Jesse Lemisch - Historians, Power, and Politics






A panel “Historians, Power, and Politics” was held at New York University on May 4, 2011, exploring the history and contemporary resonance of Jesse Lemisch’s classic critique of the historical profession: “Present Mindedness Revisited: Anti-Radicalism as a Goal of American Historical Writing Since World War II.” The panel was chaired by Blanche Wiesen Cook. Panelists included historians Staughton Lynd, Rust Eisenberg, John McMillian, Jesse Lemisch, and Robert Cohen.

Lemisch, a leading radical historian – who, along with E.P. Thompson, pioneered the new social history and the writing of history from the bottom up -- presented “Present Mindedness Revisited at the 1969 convention of the American Historical Association. He was part of a group of radical historians seeking to get the American Historical Association to come out against the Vietnam war in 1969, a move that mainstream historians resisted and ultimately defeated, on the grounds that historians as professionals were , and ought to remain, politically neutral and so their professional organizations ought not take a stance on the war.

“Present-Mindedness Revisited” was a searching critique that refuted these claims of political neutrality by exposing the Cold War and anti-radical politics embedded in much of mainstream American historical writing. This is why Noam Chomsky termed Lemisch’s “Present Mindedness Revisited” a “penetrating critique of anti-radical bias in the historical profession,” and finds it “regrettably – as pertinent today as it was when Jesse issued this call for integrity and intellectual independence years ago. It poses starkly the challenges that should be faced with the courage and commitment that he has shown in his remarkable work.”



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