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Stanford’s Priya Satia says "The Whitesplaining of History Is Over”

Historians in the News
tags: diversity, Priya Satia, Whitesplaining



When the academy was the exclusive playground of white men, it produced the theories of race, gender, and Western cultural superiority that underwrote imperialism abroad and inequality at home. In recent decades, women and people of color have been critical to producing new knowledge breaking down those long-dominant narratives. Sociological research confirms that greater diversity improves scholarship.

Yet the struggle to diversify the academy remains an uphill battle; institutional biases are deeply ingrained, and change evokes nostalgia for times past. Both of these obstacles were fully in evidence at a recent Applied History conference at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. Although history is a discipline with a growing number of nonwhite faculty members, and a healthy percentage of female scholars — indeed, women constitute more than a third of the faculty in Stanford’s own history department, across the bike lane from the Hoover Institute — the Hoover conference was made up of 30 white men (and one woman, who chaired a panel). These white men gathered to discuss the supposed fact that the "majority of academic historians have tended to shy away from questions of contemporary interest, especially to policy makers.""Previous generations were less shy of such questions," the conference website claimed.

Has the current generation of historians in fact abdicated its responsibility to consider questions of contemporary interest? Most historians would find this claim silly; history is always about questions of contemporary interest, always "applied." So how has the new, more diverse generation of historians produced work with policy implications?

The Harvard historian Caroline Elkins won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for fully exposing the violence of British decolonization in Kenya, puncturing longstanding myths about peaceful withdrawal. Her work has resulted in successful civil lawsuits against the British government by Kenyan survivors.

Catherine Hall of University College London chairs a group of historians assembling a database of British slave owners. In showing how slave ownership has skewed racial and class relations in Britain for centuries, their work opens up a range of international and domestic policy possibilities for righting historical wrongs.

Stanford’s first president, David Starr Jordan, was a key promoter of eugenicist theories of race. Now, Allyson Hobbs, an African-American historian at Stanford, has written an award-winning history of racial passing showing both the constructed nature of racial identity and the arbitrary nature of racial laws — with implications for policies about social identification and race today. ...

Read entire article at The Chronicle of Higher Education

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