Yes, we can make historical analogies

Yesterday, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum released a statement whose first sentence is stunning in its historical ignorance: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum unequivocally rejects efforts to create analogies between the Holocaust and other events, whether historical or contemporary. The museum’s leadership is wrong. To put it bluntly, if we are never allowed to draw historical analogies, we remove one of the most important reasons to learn history. There are no exact parallels or repeats in history, but there are patterns, and a significant part of our job as people (let alone my job as an historian) is to learn those patterns and watch for them where we know they’re dangerous.

There is a defensible statement within the misguided claim of the museum’s leadership, but it’s restricted: there is no useful point in comparing the horribleness of genocides. The Shoah is incomparable. So was the slave trade. So was the genocide of indigenous peoples on multiple continents.

But we don’t have to rank-order the horrors of history to learn from them. One can learn from them as singular events, as you would in a seminar class — and Peter Hayes taught such a class on the Holocaust at Northwestern for years (his new book Why: Explaining the Holocaust reflects that focus). One can also learn from putting them into broader context, learning from or teaching about genocides and intolerance more broadly. You learn different things from studying an isolated event from an event in context, and both are valuable.

But you don’t go around telling people not to learn broader lessons from the Holocaust, and that’s what the museum leadership is attempting to do. And that’s just plain wrong for history and for citizenship.

Democratic politics and charter schools, brief gloss

Tl;dr version: don’t waste your energy on trying to suss out The Position on National Charter School Politics. But why it doesn’t make much difference is different from the details of charter-school debates.

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I look for new colleagues who will keep the job

This entry is a bit slice-of-academic-life and a bit perspective for doctoral students who want to be faculty at research universities. As a division director (and department chair at my last university), I have never directly hired tenure-track faculty but have always had significant advice for the deans I’ve reported to, and my experience leads me to sometimes-different perspectives from colleagues. In an era of adjunctification, it is all the more important to make hiring decisions as transparent as possible. And with the limitation that I am just one faculty member with administrative experience at only two institutions in one type of college, here goes:

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An immodest proposal for conference organizing

Yesterday, my 15,000 closest colleagues and I received an email from the meeting staff of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), telling us that the schedule for the April meeting would be set six weeks before the meeting itself. The meeting is five days long, and attendees with presentations currently have no idea when they’ll be obligated to be in Toronto. Meanwhile, could we please register and set up hotel reservations?

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