HM - April-May 2017 - Jakovac

NCHE Conference

2018 Keynote Speaker Roundup
by Justin Jakovac
National Council for History Education
The keynote addresses at NCHE’s 2018 National Conference were thought-provoking, interesting, funny, harrowing, hopeful, cautionary, and inspirational.  The speakers ran the gamut of disciplinary, and personal, backgrounds and experiences.  Our conference theme, "Myth, Memory, and Monuments," was fertile ground for the exploration of diverse thought and opinion about what constitutes the study of the past, what is important, and how we engage difficult subject matter.  

The opening panel featured three individuals who explore the intersection between identity, history, monuments, and memory.  Cinthia Salinas, Kathryn Silva, and Kevin Levin have each spent their careers studying the impact of these areas upon public discourse.

From Left to Right: Kathryn Silva, Kevin Levin, and Cinthia Salinas

Cinthia Salinas is the Department Chair of Curriculum and Instruction for the University of Texas at Austin.  Her focus includes historical thinking in both elementary bilingual classrooms and on late arrival ESL immigrants in secondary classroom settings.  Dr. Salinas also explores broader understandings of citizenship as she works with social studies teacher candidates who will be required to grapple with the way that historical narratives are composed under an array of circumstances.  On the panel she provided insight into what it means to be a Latina scholar who specializes in historical thinking, narratives, and counter-narratives.  She illuminated the idea, with humor, that history education is fraught with difficulties from cultural differences, historical injustices, and power differentials that exist to the present day.  One of Professor Salinas’ essential points was that these difficulties are to be embraced as our discipline incorporates an increasingly multi-cultural marketplace of ideas.  

Kathryn Silva is an Associate Professor at Claflin University.  Her focus as a historian is upon intersections between race, gender, ethnicity, class, and labor.  Professor Silva has worked closely with Mount Vernon on their interpretations and descriptions of slavery at the site.  During the keynote presentation Dr. Silva highlighted the juxtaposition of the veneration of someone like George Washington with his associated historical injustices and how these countervailing narratives can all be used to illuminate shared humanity and historic progress.

Kevin Levin was a secondary teacher for fifteen years before embarking upon a career as an independent author and public speaker who focuses on Confederate monuments and the memorialization of the Lost Cause movement.  Mr. Levin offered the example of recent events in Charlottesville as a way to help students understand the difference between public monuments and implements of exclusion.  He draws out the notion that if teachers feel unsure of how to process these divisive narratives then we can scarcely expect students to do so.  

Douglas Brinkley, Rice University

Douglas Brinkley is a Professor at Rice University, Presidential Historian, and frequent contributor of historical perspective to CBS News.  Brinkley focused on environmental history and its ties to personal memory, summed up succinctly as he implored the audience with the question, “What’s your Walden?”  Professor Brinkley tied a through-line between Theodore Roosevelt, the creation of the National Parks as monuments to the environment, and the politicized nature of “conservation.”  His talk deftly tied the notions of memory and monument at the national scale back to personal reflection on meaningful local environs.  

Sam Mihara (left) receives the 2018 Gagnon Award from NCHE Board Member Yohuru Williams (right)

Sam Mihara is a retired rocket-scientist from the Boeing Corporation and the 2018 recipient of the Paul A. Gagnon Award from the National Council for History Education.  Sam’s tireless mission has been to share the story that surrounds his family’s incarceration near Heart Mountain, Wyoming during the Second World War.  The story that he tells is vitally important in historical and civic terms as our nation continues to grapple with matters of race, identity, rights, freedom, and security.  Mr. Mihara incorporates descriptions of the process of Japanese incarceration in the United States and how these paralleled the activities of other countries that have singled out and persecuted cultural and ethnic groups.  The culmination of this narrative drew direct lines between the treatment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War and events that are currently unfolding.

Alan Taylor, University of Virginia

Our final keynote address was delivered by Pulitzer-prize winning historian, Alan Taylor, of the University of Virginia.  His talk centered on the shift in the goals and priorities of public education over time.  Professor Taylor shared Jefferson’s notion that education was to be promoted in order to strengthen citizenship and democracy.  Over time this system has evolved to reflect the personalization of educational goals as American society has shifted focus to individual fulfillment.  The American education system is an appropriate capstone topic to a conference that explored, from a number of directions, the tensions between how facts and memories are assimilated into the public consciousness.  

About NCHE

The National Council for History Education provides professional and intellectual leadership to foster an engaged community committed to the teaching, learning, and appreciation of diverse histories.