Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Matthew Frye Jacobson on Why I Became a Historian

Randall Stephens

Matthew Frye Jacobson, interviewed in the video posted here, is the William Robertson Coe Professor of American Studies and History at Yale University.  He is the outgoing president of the American Studies Association.  He's also the
author of What Have They Built You to Do? The Manchurian Candidate and Cold War America (with Gaspar Gonzalex, University of Minnesota Press, 2006); Roots Too: White Ethnic Revival in Post-Civil Rights America (Harvard University Press, 2005); Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876-1917 (Hill and Wang, 2000); Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Harvard University Press, 1998); and Special Sorrows: The Diasporic Imagination of Irish, Polish, and Jewish Immigrants in the United States (University of California Press, 1995).

Jacobson was one of the keynote speakers at the Nordic Association for American Studies conference I attended this past weekend at Karlstad University in Sweden. Jacobson's talk dealt with a fascinating website cum archive he and others have developed called the Historian's Eye. This expansive visual and oral history project is described on the site:


Beginning as a modest effort in early 2009 to capture the historic moment of our first black president’s inauguration in photographs and interviews, the "Our Better History” project and the Historian’s Eye website have evolved into an expansive collection of some 3000+ photographs and an audio archive addressing Obama’s first term in office, the ’08 economic collapse and its fallout, two wars, the raucous politics of healthcare reform, the emergence of a new right-wing formation in opposition to Obama, the politics of immigration, Wall Street reform, street protests of every stripe, the BP oil spill, the escalation of anti-Muslim sentiment nationwide and the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement. 

I caught up with Jacobson in Karlstad to discuss his work and how he became a historian.  In the interview above he speaks about his interest in cultural history, his early understanding of the possibilities of historical study, and describes how he chose to work in the field.

For other interviews in this ongoing series, click here.

2 comments:

Eric Schultz said...

Really interesting video, Randall. Thanks for sharing. I hope Coke paid for that impressive product placement, underwriting this blog for years to come!

Randall said...

I saw that after the fact. Hoping for the money to start rolling in...

still waiting...

I'm really interested in how the shift from social history to cultural history took place. I suppose, in part, that's because I was in grad school during the high point of the cultural turn.