History of the Present/Contemporary History courses are becoming more and more popular. And although historical analogies will always be employed to understand contemporary events, the last few years have witnessed a series of political and economic crises on a global scale that have left scholars and non-scholars alike desperately looking to the past in search of answers for understanding the present moment.
There are promises and perils to such an undertaking. A history of the present is by its nature a speculative exercise, not only because using historical analogies to compare the present to the past is rarely convincing, but also because the political assumptions of such histories themselves have an unacknowledged agency. Histories of the present are often histories of fear. These stories are dangerous because, like insecticides, they try to block unpalatable political outcomes, but end up killing off new thought as well. To explain how actual people actually feel and think is anathema to the program.
But some rare histories of the present do ask the public to reconsider the structure and sources of contemporary events. They are not histories of fear, but histories of utopias, sentiments, institutions, and power. Such histories of the present allow, in the words Alondra Nelson, “moments of reckoning for us as a society to think about how we want to live and live better together.”
The resources available here, which will be regularly updated, are intended for teaching history of the present/history of now courses. They are also related to my own interest in public commentary and in the theoretical aspects of doing the history of the present. If you would like me to add your syllabus or suggest readings for me to list, do please contact me.
History of Now: Cambridge History Faculty puts past and present into dialogue
Washington Post’s Made by History: Historians Enter the Fray
NPR’s Throughline: The past is never past. Every headline has a history
AHR Interview: Podcast of the American Historical Review
Patrick Iber (University of Wisconsin, Madison), History of Now
Kathleen Belew (University of Chicago), History of the Present
Seth Cotlar (Willamette University), History of the Present (Fall 2019).
Bethany Moreton and Matthew Delmont (Dartmouth College), #Everything Has a History: Understanding America Today
Samuel Moyn and Daniel Magaziner (Yale University), The World Circa 2000
Julia Rabig (Dartmouth College), American History Since 1980
Sophia Rosenfeld (University of Pennsylvania), The History of Truth
Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, (University of Wisconsin, Madison), The History of Your Parents Generation.
Brandon Schechter, Putin, Stalin and “Friends”: Understanding Eurasia Today through its History and Personalities”
Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins (Dartmouth College), History of the Present (Course taught at Yale’s Jackson’s Institute for Global Affairs, Spring 2019; syllabus available upon request)
Timothy Snyder, (Yale University), History of the Present: A Contemporary History of Diplomatic Crisis (Spring 2018)
Adam Tooze, (Columbia University), History of the Present ( Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, Fall 2013).
“The Syllabus” (Published by Evgeny Morozov): The Best New Academic Articles, Essays, Talks, Podcasts, Books, and More
#coronavirussyllabus: Initiative of Alondra Nelson and Anne Fausto-Sterling for deepening historical understanding of Covid-19
On History and the Present
David Armitage, “In Defense of Presentism,” forthcoming in Darrin M. McMahon, ed., History and Human Flourishing (Oxford, 2020).
Geoffrey Barraclough, An Introduction to Contemporary History (C.A. Watts, 1964).
Vernon Bogdanor, “I Believe in Yesterday,” The New Statesman, December 17, 2009.
Angus Burgin, “New Directions: Then and Now,” in The Worlds of American Intellectual History edited by Joel Isaac, James T. Kloppenberg, Michael O’Brien, and Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen (Oxford: 2016), 343-264.
Rita Felski, “Context Stinks!” New Literary History, Vol 42, No.4 (Autumn 2011): 573-591.
François-Herzog, Regimes of Historicity: Presentism and Experiences of Time (Columbia University Press, 2o15).
Patrick Iber, “History in an Age of Fake News,” Chronicle of Higher Education
Anton Jäger, “It Might Take awhile before History Starts Again,” Damage
Reinart Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time translated by Keith Tribe (Columbia University Press, 2004).
____, Sediments of Time: On the Possible Histories translated by Sean Franzel and Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann (Stanford University Press, 2018).
Herbert Lüthy, “What’s the Point of History?” Journal of Contemporary History Vol 3, No. 2 (1968): 3-22.
Samuel Moyn, Human Rights and the Uses of History (Verso, 2014).
Jan-Werner Müller, “European Intellectual History as Contemporary History,” Journal of Contemporary History Vol 46, No. 3 (2011): 574-590.
Sophia Rosenfeld, “On Lying: Writing Philosophical History after the Enlightenment and After Arendt,” in The Worlds of American Intellectual History edited by Joel Isaac, James T. Kloppenberg, Michael O’Brien, and Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen (Oxford: 2016), 218-234.
Arthur Schlesinger Jr, “On the Writing of Contemporary History,” The Atlantic, March 1967.
Howard Schonberger, “Purposes and Ends in History: Presentism and the New Left,” The History Teacher Vol 7 No. 3 (1974): 448-458
Marek Tamm and Oliver Laurent (eds), Rethinking Historical Time: New Approaches to Presentism, (Bloomsbury Press, 2019).
Hayden White, “The Burden of History,” History and Theory Vol 5 No.2 (1966):213-17.
Olivia Waxman, “Professors Are Crowdsourcing a #CoronavirusSyllabus. Here’s the History They Think Should Be Used to Teach This Moment,” Time Magazine, March 27, 2020
Thomas Zimmer, “Reflections on the Challenges of Writing a (Pre-)History of the “Polarized” Present,” Modern American History
“Sentencing the Present: Part 1: Critical Conversations in a Time of Crisis, ” Public Seminar March 7, 2020.
“Sentencing the Present: Part 2: Critical Conversation in a Time of Crisis,” Public Seminar May 14, 2020.
Foucault and the History of the Present
Weimar/Fascism Analogy (Typically used to describe Trump, Brexit, Global turn to populism: Modi, Erdogan, Orban, Bolsonaro, etc)
David Bell, “Not Everything is Munich and Hitler,” The National Interest April 25, 2017.
Daniel Bessner and Udi Greenberg, “The Weimar Analogy,” Jacobin Magazine
Peter Gordon, “Why Historical Analogy Matters,” New York Review of Book:
Udi Greenberg, “The Myth of a New Nazism”, Spiked
Samuel Moyn, “The Trouble with Comparisons,” New York Review of Books, May 19, 2020.
Samoyn Moyn, “Should We Compare Trump to Hitler?” New York Review of Books, May 23, 2020
Tamsin Shaw, “William Barr: The Carl Schmitt of Our time,” New York Review of Books
Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty-One Lessons on Tyranny (Random House, 2017).
Timothy Snyder, The Road to Unfreedom (Random House, 2018).
Jason Stanley, How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them (Random House, 2018).
World War I/II mobilization, solidarity, welfarism, emergency measures (Covid-19)
Tim Barker, “It Doesn’t Have to be a War,” Dissent
David Edgerton, “Why the coronavirus crisis should not be compared to the Second World War,” New Statesman April 3, 2020
David Greenberg, “What Trump Can Learn From Woodrow Wilson,” Politico, March 30, 2020.
Jacob Hagstrom, “Stop Calling Covid-19 a War,” Washington Post, April 20, 2020.
Walter G. Moss, “New Deal or Nazism: Historical Comparisons to Trump’s Performance as a Leader in Crisis,” History New Network, April 5, 2020.
Nicolas Mulder, “The Coronavirus War Economy Will Change the World,” Foreign Policy
Mark Wilson, “The 5 WWII Lessons That Could Help the Government Fight Coronavirus,” Politico, March 19, 2020.
Joshua Zeitz, “Why The Trump Administration Won’t Be Able to Make the Stimulus Work,” Politico, April, 4, 2020.
New Cold War (Fight Against new fascisms, new totalitarianisms, new enemies, populism, China)
Peter Beinart, The Good Fight: Terror and the Liberal Spirit (Harper, 2009.
Paul Berman, Terror and Liberalism (Norton, 2003).
Niall Ferguson, “The New Cold War? It’s with China and it Already has Begun,” New York Times
Carlo Invernezzi Accetti and Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins, “Can Christian Democracy Save America From Trump?,” The Guardian:
Jan Werner Muller, “What Cold War Liberalism Can Teach Us Today,” The New York Review of Books
Christian Caryl, Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century (Basic Books, 2013).
Simon Henry Reid, Empire of Democracy: The Remaking of the West Since The Cold War, 1971-2017 (Simon & Schuster, 2019).
Samuel Moyn, “The Alt-Rights Favorite Meme is 100 years Old,” New York Times
Pankaj Mishra, Age of Anger: A History of the Present (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017).
Rebecca L. Spang, “The Revolution is Underway Already,” The Atlantic, April 5, 2020.
For a forum devoted to Age of Anger with specific concern about the history of the present see this H-Diplo forum devoted to the book here.
Pre-Modern Analogies For Understanding the Present
Brad Littlejohn, “The English Reformation: England’s First Brexit,” The American Conservative
Without Historical Analog/Unprecedented
Nancy Rosenblum, “Why a Philosophy of History in which the Present Moment Is World-Altering Is Not Hubris and Is Politically Necessary,” The Social Science Research Council
Adam Tooze, “We Have Never Been Here Before,” Washington Post