I finally got around to watching Daniel Feller‘s lecture on Andrew Jackson in the age of Trump at this year’s virtual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. You can watch it here and decide what you think about it. (You can also watch it here). Several of you have now asked me to comment.
Historians on Twitter are very upset about the session. There seem to be four related criticisms. First, many are angry because Feller failed to say more about Jackson’s racism, especially as related to Indian removal. One key issue was Feller’s refusal to describe the Indian removal as “genocide.” Second, some are angry that SHEAR did not invite younger scholars–especially those who study race and Native American history–to participate in the session. Such scholars, they argue, would have brought more complexity and diversity to this scholarly debate. Third, Feller took some shots at other historians. Fourth, Feller used a racial slur during the Q&A session.
- I loved the session. Feller made a forceful argument. I thought the session was a model of what good academic debate should look like. As someone who has been teaching Andrew Jackson at the survey and upper-division level for twenty years, and also wrote about Trump’s use of Jackson in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, I learned a great deal from Feller’s paper. The commentators made me think in different ways about Jackson and his comparison to Donald Trump. I want to thank SHEAR for hosting it.
- On Feller’s use of the racial slur that was formerly associated with Washington’s NFL team, I agree with Journal of the Early Republic editor Andrew Shankman’s take. Shankman writes: “We all encounter this language in our sources. We all struggle with how to bring students and colleagues to this work without normalizing and prolonging categories and terms that have justified, and continue to justify, violence and contempt, and that seek to deny full and equal membership in a loving community. In my view, knowing that many people feel pain when they hear words that force them to recall wrongs done to them and those they cherish, and to recall them not at a time of their own choosing, is reason never to use such words.” I will leave it there.
- There are several historians who offered useful criticism of Feller on Twitter. This is good. For example, I learned a lot from Becky Goetz’s long twitter thread and I jotted down a few titles for future reading. This is historical twitter at its best. (Although I also felt that Goetz was asking Feller to do a lot in a short paper).
- On the other hand, if you want to see how the historical profession deals with legitimate scholars who have dissenting views, read the tweets at #SHEAR2020. It’s not pretty.
Editor's note: Daniel Feller's remarks at SHEAR and the responses to them have sparked a great deal of debate among historians. As usual, HNN's Roundup section is a collection of opinion essays by historians from around the web and not necessarily an endorsement of the opinions expressed. As more essays on the subject are published in response, we expect to include several in the Roundup.