienna, have collaborated on and contributed to various study programs and publications in global history and international development. This article explores how the desire to make these writings accessible to a broad spectrum of reading publics has combined with a specific interest in writing emancipatory rather than conservative and affirmative history. I argue that some of the professional dangers associated with writing global history—sometimes read by, and often directed to, less specialist audiences—are much more universal problems of historiography than many would think. Historians with a globalist agenda tend to be particularly well equipped to deal with these problems. This article explores how a number of writings emerging from the Vienna context have handled these problems and sought to combine transparency with accessibility. It also discusses some of the institutional and political contexts that have sustained the particular features of Vienna Global History, and some of the more problematic or ambiguous traits and critical evaluations of the Vienna enterprise.

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Virtually a Historian

Blogs and the Recent History of Dispossessed Academic Labor

Claire Bond Potter

A contemporary history of higher education in the United States is being written on the Internet. Academic bloggers interrupt and circumvent the influence of professional associations over debates about unemployment, contingent labor, publishing, tenure review, and other aspects of creating and maintaining a scholarly career. On the Internet, limited status and prestige, as well as one's invisibility as a colleague, are no barrier to acquiring an audience within the profession or creating a contemporary archive of academic labor struggles. At a moment of financial and political crisis for universities, these virtual historians have increasingly turned their critical faculties to scrutinizing, critiquing, and documenting the neoliberal university. Although blogging has not displaced established sources of intellectual prestige, virtual historians are engaged in the project of constructing their own scholarly identities and expanding what counts as intellectual and political labor for scholars excluded from the world of full-time employment.

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Writing for Student Audiences

Pitfalls and Possibilities

Heather Streets-Salter

When historians privilege writing to and for one another over all other kinds of writing—especially in a period when the humanities in particular are under siege at public universities around the country—do we run the risk of making ourselves irrelevant to anyone but ourselves? This article explores the stakes involved when historians shift the focus of their scholarly work toward alternate, non-academic audiences. In this case, I will focus my attention on writing for university and secondary student audiences through textbooks and reference works. On the one hand, I argue that writing for students has its pitfalls, because it is devalued in the historical discipline relative to monographs and articles based on archival research. As such, investment in such writing can prove detrimental to achieving tenure and promotion. On the other hand, I argue that writing for students allows us to reach a much larger audience than our peers. In addition, writing for student audiences forces us to think carefully about the accessibility of our writing as well as the link between research, telling stories in writing, and teaching. As such, I argue that writing for students may allow historians greater visibility and relevance in the public at a critical time, given recent cuts in higher education budgets.

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The First Decade of the Institute of Historical Research, University of London

The Archives of the 1920s

Joel T. Rosenthal

The Institute of Historical Research (IHR), University of London, was founded in 1921, largely due to the efforts of A. F. Pollard, professor at University College, a major authority on Tudor History and an active entrepreneur in the world of historical scholarship and organization. Thanks to a recent arrangement of the IHR's archives the story of its founding and its first decade of existence can be told with reference to such in-house issues as who taught—and who attended—the early seminars and who attended the first meeting of the Anglo-American Historical Conference. Pollard envisioned a central clearing house for historical research as an integral part of the university whereby ideas could be exchanged, students introduced to the mysteries of historical research, and questions about the nature of historical projects and inquiry could be answered both through personal communication and in the Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research. Those who use the IHR today benefit from a vision that at the time was novel and unorthodox.

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Interview with Yves Pourcher

Linda Mitchell and Dan Gordon decided that this special section featuring the work of Yves Pourcher in this issue of Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques might also include an expansion on the methods and processes of Professor Pourcher’s research and writing. We felt that this was particularly useful for the audience of English-language readers who might be encountering his work for the first time. Linda Mitchell sent Professor Pourcher the questions via email and he answered in the same medium. The decision to keep the responses in their original French was that of the editors, who feel that readers—even those with only a small facility in French—would truly benefit from gaining a small portion of Professor Pourcher’s unique “voice.”

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Introduction

By lucky circumstance, this second issue in our continuing series on historians reflecting on their craft gave us the opportunity to feature the work of one of the most innovative and creative scholars writing French history today: Yves Pourcher.

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The Laval Museum

Yves Pourcher

This article details the results of a very long investigation into the life of a character who incarnates the darkest years of French history. Pierre Laval, first a cabinet member and then Council President, was the leader of a collaboration government under German occupation. The research was undertaken in the archives that his son-in-law, Count René de Chambrun, had assembled in his offices and apartment in Paris. It led to the discovery of a new source: the private notebooks that Josée, Pierre Laval's only child, had kept between 1936 and 1992. Once deciphered and analyzed, this source constitutes an extraordinary narrative of the period. It reveals the complicity of a worldly, fashionable milieu that never opened its eyes to the seriousness of what was happening. It reconstitutes the choices and cultural codes of French high society, which submitted meekly to the Nazis. This text emphasizes issues of methodology and the difficulties that writing this story entailed.

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Le musée Laval

Yves Pourcher

This article details the results of a very long investigation into the life of a character who incarnates the darkest years of French history. Pierre Laval, first a cabinet member and then Council President, was the leader of a collaboration government under German occupation. The research was undertaken in the archives that his son-in-law, Count René de Chambrun, had assembled in his offices and apartment in Paris. It led to the discovery of a new source: the private notebooks that Josée, Pierre Laval's only child, had kept between 1936 and 1992. Once deciphered and analyzed, this source constitutes an extraordinary narrative of the period. It reveals the complicity of a worldly, fashionable milieu that never opened its eyes to the seriousness of what was happening. It reconstitutes the choices and cultural codes of French high society, which submitted meekly to the Nazis. This text emphasizes issues of methodology and the difficulties that writing this story entailed.