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kdavid

What is "hot" in history today?

64 posts in this topic

Which topics, theories, and themes are "hot" in history today? What are the buzz words, and what is everyone reading about across various regional interests and fields?

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In general, there's been a turn toward new ways of seeing historical connections in the world. So oceanic histories have become a bigger deal, transnational histories of different combinations of regions than area studies had carved the world into during the Cold War, comparative histories of hitherto studied-very-separately places (like Brazil and Italy or Egypt and Japan).

 

The rise of digital methods for researching and presenting work is also a very big deal right now.

 

But don't take my word for it; this is just my impression based on what I've seen/read outside of school since college. My campus visit underscored the fact that a lot of what I was told was cutting edge in undergrad (which was 6 years ago for me) is basically 20 years old.

Edited by czesc

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I think digital is huge (at least I hope, I've put my eggs in that basket) and environmental/history of science is hot right now too.  

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In U.S. history, I think Borderlands is pretty hot. I see a lot of postings on H-net about books, jobs, etc in that field. Suburban diversity, which is my field, is popular in urban history, which has its pluses and minuses. 

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In addition to transnational approaches, I would say that gender studies still remain strong.  Urban/environmental history, memory studies, and digital research are also pretty big now, I think?

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I wholeheartedly agree about transnational being big. And the word "Interdisciplinary," once shunned in polite parlors everywhere seems to be finally moving out of the speakeasies and onto the street. Or at least it doesn't seem to be quite the career silver bullet that it was 7 years ago.

 

Also, I'd assume Chinese and Indian history would be getting more attention soon, right?

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Though interdisciplinary might be out of the basement and in the streets it isn't quite into the parlors yet.  People say they are interested in it in theory but often get confused and hostile when presented with it in reality.

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Digital history and Digital humanities are huge. In fact, I got sick of hearing about it as an archivist, but it is super sexy and people go nuts over it. 

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Borderlands is definitely still big but maybe somewhat on its way out of fashion - it's been "the big thing" in US history since what, the mid-late 90s? My understanding is environmental history is the hottest topic today.

 

Someone give me a primer on digital history, I don't know much about that outside of the archival context.

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This is a useful thread.

 

My sense is that most prospective and new graduate students have a good sense of what's hot now. That said, what really sets some apart from others is a sense of what will be hot in another seven to ten years. Projects that exude that type of foresight really stand out. I just don't know how you develop a good enough sense of a given field in order to have a better sense of what's next without actually going through a few years of course work and reading for your exams.

 

In terms of interdisciplinarity, I think that boat has mostly sailed. I think the biggest indication of institutional support for interdisciplinarity was the development of Anthro-History departments, but my sense is that, in History especially, those fields have mostly absorbed the insights of the other. I've even heard rumors of universities thinking about shutting down their Anthro-History programs for budgetary reasons, but justifying the act by saying that the departments don't really serve a purpose any more. When interdisciplinarity gestures towards History and Economics, for instance, that sounds interesting for reasons I'll mention in a bit.

 

I also think transnationalism as a methodology and global history as a frame are gonna have limited shelf lives. First, because I think it's pretty hard for graduate students to gain an authoritative knowledge of just one field, let alone the many fields required to do a good transnational project. Second, I think the "intervention" is a bit overblown. People migrate. Ideas circulate. Those processes are as ubiquitous to history as history itself. Others will probably disagree.

 

As for the digital humanities, this one I think mostly has purchase only in the teaching side of the equation. And for that reason alone we should all pay attention to it. But in terms of scholarship, I have seen very few projects where "digital" brings anything new to what we know and how we know it. Most digital humanities discussions are about presentation, the benefits and pitfalls of visualizations, and the changing world of publishing. But unless you're working with databases and doing some interesting statistical analyses or algorithmic data mining, I haven't seen much to indicate that "digital" will bring anything new to scholarship. Blogs don't count. And online and digitized archives are probably going to degrade the quality of scholarship in the long run, though I think it's an inevitable long run.

 

I guess I don't have much to say about borderlands, race, culture, etc. In terms of what the hot new thing will be, my sense, and the sense that I think a lot of people share, is that politics is going to come back as the primary arena within which we think about history. Social history was supposed to make up for the deficiencies of political history, and then cultural history was supposed to do the same for social history. I think we've learned a lot and the time is ripe to get back to politics in order to redirect scholarship towards new, substantive, and critically rigorous critiques of liberal capitalism. 

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Good points to consider.

 

What are some of the key texts which introduce transnationalism as a methodology?

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As for the digital humanities, this one I think mostly has purchase only in the teaching side of the equation. And for that reason alone we should all pay attention to it. But in terms of scholarship, I have seen very few projects where "digital" brings anything new to what we know and how we know it. Most digital humanities discussions are about presentation, the benefits and pitfalls of visualizations, and the changing world of publishing. But unless you're working with databases and doing some interesting statistical analyses or algorithmic data mining, I haven't seen much to indicate that "digital" will bring anything new to scholarship. Blogs don't count. And online and digitized archives are probably going to degrade the quality of scholarship in the long run, though I think it's an inevitable long run.

 

Hmm, I think digital humanities is, as you say, inevitable. But I don't think it's only useful for the teaching aspect. I can think of plenty of applications of digital humanities towards CRM, for instance, and I think it will encourage more scholarship on difficult-to-access primary sources.

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The best transnational piece I've ever seen is Daniel Rodgers Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age in that the transnational approach radically changes the way you view the progressive age.  But it's also not a book a grad student could or should try to write.  The good comparatives I've seen written by grad students really involve countries using the same language.

 

I should also add that the best use of the Digitel Humanities I've seen is Emily Thompson's roaring twenties project where she is looking at the soundscape of New York to find a new understanding of the city in the period in a way that you couldn't possibly do in old formats.  The problem there is that one has to have some serious serious (MacArthur Genius Grant) money to do that kind of thing.

Edited by New England Nat

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Memory studies in History are on their way out, especially in South America. I changed directions 180 degrees.

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From my personal exchange with some professors across different departments, politics of gender and oral history are pretty hot in my subfield (Modern East Asia/ China). I have heard a lot of discussion on digital history (as in how to digitalize the conventional way of going about doing oral history for example) so I guess it is rising in terms of popularity. In Chinese history, transnational historiography has been quite the trend for the last few years for it shifts the orthodox historical paradigm of analyzing china as a lone entity separated from the world to be among the main players on the world's stage.

 

More and more historians are paying attention to the history of the borderland in Asia as opposed to frontier because the former points to an allegiance of fluid identity subject to changes while the latter holds a more restrictive connotation. I would say borderland history, cross-ethnic, cross-cultural history are also pretty hot right now especially in the context of what is going on now in the South China sea between East and South East Asia. The politics there is a total chaos.  

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More and more historians are paying attention to the history of the borderland in Asia as opposed to frontier because the former points to an allegiance of fluid identity subject to changes while the latter holds a more restrictive connotation. I would say borderland history, cross-ethnic, cross-cultural history are also pretty hot right now especially in the context of what is going on now in the South China sea between East and South East Asia. The politics there is a total chaos.  

 

Sooo not my area, but I'm kind of surprised.  I'd have thought James Scott might have sucked a lot of air out of the room.

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I agree memory is also big. Public History is also popular and there is money in it too. Digital humanities is basically the intersection between technology and the humanities. It uses technology to bring attention to the humanities with both digital and born digital materials. That is basically the best way to sum it up. Although I am sure all the digital humanities people I worked with as an archivist would disagree with me. If you want to learn more about it, go to a THATCamp unconference. It was interesting, but I often got the feeling that many of them were interested in creating some cool new toy rather than helping researchers, which, in my opinion, is common among many archivists/librarians. I am not saying the subject doesn't have any value, I just think it is serious over done. 

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Memory studies in History are on their way out, especially in South America. I changed directions 180 degrees.

 

This was the feeling I got (in North America) when I was writing my thesis on memory and the legacy of the American Revolution, so I'm surprised to see so many people here saying the opposite.

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I think it depends on the field if memory is hot or not.  Fields that have been doing memory for a while are rather tired of it but there are sections of the profession that haven't used the tools before.

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My particualr field has been doing memory for yeaaarrsssssss.  We're tired of it though we know it's important... but blah. :)

 

Transnational history is very difficult to do- largely because of methodological and field training that you need, not to mention languages.  A friend and I talked about this the other day.  She and I agree that if you want to do transnational for your dissertation, you better damn know what your dissertation topic is going to be by the end of your first year.  Otherwise, the road to the PhD will be very, very long.  So my dissertation will be my baby longer than most. <_< 

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I can second that about transnational history and languages -- probably another reason my application wasn't epically successful with more schools. One of my potential advisors, who primarily teaches E/Central Europe, has, no joke, 16 languages on her CV. Not sure if this means the trend will fall into obscurity since few people have the expertise to pull it off, or if it means there's lots of interesting work available for anyone who has the skillset to do it, which will remain valuable.

 

As for memory, there was actually an interdisciplinary conference a couple years ago at NYU about how the whole memory fetish has gone too far. Take that for what you will.

Edited by czesc

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