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High-Stakes History: The Many Conversations of the Historian, January 21-22, 2016

The Columbia University Department of History invites you to attend High-Stakes History: The Many Conversations of the Historian, to take place at Columbia in the Maison Française (Buell Hall, East Gallery) on January 21 and 22, 2016. You may register in advance for the conference here. There is no charge to attend.

Historians occupy vital roles in a dazzling array of projects that range from finding policy alternatives to the War on Drugs to seeking new means of depicting the experiences and contributions of Africans enslaved in South Carolina and Georgia rice plantations. The third History in Action conference highlights the presence of historical thinking across a huge range of undertakings, celebrates the contributions that historians make to these projects, and reflects on the specific ways in which history participates in and shapes thinking and action beyond its disciplinary boundaries.

Panels will concentrate on the role of historical research and skills in such varied fields as policy making, scientific research, entertainment, educating the public via primary sources, and popular history. In addition to spotlighting specific projects that bring history into many places beyond the academy, our goal is to bring together academics and professionals who can help us to reconsider what it means to be a historian in a time when people often have multiple and continually changing careers. We hope that all of our participants will share their experiences and perspectives in the ensuing conversations.

The History in Action program, one of four AHA-Mellon Career Diversity for Historians pilot programs, hosted two previous conferences, in 2013 and 2015. The first conference offered a forum for discussing the significance of changing patterns of employment and opportunity within academia, and its implications for the historian’s place in public life; the second focused on the question of where history is most needed outside academia and how a PhD in History equips students for engaging their skills in public life. This year, the conference will highlight the many conversations that historical thinking enriches by its presence. You can learn more about History in Action and its aims here.

A full schedule for the conference can be found below. We very much hope that you will be able to join us in January for this exciting event.




You can find directions to Columbia’s campus here, and a map of the campus here (the conference location is labeled “Buell” on the map).

The Aloft Harlem hotel is offering a special rate for conference attendees. After you have registered for the conference, please contact Sarah Petrak (srp2166@columbia.edu) for information on how to get the conference rate.




Thursday, January 21st, 2016


9:00 AM

Open Breakfast/Coffee


9:30-11:30 AM

The Many Careers of the Historian

Staff from local publishers, institutes, libraries, non-profits, and companies will hold informational interviews and conversations. Business attire is encouraged.

  • SESSION ONE (9:30 AM – 10:30 AM): Publishing, Journalism, Museums & Archives
  • SESSION TWO (10:30 AM – 11:30 AM): Non-Profit Organizations, Business, Administration, Education

Please see a full list of career session participants here.

12:00 PM – 1:00 PM

Lunch Roundtable: AHA-Mellon Career Diversity Initiative Pilot Programs

  • Representatives from each pilot program will discuss their successes and failures in thinking broadly about their work and careers as historians.


1:00 PM – 1:15 PM

Opening Remarks by Professor Alondra Nelson, Dean of Social Science, Columbia University


1:15 PM – 2:15 PM

Keynote Address

  • Jill Lepore, David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History, Harvard University


2:30 PM – 3:45 PM

Panel 1 – Primary Sources for Publics

  • Moderator: Barbara Rockenbach, Director of Humanities and History, CU Libraries
  • Ansley Erickson, Assistant Professor of History and Education, Columbia University
  • Julie Golia, Director of Public History, Brooklyn Historical Society
  • Kathleen Franz, Curator, Division of Work and Industry, National Museum of American History
  • HAPA Fellow: Mary Freeman


4:00 PM – 5:15 PM

Panel 2 – History as Entertainment

  • Moderator: Caroline Marris, History in Action Graduate Coordinator
  • Simon Schama, Professor of History and Art History, Columbia University
  • Mellissa Betts, Producer, Who Do You Think You Are?
  • Robert Striem, Location Manager, The Knick
  • Edda Fields-Black, Associate Professor of History, Carnegie Mellon  University; Producer and Librettist for “The Requiem for Rice”


5:30 PM – 6:45 PM

Panel 3 – Policy and Politics: Learning from History

  • Moderator: Premilla Nadasen, Associate Professor, Barnard College
  • Tatiana Carayannis, Deputy Director of the Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum, Social Science Research Council
  • Sanho Tree, Fellow, Institute for Policy Studies
  • HAPA Fellow: Jessica Lee





Friday, January 22nd, 2016


9:00 AM



9:30 AM – 10:45 AM

AHA & MLA Roundtable Conversation: The High Stakes of the Humanities

  • Emily Swafford, Manager of Academic Affairs, American Historical Association
  • Stacy Hartman, Coordinator, Connected Academics, Modern Language Association
  • Ben VanWagoner, PhD Candidate in English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University
  • Noah Rosenblum, PhD Candidate in History, Columbia University


11:00 AM – 12:15 AM

Panel 4 – History and Science

  • Moderator: Deborah Coen, Professor of History, Barnard College
  • Stuart Firestein, Professor of Biological Sciences, Columbia University
  • Erika Goldman, Publisher and Editorial Director, Bellevue Literary Press
  • Merlin Chowkwanyun, Assistant Professor, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
  • Joel Fry, Curator, Bartram’s Garden



12:30 PM – 1:30 PM



1:45 PM – 3:00 PM

Panel 5 – Pop History

  • Moderator: Jake Purcell, History in Action Graduate Coordinator
  • Rebecca Onion, History Writer, Slate
  • Reyhan Harmanci, Executive Editor, Atlas Obscura
  • HAPA Fellows: Jake Purcell and Brianna Nofil


3:15 PM – 4:45 PM

Panel 6 – History in and of Communities

  • Moderator: Zaheer Ali, Oral Historian, Brooklyn Historical Society
  • Annie Polland, Senior Vice President of Education and Programs, Lower East Side Tenement Museum
  • Braden Paynter, Program Associate for Methodology and Practice, Sites of Conscience
  • HAPA Fellow: Scot McFarlane
  • HAPA Fellow: Maria John, South El Monte Arts Posse


4:45  PM – 5:00 PM

Closing Remarks


5:00 PM

Closing Reception



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