Doing History in Polarized Times: Virtual Summit

Bundle of Summit Recordings
$60 AASLH Members / $75 Nonmembers

Individual Session Recordings*
$15 AASLH Members / $20 Nonmembers
FREE for Institutional Partner, Premier, and Platinum Members

To purchase individual session recordings, click the button above. On the Doing History page on the AASLH Resource Center, click the Content tab.

Political and cultural divisions in America today pose great challenges to the history field. While research shows that there is actually broad public support for a full and honest portrayal of American history, there are also basic disagreements that persist. How can our field navigate disputes about the past, build on areas of consensus, and make the most of the transformative potential of the coming U.S. 250th anniversary?

This virtual summit, held over the course of two half-days, will explore recent research, emerging strategies, and case studies to help history practitioners work more effectively in today’s fractious discourse. We will also consider the needs of history doers working in this difficult environment and our field’s role in identifying common ground and connecting past and present.

* Due to a contractual agreement with Danielle Allen, the recording of her session is available to purchase and view through March 24, 2024.

Bundle of Summit Recordings
$60 AASLH Members / $75 Nonmembers

Individual Session Recordings*
$15 AASLH Members / $20 Nonmembers
FREE for Institutional Partner, Premier, and Platinum Members

Use the links below to purchase recordings of individual sessions.

Opening Address: Danielle Allen

The virtual summit kick offs with an opening address that explores the nature and purpose of whole history, ways to build upon broad support in favor of it, and what we mean by finding common ground and why it matters. At a time when many seem to be existing on parallel planes of reality, the opening address will consider shared approaches for moving forward while providing a frame for the summit’s subsequent sessions. Danielle Allen is the James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University and the Director of the Allen Lab for Democracy Renovation at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Due to a contractual agreement, this recording is available for purchase and viewing through March 24, 2024.

Framing the Problem: American Understandings of History

Why is doing history so challenging today, and what factors are contributing to this difficulty? Is the situation worse than it has been before? And what does recent research tell us about the American public’s understanding of history? The virtual summit’s first panel will provide attendees with a shared foundation of context and evidence to help inform approaches to practicing history in an age of polarized discourse. Modupe Labode, Curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History will moderate this discussion with these panelists:

  • Johann Neem, Professor of History, Western Washington University
  • Dan Vallone, Director, More in Common USA
  • Susie Wilkening, Principal, Wilkening Consulting

Trust and Strategy in Communication

The virtual summit’s second session features two TED talk-style presentations about themes vital to productive conversation: trust and strategy. The speakers will address questions including how to navigate difficult conversations with competing perspectives and what strategic communication is and why it matters. This session will offer skills critical to effective communication across varied scenarios. Eric Morse, Senior Manager of Marketing and Member Strategy at AASLH will introduce these speakers:

  • Nat Kendall-Taylor, Chief Executive Officer, FrameWorks Institute
  • Sarah Pharaon, Principal, Dialogic Consulting

More Productive Conversations About History: Lessons from the Field

Take a deeper look at specific examples of how organizations are improving history discourse. To start the second day of the virtual summit, panelists will explore topics such as techniques for strengthening public communication about history, leveraging existing common ground, strategies for helping history educators and history doers traverse today’s political terrain, and how history organizations can mobilize their communities to advocate for whole history. John Garrison Marks, Director of the Public History Research Lab at AASLH will moderate this discussion with these panelists:

  • W. Todd Groce, President and CEO, Georgia Historical Society
  • Thema McDonald, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Chicago History Museum
  • Alan Spears, Senior Director of Cultural Resources, National Parks Conservation Association

Supporting History Practitioners in Polarized Times

How do we support history doers in navigating the current climate and how do needs vary based on position, experience, type of organization, and/or identity? The session will explore answers to this question and will also address crucial values and skills that could yield a more productive public discourse. Panelists will consider ways to cultivate allies among our audiences and partners to better serve both their and our needs. Rick Noguchi, President and CEO of California Humanities, will moderate this discussion with these panelists:

  • Ben Garcia, Executive Director, The American LGBTQ+ Museum
  • Linnea Grim, President and CEO, Thomas W. Haas Endowed Chair, Strawbery Banke Museum
  • Nicole A. Moore, Director of Education, National Center for Civil and Human Rights

Closing Conversation

Speakers in this final session will tie together the various themes of the virtual summit, consider takeaways and lingering questions, and discuss how the summit’s lessons can be put into practice in the field. The speakers will also consider the history field’s role in handling disagreements about the past and its connection to the present. Finally, the panel will explore the context and transformative potential of the upcoming 250th anniversary of the United States in 2026. Ramin Ganeshram, Executive Director of the Westport Museum for History and Culture, will moderate this conversation with these panelists:

  • Daina Ramey Berry, Michael Douglas Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts, University of California at Santa Barbara
  • Jonathan Zimmerman, Professor of History of Education and Judy and Howard Berkowitz Professor in Education, University of Pennsylvania

Updated: December 15, 2023