With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

What I’m Reading Now: Jim Grossman (Interview)

Why did you choose history as your career?
I started reading history very young, with biographies and fiction.  It never occurred to me that history could be a "career" until I was in college and thought being a college professor seemed like an interesting life.  I loved reading history and I thought it was important, so graduate school in history seemed like a good thing to try. 
What was your favorite historic site trip? Why?
 I don't think I could specify one.  There are so many.  The WWII/siege sites in St Petersburg are fascinating and tell a story that too few Americans know; Montpelier, Monticello, and Ashlawn Highland one after another offer great comparisons and provoke thoughts about how to memorialize national heroes who owned other humans; Lowell National Historical Park is riveting.  My guess is that my all-time favorite might well end up being something I haven't seen yet.  One issue involved in evaluation is the importance of the site itself as opposed to how well it has been done.
If you could have dinner with any three historians (dead or alive), who would you choose and why? 
The AHA has nearly 14,000 members.  No way I'm going to single out three.  So I'll stick to the deceased: DuBois, Hofstadter, E.P. Thompson

What books are you reading now?
 Lisa Tetrault, The Myth of Seneca Falls; Mark Carnes, Minds on Fire.

What is your favorite history book?
Can't imagine singling one out.  
What is your favorite library and bookstore when looking for history books?
I'll go into just about any used bookstore.  Or new bookstore.  I can't imagine having a favorite library.  They are all different, and have different purposes.  I worked at the Newberry Library for two decades and so have a special appreciation for it.
Do you own any rare history or collectible books? Do you collect artifacts related to history?
It's hard to be a student of Leon Litwack and not acquire at least a few relatively rare books over the years.  But I don't have anything truly extraordinary.  "Collectible" is an imprecise term, because anything can be "collectible" if that's what suits your obsession. 
Which history museums are your favorites? 
There are too many good ones to have a favorite.  I have spent a lot of time at the Chicago History Museum and the New-York Historical Society.  The National Museum of American History has embarked on some exciting new initiatives.  But I recently saw one of the best history exhibitions I've ever experienced at the Victoria & Albert in London, "Disobedient Objects."  It's still there.  
Which historical time period is your favorite?
What would be your advice for history majors looking to make history as a career?
Focus on the relationship between historical thinking and the specific things that fascinate you.  Think as much about what you like to do as where you want to work.  And look at the AHA's "Discipline Core” document.

Who was you favorite history teacher?
I've been very fortunate to have had so many good teachers beginning with Dan Smith in 8th grade and Joan Barist in high school; Gerd Korman, Michael Kammen, Richard Polenberg, and Walter LaFeber in college are collectively responsible for my decision to go to graduate school, along with a TA named Mark whose last name I cannot recall but who seemed to love what he was doing; and then Paula Fass, Jim Kettner, and Leon Litwack in graduate school.   I am grateful to all of them as well as those who have been my teachers ever since, such as Roy Ritchie and Kathy Conzen, who taught me what it means to be a member of a university faculty.  Laura Edwards and Peggy McCracken at the Newberry introduced me to a literature that I should have been reading but wasn't.  Dick Brown and Stan Katz taught me how a historian can contribute to scholarship and public culture without a university or college appointment.  One reason I love my current job is that I continue to meet colleagues - mostly younger - from whom I continue to learn.
Why is it essential to save history and libraries? 
Historical thinking is essential to just about everything we consider in our civic lives and careers.  Context always matters.  People need to understand how change happens.  Libraries, print and digital, are the resources that we need to continue to learn.  Beginning with the Greenburgh Public Library, I have spent much of my life walking along narrow pathways, pulling books off of shelves, sometimes only glancing at a few paragraphs, sometimes taking the book over to a chair or taking it home.  We can now do this online as well, although in different ways.  We need to save libraries; we don't need to "save history."  “History"  exists whether we like it or not.  Perhaps what we need to "save," is historical thinking, historical learning, and an appreciation for the artifacts of the past.