Dear SHEAR friends,
This letter is to address and acknowledge the criticism of SHEAR’s special virtual session “Andrew Jackson in the Age of Trump” on July 17. We had a large and engaged audience for the webinar; there was an equally large and engaged response to the program on social media, regarding both panel composition and content. I hear you, and I wish to speak to that.
Let me begin by explaining how this panel came to be. When the 2020 program was postponed until July 2021, we wished to sponsor a few events to demonstrate that we remain a vital and important organization, even in this troubled time. The accepted panel on Donald Trump’s efforts to identify with Andrew Jackson struck some members of the program committee as a most timely panel, and one which may not be as relevant after the November elections. This was a stand-alone panel, and not the opening plenary, which remains scheduled for July 2021.
The paper presented yesterday was written by the senior editor of the Jackson papers and the academic tasked with walking Trump through the Hermitage. Professor Daniel Feller dealt with that moment, as well as with his views on why that is an historical connection that resonates today. The panel that responded to Dr. Feller’s controversial ideas pushed back hard on some of his opinions, but the structure of the panel—a single paper followed by comparatively brief comments—had the effect of spotlighting Professor Feller’s paper. And because this was the only paper presented at SHEAR 2020, and was webcast to an open audience, it had the effect of casting the paper as the public, authorized face of our organization. It was not.
Regrettably, the panel was also not diverse in the variety of ways—from gender to race to ethnicity—that SHEAR has come to expect and require in recent years. Newer generations of scholars have engaged these issues from multiple perspectives, including those of indigenous and enslaved people, and they should have been included in yesterday’s panel. In recent years, SHEAR has fostered this new scholarship—but yesterday’s audience would not have been able to see that. We should also have included early career scholars, or scholars from two-year institutions or in public history. Our own website includes a statement on diversity and panel submissions, and we failed in not living up to our own standards. For not including those voices, I accept responsibility. It was my error, and for that I apologize.