Intellectual History: The Pedagogy of a 'Usable Past'

Robert Merrill,
Alan Orr,
Dr. Stephanie Evans
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Americans are notoriously ignorant of history, not only their own past but also of other cultures. The reasons for this crisis are many and its effect lies chiefly in empowering American political leaders to continue an aggressive and imperialist foreign policy. The organizers of this panel believe that the solution to the crisis in American historical education centers on the construction of a 'usable past' – but with careful concern for the question, 'usable by whom?' Our title is meant to invoke the Paolo Freire's famous 'The Pedagogy of the Oppressed'. The only sense in which Americans are oppressed is in their education. We are exploring ways of transforming historical and humanities study in order to help students create usable pasts – that is, an education that makes them able to confront the propagandistic messages of power elites and to continue the project of progressive social transformation and liberation. Our work falls under the general rubric of Intellectual History.

Intellectual history is social, political, or cultural history seen through the work of intellectuals who are contemporaries with the events. The intellectuals include the great writers, artists, and humanists in all disciplines. The people who create, discuss, write about and in other ways propagate ideas do not exist apart from the pressing events of their own days. It is ideas that move the actions of history and one important way to study social and political history is to look through the work of the great minds of the day to see how they struggled with the social and philosophical problems that confronted them.

Keywords: Intellectual History, Pedagogy, Usable Past, Crisis in Historical Education, History and propaganda, History and Social Reform, Knowledge and Oppression
Stream: History, Historiography
Presentation Type: Colloquium in English
Paper: "This Right to Grow"

Robert Merrill

Professor, Department of Literature and Humanities, Maryland Institute College of Art

Professor Merrill teaches literature and intellectual history at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, MD. He is a past department chair and associate dean for academic affairs. He is currently the director of the Institute for Advanced Cultural Studies (Washington, DC) and the series editor of 'Washington Studies in World Intellectual History', published by Maisonneuve Press. His publications include Thomas Malory and the Cultural Crisis of the Late Middle Ages, (editor of) Violent Persuasions: The Politics and Imagery of Terrorism, and (editor of) Ethics/Aesthetics: Postmodern Positions.

Alan Orr

Professor, Literature and Humanities, Maryland Institute College of Art

Professor Orr teaches intellectual history at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, MD. He has taught at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He is the author of Treason and the State: Law, Politics and Ideology in the English Civil War (Cambridge University Press, 2002).

Dr. Stephanie Evans

Assistant Professor, African American Studies, Center for Women's Studies and Gender Research

Dr. Stephanie Y. Evans is Assistant Professor of African American Studies and Women’s Studies at the University of Florida in Gainesville. In May 2003, she received her Ph.D. in African American Studies with a concentration in History and Politics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In May 2002 earned an M.A. in African American Studies and completed the Graduate Certificate Program in Advanced Feminist Studies. She is currently writing a book about Black women in higher education: This Right to Grow: African American Women's Educational Attainment and Intellectual Legacy, 1850-1955 (University Press of Florida, expected Fall 2006).

Ref: H05P0457