APHI: Mission & Context

MISSION

The American Political History Institute seeks to establish Boston University as a leading center for the study of America’s political past.  Drawing on the strength of existing faulty (both in the History Department and other departments), its objective is to create an intellectual hub that will benefit undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and alumni of Boston University as well as the wider Boston community.

The Institute’s current focus is to manage and coordinate successful initiatives that are already underway: a collaboration with Clare College, Cambridge, and Princeton University consisting of annual conferences and graduate student exchanges; a seminar series for students and scholars; and annual graduate student conferences taking place at BU.  In addition, through its seminar program, the Institute provides a  forum for the presentation of topical political issues past and present featuring historians, politicians, and policymakers.  At the same time, the Institute will lay the groundwork for future initiatives, including an undergraduate research award, undergraduate internships, graduate fellowships, and post-doctoral fellowships.

Political history is now experiencing a revival after many years as a marginal field, when most History departments emphasized social and cultural history, especially in the modern United States history field, and few institutions offered undergraduate curricula in political history, trained graduate students in the field, pursued a coherent research program, or developed a presence in their communities among scholars, alumni, and the general public.  By contrast, Boston University’s History Department has been building in this area for years, thanks in large measure to Professor Robert Dallek, one of the most distinguished political historians of our generation, whose work at the University greatly improved our public, academic, and media reputation in this area of scholarship. APHI continues that tradition.

SCHOLARLY CONTEXT

Modern U.S. history has suffered from a kind of schizophrenia: While it has long nourished a large body of traditional political history (studies of key figures, movements, court decisions, and policy innovations), it has also, over the past quarter-century, spawned a burgeoning library of social and cultural history (analyses of formerly disfranchised historical actors, of the experience of everyday life for ordinary Americans, and of the mentalité of Americans at crucial junctures in their past).  Since the late 1960s the profession had downplayed the study of politics in favor of social and cultural history, so that the study of social movements, local communities, and cultural phenomena have overshadowed analysis of political elites, institutions, and public policy.  These two approaches have engaged in little productive dialogue.

In recent years, however, a younger generation of historians has reinvigorated political history in new ways that avoid the pitfalls of previous scholarship.  Blending politics with social and cultural analysis, the new political history has emerged as one of the most exciting areas of academic scholarship.  This new approach pays close attention to the ways politics and public policy structure everyday life, defining the boundaries of the cultural arena (framing, for example, the relations between landlords and tenants, parents and children, producers and consumers, people and the environment, teachers and students).  At the same time, this scholarship examines the ways social, cultural, and demographic forces affected and delimited political action.  This new political history thus combines policy analysis with an understanding of the people policies acted upon.

Historians of politics and public policy have also rediscovered the connections between the private sphere (the intimate worlds of family, friendship, and voluntary association) and the public arenas of party organizations, electoral politics, and policymaking bureaucracies.  This new trend in political history moves beyond biographical study to explore the ways policy communities, political networks, and collections of like-minded political actors with informal national and international connections reshaped American politics at critical junctures in twentieth-century U.S. history.  This scholarship has also investigated how such personal networks limited the scope and functioned as a brake on certain kinds of political endeavor.  At the same time, scholars in other fields such as political science and political sociology have shown that the historical analysis of politics is a truly interdisciplinary endeavor.

Significantly, this kind of political history has remained enormously popular with the general public even as it faced professional challenges.  Political historians have had great success, frequently appearing on the New York Times bestseller list, and are prominent figures on television and in the print media.  The Institute will surely help to insure that Boston University continues to be a leading voice in this national arena.

For more information please contact: Professor Bruce J. Schulman.

BRUCE J. SCHULMAN is the William E. Huntington Professor of History at Boston University.  Born in New York City, he received the B. A. summa cum laude with Distinction in History from Yale University, and his M. A. and Ph. D. from Stanford University, where he received numerous awards, including the David M. Potter Memorial Fellowship, the CBS Bicentennial Narrators Fellowship, and a Whiting Fellowship in the Humanities.

He is the author of three books: From Cotton Belt to Sunbelt (N. Y.: Oxford University Press, 1991) ; Lyndon B. Johnson and American Liberalism (Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1994) ; and The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Politics, and Society (N. Y.: Free Press, 2001).  The New York Times named The Seventies one of its Notable Books of the Year for 2001.  An anthology of essays, co-edited with Julian Zelizer, entitled Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s, was published by Harvard University Press in March 2008.

A contributor to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and numerous other publications, Professor Schulman has appeared as an expert commentator on numerous television and radio programs and has consulted on productions by the History Channel, PBS, and ABC-News.  Schulman has held research fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History, Marjorie Kovler Fund of the Blum-Kovler Foundation, University of California Faculty Development Awards and the Mabelle McLeod Lewis Memorial Fellowship in 1987.  In 1989-90, Schulman served as Director of the History Project in California, a joint effort of the University of California and the California State Department of Education to improve history education in the public primary and secondary schools.  He currently leads a Teaching American History (TAH) Grant program that partners Boston University with the Boston Public Schools.  In 1993, as Associate Professor of History at UCLA, Schulman received the Charles and Harriet Luckman Distinguished Teaching Award and the Eby Award for the Art of Teaching.  In January 2004, the Organization of American Historians appointed him to its Distinguished Lecturer program.  In January 2006, the American Historical Association conferred on him the Nancy Lyman Roelker Award for graduate mentorship.  In December 2007 he was named the United Methodist Scholar/Teacher of the Year.

Schulman is currently at work on a volume for the Oxford History of the United States covering the years 1896-1929.  He lives with his family in Cambridge, Massachusetts.