President of American History Association Apologizes for Encouraging History as an Historian Instead of as a Political Activist

James Sweet is the president of the American History Association (AHA). The presidents of academic associations are often encouraged to write about the methodology of their disciplines, or trends, or directions for future research. James Sweet wrote such an essay for the AHA. He drew on another recent AHA president’s address (Lynn Hunt) to criticize the trend toward ‘presentism’ in history.

James Sweet criticized a number of uses of history in modern political discourse. For example, he criticized what he believes is the misuse of history in Conservative judicial opinions. In his view, the selective use of history, the removal of context, leads to error.

But James Sweet also criticized the 1619 Project and some strands of African-Centric History. For this he apologized. Supposedly, his essay caused harm. Among his transgressions is that his essay somehow asserted that only questions asked from positions of power are important.

It is worth remembering that the statement ‘history is written by the victors’ is not always true. Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et artes intulit agresti Latio.

Here is a link to the essay and his apology. Do read both in their entirety. As always, I encourage people to seek out those who disagreed with him and read his critics in their own words.

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