Modern American History: Meet the Executive Editors
It is surprising that there has been no “big tent” journal devoted to recent U.S. history, a field of great vibrancy and enduring importance. Daniel Pearce and Deborah Gershenowitz of Cambridge University Press spent nearly two years canvassing scholars about the possibility. What they found was overwhelming enthusiasm for a journal that could bring historians together across their particular subfields and allow wide-ranging, inclusive conversations about the key developments and problems that distinguish modern American history.
Below, the two editors recruited by Cambridge University Press to select the board and launch Modern American History introduce themselves and reflect on the journal’s possibilities.
In my own scholarship and historical thinking, I puzzle over the relationship between natural resource governance and broader political and ideological contexts. Like demands for equality, or for the redistribution of wealth or opportunity, environmental policy is a hard sell. Moments when it is possible come and go. Right now I’m thinking about the post-World War II agricultural surplus as a material problem that created a unique and enduring marriage of farm and food policy, and a unique and enduring kind of welfare state.
But because I struggle with the relationship between resource governance and the bigger picture, I’m drawn to research on all kinds of topics. I’m a voracious reader of twentieth-century history in general, and I’m quite energized by historiographical and synthetic thinking. The recent revival of my own field of political history—which now looks not only at institutions and governmental structures but also at ideas, social movements, and values— reveals the rewards of such thinking.
My hope for MAH is that each issue’s collection of traditional research articles will showcase the best scholarship in every field of modern American history while also generating more exchanges between different areas of study. The size and breadth of expertise displayed by the editorial board demonstrates just how rich and expansive the study of the recent American past has become.
If people know me by my writing, they probably think of me as a so-called “U.S. in the World” scholar. My work often explores how Americans’ ambitions and understanding of themselves have depended on relationships to other people and regions of the world, about how their experiences and actions have transcended national boundaries and to what purpose. I’ve written about Irish return migrants in the 1880s, American residents and visitors in interwar Paris, Spanish shipping agents in the wartime Atlantic, and Allied troops in 1940s New York.
But my interests and training have by no means been limited to transnational topics and methodologies. As a student, I worked most closely with historians who specialized in political ideas and culture, gender, sexuality, the family, and the city. Their insights have stayed with me. My position at Boston University is in modern U.S. cultural history, where I teach courses not only on Americans in the world, but also on urban history, popular culture, and the history of the life cycle.
When you talk to historians— in between panels at a conference or over dinner—you discover that they have all kinds of interests and insights that aren’t necessarily foregrounded in their major research publications. This is one of the reasons I’m excited that Modern American History will devote space not only to top-quality research articles but also to a lively “below the fold” section with special features and innovative content, a place where writers and readers alike can branch out and try new things.
Photo credit: Kelly Davidson and Jackie Ricciardi