ing the U.S. Supreme Court to fix thernelection for Boy George. They are justrnrelying ou media sources, the sanre as thernrest of us. If thev are willing to base themselvesrnentirely ou one-sided parti pris documentsrnto reconstruct the affairs oi annorn2000, what earthly hope do we have thatrnthe’ will be more pcrceptie when stud-rning the issues of 1800 or 1900, let alonernan earlier period?rnThe recent upsurge of activism amongrnthe workers, peasants, and professors indicatesrna distressing herd mentality, a willingnessrnto sign basically anything thatrncomes from History Central, so long as itrngives people the sense that they are fightingrnthe gf)od fight. The event arouses arnpowerful temptation to wreak upon historiansrnthe same dirh- trick that a mischievousrnsoul performed upon the BritishrnYoung Liberals in the 1970’s, persuadingrnmost of the part”s annual convention tornsign a heartfelt declaration of support forrnthe oppressed people of the Rcpiblic ofrnSanta Clara. (Since no such state exists,rnthe Santa Clarans arc, perforce, not oppressed.)rnJust what is wrong with the historicalrnprofession? I can give a short answer: Particularlyrnin American histor’, the professionrnis dominated by people whose ideasrnwere formed in tlie social struggles of thernlate 1960’s and early 1970’s, and whornhave not noticed that the world has sincernchanged. Obviously, a large proportionrnof the current historical profession grewrnup after Hie Nixon vears, but they remainrntrue to what seems to them a golden agernof activism. Accordingly, their responsernto events is largely Pavlovian, and the”rnare still trving to answer questions thatrnwere not terribU relevant even in 1970.rnFor example, wc might look at LizabethrnCohen, the first name on the recent elec-rnHon pehtion. Her major book is calledrnMaking a New Deal: Industrial Workersrnin Chicago, J919-1939 (Cambridge,rn1990), and it assenrbles a good deal ofrnuseful information, fler theme, however,rnis that ital issue that so greatl- agitatesrnthe American masses at the start of thern21st century—namelv, class formation.rnThe same riveting theme stirred Wilcntzrnto write his best-known work. Chants Democratic:rnNew York City and the Rise ofrnthe American Working Class, 1788-18S0rn(Oxford, 1986). If s a good read despite thernsub-Marxist intellectual framework—certainKrnnot because of it.rnOnce we realize that many Americanrnhistorians have not progressed intellectuallyrnbeyond 1974 or so, we can easily appreciaterntheir areas of concern. Race,rnabove all, agitates them: In their minds, itrnhas onlv been five or ten vears since thernSelma march, and black Americans arernstill preth’ much where they were duringrnthe King years. Ci en this sense of dramarnand urgency, it is not surprising thatrnracial themes permeate their literature.rnAlso—remember, we are shll mentally inrnthe Nixon vears — there arc all sorts ofrnnew and thrilling debates concerningrnwomen’s liberation, and even gay liberation.rn(Tired? Who said these themesrnwere tired?)rnIf you think I’m exaggeradng, just lookrnat a t)pical ear’s out[3ut of the journal ofrnAmerican History, the official organ of thernOAH, published in four hefty numbersrnannually. The March 2000 issue devotedrnhalf its space to a round table on therntheme of etlmicitv and race, with suchrngroundbreaking studies as “JapanesernAmerican Resettlement and Communit)’rnin Chicago 1942-45.” All the articles mrnthe June issue were about ethnicib,’, race,rnand slavery, and a special section celebratedrnthe lifehme achievements of fierbcrtrnAptheker, the unrepentant doven ofrnAmerican communist historians. Septemberrnbrought a refreshing change ofrntheme, with a focus on “gender” issues,rnfeminism, contraception, and theories ofrnniasculinih’. Readers feeling deprived ofrntheir regular racial fix vould have beenrndelighted to pick up the December issue,rnwith its major studv of race and slavery.rnSpecifically, this number devoted arnround table to the cjuestion of whetherrnCinque, leader of the legendar}’Am/stac/rnslave revolt, was himself a slave trader.rnThe issue was topped off with an articlernexamining “the new disability historv,”rnwhich is currently enjoying sometiiing ofrnan academic vogue.rnThe journal’s emphases are neatlyrnepitomized bv the front covers of thern ear’s four issues, which depicted Los Angeles’srnI ittle Tokvo; an African-Americanrnteacher in a one-room sehoolhouse; arncartoon about Victorian feminist andrnbirth-control advocate ‘ictorian Woodhull;rnand an outrageously idealizedrnCinque. In tlic eves of the historical profession’srnestablishment, diat seems to representrna pretty complete spectrum ofrnAmerican life, past and present. Is therernanything or anyone they might havernomitted here?rnNor are these weird concentrations peculiarrnto the JALI. If anything, the ratherrnmore prestigious American Historical Reviewrn(AHR) is even quirkier. Highlightsrnof their 2000 issues include one massivrn”forum” section on “gender” and masrneulinity in Chinese historv; another fornrum on contemporary histories of slavervrnand a lengthy article on Mava revivalismrnthat was largelv’ a puff piece for die contemporaryrnZapatista rebels in the Mexicanrnprovince of Chiapas.rnPutting the main journals together, werncan see that “mainstream” American historyrntoday—what successful historiansrnactually do —is overwhelmingly concernedrnwith what would once have beenrnviewed as the extreme margins: radicalrnand feminfst history, racial and sexual minorities,rnand other marginal groups.rnThere is nothing wrong with any of theserninterests (heaven knows, I myself work arngreat deal in the margins, and indeed beyondrnthem) but the problem comesrnwhen the margins are seen as the wholernof the American experience. It’s evenrnworse when historians adopt such an activistrnstance toward their subjects. Thevrnare not writing the history of contraception,rnwhich anvone will admit is an importantrntopic, but rather studying howwomenrnstruggled heroicallv against malernoppression. (I offer a representative quotationrnfrom one article in die Septemberrn2000 issue of JAH, p. 459: “Such lettersrnoffer more than a touching tribute to therndetermination of women and men in laternnineteenth centurv America to restrictrntheir fertilit).”) Especially in racial matters,rnhistory is recounted in starkly ideologicalrnterms, with heroes and villains,rngood guvs and bad guys. Competingrnviews are not simply excluded; they arernleft unconsidered. Historv is a weaponrnfor social aehvism, and historians are soldiersrnin die liberahon struggle.rnGiven the power of die social mythologiesrnthrough which American historv isrnread (and misread), we can scarcely wonderrnat the joy widi which practitionersrngreet anything that can be taken, howeverrnimplausibly, as a repetition of past horrors.rnThe Adam’s Mark affair? A chancernto stand again at Selma. The 2000 election?rn’We’ll fight Dred Scott afresh, andrnthis fime, we’ll win. Just don’t bother mernwith facts: I’m an American historian.rnPhilip Jenkins is the author, most recently,rnof Hidden Gospels: How the Quest forrnJesus Lost Its Way (Oxford UniversityrnPress).rn46/CHRONICLESrnrnrn