Final Reflections

*I say “final” knowing that I have a whole year left ahead of me.*

It is astounding and almost beyond the capabilities of this post to adequately convey how I feel about my experience and development as a historian over the past year. For that reason, I will focus on just a few (probably the most significant) points or areas of development.

If there is one way to describe my development as a first-year Master’s student, I believe it would be: amplified. Not to be dramatic, but I came into this program with a VERY specific idea of what a historian does, what I would do, and what the end result would be. Obviously I knew there would be some aspects of the experience that I couldn’t predict or prepare for, but I came in with a few preconceived notions that I did not anticipate would change.

First, I though the historian had a single, primary role: Gatekeeper. This is not to say that I thought the role of a historian was simple prior to this program. On the contrary, I thought it was of the utmost importance–protecting and keeping the historical record and conveying the discipline to whom the magic was veiled. In ways, this romanticized view I had was not necessarily untrue. However, I was wrong in thinking that all of those who sought to experience history needed to come through the historian. Is it our responsibility or duty to convey or interpret history to the public? Absolutely. But rather than being the one and only avenue to receive that information, more and more historians are working on ways to make history accessible to anyone and everyone, whether they are recognized for making said information available or not (As a public historian, you would have thought this would have been my understanding all along). So my understanding of the role of the historian has in this way, and certainly in others, been amplified. And perhaps I am a bit less selfish or expectant of recognition than I was a year ago.

Along the same line, the other area that I saw the greatest amount of development  is in my understanding of the realm of historical practice and networking. Though I came into this program with the intention of being a public historian who worked to make history available in thought-provoking and accessible ways, my understanding of the disciplines and individuals that historians interacted with to collect this information was certainly flawed. Over the course of a year I have gone from seeing the historian and the practice as an “island” of sorts to one node in a network or series of networks. These networks connect with other disciplines and professionals, new areas of study and new methodologies within and outside of history, and new, innovative “ages” for history to enter. My semi-isolationist perspective upon entering this program has since been shattered entirely, and I could not be happier (I mean, how did I ever think I could become a disaster/environmental or public historian without active interdisciplinary networking?!)

Obviously these developments do not cover half of what I’ve learned about methodology or the history of history or how to write a historiography–all of which have been extremely beneficial and hopefully successful–but they do offer a glimpse into the massive changes that have occurred in my line of thinking about my role as a historian and the discipline as a whole within my one year here thus far.

Dr. Mollin told me at the end of my Senior Year of undergraduate that I would look back on each semester of graduate school and be absolutely astounded by the amount of information I had collected and learned. At the end of year one, I am happy to report that she was absolutely right.



Andrew Kahrl: “The Price We Pay: The Overtaxation of Black America”

Guest Lecturer—Andrew Kahrl: “The Price We Pay: The Overtaxation of Black America”

Andrew Kahrl, Professor of History at the University of Virginia and author of The Land Was Ours: African American Beaches from Jim Crow to the Sunbelt South, presented a talk on March 6th, 2015. The topic of his lecture was the overtaxation of African Americans throughout history and modern day, and his primary argument/main contention was that African Americans pay disproportionate property taxes and additionally have not been able to receive the services that are supposed to be supplied by said taxes, resulting in one form of systematic, institutionalized discrimination. Kahrl supplemented his analysis of overtaxation with other examples of exploitation or inequality, including white flight to the suburbs, the inability of African Americans to win elections for tax assessors, predatory tax buying, and perhaps most shocking, exploitation that has resulted in African Americans actually paying for the unjust system within which they have been trapped. Ultimately, Kahrl provided an excellent argument and evidence as to why the claim, “Blacks pay no taxes” holds absolutely no weight.

Kahrl’s research is actually part of a large-and-growing Digital Humanities project that boasts an interactive website that reveals discriminatory property dealings such as overtaxation, redlining, etc.

The lecture encouraged me to consider critically the ways in which a historian’s research and findings not only can be conveyed to a public audience, but also can be used to effect change. As a presenter, Dr. Kahrl was very passionate and presented a compelling, relevant case. Because of the pervasiveness of these systematic forms of discrimination, research that highlights the inequalities has the power to actually incite change on a political level. A Youtube video, “The Big Business Wall Street Won’t Discuss” is already in circulation, focusing on the very institutions that Kahrl’s research focuses on. As a historian, obviously it is my hope to convey my research to the public in a thought-provoking and engaging way, and I believe the interactive website effectively does that. However, I am sad to say that in comparing what I perceived as my research’s realm of influence with the work of Dr. Kahrl, I have become quite shortsighted. This is not to say that each and every project I—or any of us—undertake will become an exposé that reveals and works to alleviate the ills of modern society. However, Kahrl’s project demonstrates that such a goal isn’t outside of the realm of possibility. As a historian and person, I should certainly mimic Dr. Kahrl and attempt to see the big picture and the potential reach and value of my work.