What’s in a List? Part 2: Here’s mine.

Last week on Historista I urged my academic colleagues to call attention to the best historians writing today (or the most inspiring works, or however else they would like to categorize such matters), in response to James McPherson’s list of old white dudes in his New York Times interview. In response, Kevin Levin  pointed out that the best way to do this is through social media; I completely agree with Kevin’s argument that “new scholars will make their mark and change the terms of the game for future generations by thinking anew about how to communicate with one another and the broader public about what they do.”

The blogger Historiann also issued a challenge (independent of my own call to action) to scholars to interview themselves and to publish these interviews on blogs or through tweets (#HistoriannChallenge). Several academic and public historians have taken this challenge, and produced some really great lists of important recent books in a variety of fields.

I may do the full interview a bit later but for now here is my alternative list of the best/most inspiring historians writing today (in no particular order). It’s an eclectic list, given my various interest areas in Civil War, cultural, environmental and now western history. It is not exhaustive. But I feel comfortable saying that if you haven’t read anything by these historians, you should.

Stephen Berry, whose talent for composition is prodigious in his books (see All That Makes a Man) and essays (“The Historian as Death Investigator,” in Weirding the War), and whose new e-history project, CSI Dixie, promises to be as eloquent as everything else he writes.

Yael Sternhell, who always has an original angle of vision, and chooses great topics and sources. Routes of War is a project I wish I had thought of first, and her new work on the history of compiling the OR is already deeply researched and argued.

Ari Kelman, who seamlessly interweaves recent and mid-nineteenth-century American history in A Misplaced Massacre, and who writes amazing surprise endings.

Jim Downs, whose argumentative fearlessness in all forms—Sick from Freedom, scholarly articles, pieces for the Huffington Post—encourages me to take more risks in my work.

Juliana Barr, who writes beautifully about gender, race, and power in the eighteenth-century West, and has given me new ways to think about the Civil War through western and Native histories.

Jenny Price, whose Flight Maps is the oldest book on this list (1999) but one of my favorite cultural studies of modern engagements with nature. Her life of writing outside the academy shows that it can be done, and done really, really well.







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