“Peak Document and the Future of History”

Brochure of the AHA 2020 Annual Meeting Presidential Address

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“Peak Document and the Future of History” was John McNeill’s 2019 presidential address at the AHA annual meeting. In his address, McNeill talked about the use of historical sources that do not come in the written form, but from the natural sciences and archaeology. “With each passing year, the proportion of our knowledge of the past that derives from the kinds of documents we have learned to read and interpret will shrink, and the proportion that derives from what to most of us are unfamiliar sciences will mount”. Amongst the implications of this process, McNeill mentions that “the deeper past might make a comeback, (…) the intellectual excitement may tip toward the study of earlier centuries where relative significance of information in other formats is greater”. And the training of historians may need to change, gaining insights from historians “who are accustomed to research without written documents”.

Read his presidential address.

Watch the recording of McNeill delivering his presidential address at the AHA annual meeting