After 25 years, the Critical Perspectives on the Past series closes

Steve Brier’s Preface to American History Now, edited by Eric Foner and Lisa McGirr, announces the closing of the Critical Perspectives on the Past series he co-edited with Susan Porter Benson and Roy Rosenzweig.

It has been almost a quarter century since my late colleagues—Susan Porter Benson and Roy Rosenzweig—and I launched the Critical Perspectives on the Past series at Temple University Press, in close collaboration with Janet Francendese, our Temple editor for the entire series.

Back then we were young(ish) scholars anxious to find ways to transform what we saw as a stodgy and hidebound profession far too interested in traditional historical subjects and traditional ways of recounting history.

The first book in the series was our own Presenting the Past: Essays on History and the Public, which grew out of an issue of Radical History Review on public history that Roy, Sue and I (along with Bob Entenmenn and Warren Goldstein) had edited. We hoped in that collection and in the series which grew out of it to offer a fresh look at historical theory and practice. We ended up publishing thirty-nine monographs, edited collections, and public history books on diverse historical subjects and areas of the world over the next twenty-five years. In all our editorial choices, we tried to be especially attentive to issues of race, class, and gender and to the role of human agency in shaping historical events. We always sought books and collections that challenged the conventional historical wisdom of what was important for historians to write about while also focusing in on nontraditional ways in which historical ideas could be communicated to a broad public.

As the successor to two editions of The New American History, American History Nowedited by Eric Foner and Lisa McGirr, seems to be an appropriate place to cap the Critical Perspectives series and to bring our work on this series to a close. For this volume, Foner and McGirr have reached out to a younger generation of historians to summarize and reflect on the ongoing intellectual and conceptual transformations that have reshaped historical inquiry and academic life over the past decade. Those are the same kinds of intellectual questions and issues that originally piqued Roy’s, Sue’s and my interest in editing this series in the first place. Sue’s untimely death from cancer in 2005 and Roy’s death two years later from the same disease made me realize it was now time to pass the torch to the next generation of young scholars. This final book in the Critical Perspectives on the Past series is therefore dedicated to my old comrades, both of whom were wholly committed in their lives and careers to recapturing the histories of those left out of standard historical syntheses, to intellectual and pedagogical innovation, and to making history accessible to a broad democratic public. They are and will continue to be missed by me and hundreds of their colleagues and friends, as well as their families.

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