“Peak Document and the Future of History”, John McNeill Delivered His Presidential Address at the American Historical Association

John McNeill gives his presidential address at the American Historical Association

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In his role as President of the American Historical Association, John McNeill delivered his 2019 presidential address at the AHA annual meeting, which took place on Saturday, January 4, 2020 in the New York Hilton. His address, titled “Peak Document and the Future of History”, 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”.

The American Historical Association is the largest professional organization serving historians in all fields and all professions. The AHA is a trusted voice advocating for history education, the professional work of historians, and the critical role of historical thinking in public life.

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