Doing Recent History
On Privacy, Copyright, Video Games, Institutional Review Boards, Activist Scholarship, and History That Talks Back

Edited by Claire Bond Potter and Renee C. Romano

A definitive guide to the practice of recent history


"Potter and Romano have drawn together an admirably diverse set of scholars and archivists at all levels of the profession to comment on a broad range of critical and contentious issues in historical scholarship. I am unaware of any other collection that accomplishes what this one does so ably: allowing the reader to enter into and contend with a set of larger epistemological, methodological, pedagogical, presentational, and legal issues that directly affect the ways historians do their jobs in the second decade of the twenty-first century. This book should become a standard reference and teaching tool."
—Stephen Brier, codirector of the New Media Lab at the City University of New York

"How I wish Doing Recent History had been available when I began writing histories that were 'just over my shoulder.' Potter and Romano demonstrate that tackling recent history poses unique challenges, and they offer absolutely indispensable guidance in meeting them."
—Alice Echols, author of Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture

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Recent history—the very phrase seems like an oxymoron. Yet historians have been writing accounts of the recent past since printed history acquired a modern audience, and in the last several years interest in recent topics has grown exponentially. With subjects as diverse as Walmart and disco, and personalities as disparate as Chavez and Schlafly, books about the history of our own time have become arguably the most exciting and talked-about part of the discipline.

Despite this rich tradition and growing popularity, historians have engaged in little discussion about the specific methodological, political, and ethical issues related to writing about the recent past. The twelve essays in this collection explore the challenges of writing histories of recent events where visibility is inherently imperfect, hindsight and perspective are lacking, and historiography is underdeveloped.

Those who write about events that have taken place since 1970 encounter exciting challenges that are both familiar and foreign to scholars of a more distant past, including suspicions that their research is not historical enough, negotiation with living witnesses who have a very strong stake in their own representation, and the task of working with new electronic sources. Contributors to this collection consider a wide range of these challenges. They question how sources like television and video games can be better utilized in historical research, explore the role and regulation of doing oral histories, consider the ethics of writing about living subjects, discuss how historians can best navigate questions of privacy and copyright law, and imagine the possibilities that new technologies offer for creating transnational and translingual research opportunities. Doing Recent History offers guidance and insight to any researcher considering tackling the not-so-distant past.

Since 1970: Histories of Contemporary America

Page count: 296 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9


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Claire Bond Potter is a professor of history at The New School. She is author of War on Crime: Bandits, G-Men, and the Politics of Mass Culture and also the blog Tenured Radical. Renee C. Romano is an associate professor of history at Oberlin College. She is author of Race Mixing: Black-White Marriage in Postwar America and coeditor of The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory (Georgia).