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History's Babel

  • Originally published 02/04/2013

    Inside Higher Ed interviews Robert Townsend

    The historical enterprise -- that is, the work of historians, in any sphere -- has become too divided, even splintered, Robert Townsend believes. While the American Historical Association was founded with the intent of bringing together "professors, teachers, specialists, and others" (according to its original call, in 1884), today the profession of history is seen as synonymous with the work of professors at research universities -- to the detriment of the discipline as a whole.Townsend ought to know whereof he speaks: he is the deputy director of the AHA, where he has worked for over 20 years; he is also the author of numerous studies on the state of the historical profession.In his new book, History's Babel: Scholarship, Professionalization, and the Historical Enterprise in the United States, 1880-1940 (University of Chicago Press), Townsend traces the beginnings and growth of what he calls the "professional shift," in which historical work splintered into separate professions: academic research, teaching, and public history....