OAH President Patricia Limerick takes on Nicholas Kristof

Historians in the News
tags: OAH



Patricia Limerick is the incoming president of the Organization of American Historians. This is her inaugural column which appeared in the May 2014 issue of OAH Outlook, the membership newsletter of the OAH. 

Editor:  In a recent column in the NYT Nicholas Kristof castigated professors for hiding out in their Ivory Tower. His complaint prompted this response from OAH President Patricia Limerick.

... [Let's tell] Kristof, in a kindly tone that stops well short of reproach or smarminess, that he has fallen behind the times and not kept up with the world around him. Surely, as a journalist, he does not want to be rushing to get "yesterday's news" into print; on the contrary, he will want to acknowledge that he has fallen far behind in tracking and noting new trends.

Kristof, in other words, labors—and writes—in darkness when it comes to a grounded knowledge of the everyday lives of hundreds of historians working in multiple institutions, locales, and enterprises.

So let's help the poor fellow out. And here's where I need your help.

I need to hear from historians employed at universities and colleges who travel back and forth across the borders of the academic world.

Public historians, do not race to your laptops! I am very aware of your important roles in the world, and with a year as OAH President, I will get to celebrating you soon. But Kristof's column took aim at professors, and indeed, the caricature of academics who do not venture out of their ivory towers burdens us with our weakest flank.

If you are a historian based in academia and also engaged in the world beyond the borders of your campus, please write me. Tell me who you are, what your field is, what you teach, what you write about, and what sort of activity—working with K–12 teachers, giving public lectures, participating in the design of museum exhibits, advising nonprofits, talking to reporters, writing op-ed pieces or blogs, etc.—you engage in outside your university or college. If you involve your students in these enterprises, all the better—please let me know about how you may have, for instance, hitched up the writing and research assignments in your class to the public benefit.

Years ago, I ran into a very academically qualified historian at an airport. "You're in town for research?" I said to him, thinking I was declaring the obvious. "Actually," he said, "I'm here working with a tribe on a water rights case."

I know that there are hundreds of OAH members who have similar stories. I also know that I cannot patrol the concourses of airports looking for them....




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