Historical knowledge mobilisation in a post-factual era in the United States

View author details View Less
  • 1 Miami University-Oxford, Ohio, , USA
  • | 2 University of Texas at Arlington, , USA
Full Access
Get eTOC alerts
Rights and permissions Cite this article

Background:

In the US, and conspicuously via social media, we are witnessing an acceleration of what we term historical knowledge mobilisation: increasingly and in various ways, evidence derived from academic historical research is being shared with broader publics. Moreover, evidence-based and false or misleading historical claims are being advanced with an eye toward influencing key decisions and/or impelling social change.

Aims and objectives:

This exploratory study draws upon Ward’s (: 477) ‘framework for knowledge mobilisers’ to facilitate an analysis of what and whose historical knowledge is being shared, and how and why this is happening. It aims to provide information and guidance to support scholars of knowledge mobilisation or evidence use, as well as active historical knowledge mobilisers.

Methods:

This study sought to identify patterns vis-à-vis historical knowledge mobilisation by applying qualitative media analysis to a set of cases. We attended to content, style, and process of historical knowledge mobilisation.

Findings:

Three main themes help to explain the historical knowledge mobilisation: (a) correcting or countering a master narrative; (b) real-time correction of historical claims; and (c) contextualising complicated political moments. We also described new ways to disseminate/exchange this knowledge which altogether function to expand access to historical knowledge, but also to competing historical claims.

Discussion and conclusions:

The trends revealed provide insights into how historical knowledge is being used to justify political aims, and how some academics are using non-traditional means to counter false and misleading claims. Further infrastructural and empirical development is needed to support these efforts.

Abstract

Background:

In the US, and conspicuously via social media, we are witnessing an acceleration of what we term historical knowledge mobilisation: increasingly and in various ways, evidence derived from academic historical research is being shared with broader publics. Moreover, evidence-based and false or misleading historical claims are being advanced with an eye toward influencing key decisions and/or impelling social change.

Aims and objectives:

This exploratory study draws upon Ward’s (2017: 477) ‘framework for knowledge mobilisers’ to facilitate an analysis of what and whose historical knowledge is being shared, and how and why this is happening. It aims to provide information and guidance to support scholars of knowledge mobilisation or evidence use, as well as active historical knowledge mobilisers.

Methods:

This study sought to identify patterns vis-à-vis historical knowledge mobilisation by applying qualitative media analysis to a set of cases. We attended to content, style, and process of historical knowledge mobilisation.

Findings:

Three main themes help to explain the historical knowledge mobilisation: (a) correcting or countering a master narrative; (b) real-time correction of historical claims; and (c) contextualising complicated political moments. We also described new ways to disseminate/exchange this knowledge which altogether function to expand access to historical knowledge, but also to competing historical claims.

Discussion and conclusions:

The trends revealed provide insights into how historical knowledge is being used to justify political aims, and how some academics are using non-traditional means to counter false and misleading claims. Further infrastructural and empirical development is needed to support these efforts.

Key messages

  • Historical knowledge mobilisation is shifting/accelerating with the growth of new media platforms.

  • Such knowledge is being shared by historians and adjacent academics for three main reasons.

  • Public demand is high, with a window open for such knowledge to motivate bold policy actions.

  • Although some historians have been successful, further infrastructural and empirical development is needed.

In the US, and conspicuously via social media, we are witnessing an acceleration of what we term historical knowledge mobilisation: increasingly and in various ways, evidence derived from academic historical research is being shared with broader publics. Sometimes historians are being invited to provide expert, historically-contextualised perspectives on contemporary issues – as when historians gave testimony at the President’s 2019 impeachment proceedings, or when another gave remarks at the 2020 Democratic National Convention. More often, publicly active historians are leveraging social and other media to mobilise historical knowledge. Often, such information is being rapidly and compellingly shared. These efforts, it appears, are frequently being driven by desires to influence key decisions and/or impel social change. Many elite actors, everyday citizens, and historians appear to share the understanding that our history and how we think about it matters – that is, that different understandings of and narratives about the past can help us navigate the present, point the way to different policies and so on.

Understanding this emerging/strengthening phenomenon as historical knowledge mobilisation (KMB), we suggest, enables scholars and current/prospective participants to better grasp its underpinnings, nature, and impacts. Accordingly, this study draws upon Ward’s (2017: 477) ‘framework for knowledge mobilisers’ to analyse what and whose knowledge is being shared, and how and why this is happening. We focus primarily upon university-based knowledge mobilisers (that is, academic historians and history-adjacent scholars who are also active in this manner) while also noting how non-academics also actively inhabit this territory. Indeed, as we reveal, historians and non-historians alike are acting to mobilise the usable past in service of the present. Further, and on a partisan basis, we observe duelling preferences for ‘historical memories’ that motivate progressive social change versus those favouring policy inaction and/or reversal.

Background

We first describe several features in present-day US which, we argue, structure and motivate historical KMB. Then, we discuss historical methods, noting how these have evolved and describing contemporary Western historians’ approaches.

The contemporary US: key features

The US has a complicated past. Accordingly, a proud American may point to the US’s relative openness to immigration over much of its history, the brilliance of its founders in designing a constitutional republic, its longstanding ‘global superpower’ status, the inventiveness and resilience of its people, and more. Conversely, a sober look backwards reminds us of brutal colonial practices, the vicious institution of slavery, unjust treatment of Native Americans, Jim Crow laws, segregated schooling, and so on. These historical paradigms, as sketched above, can be referred to as exceptionalist or triumphalist versus revisionist or critical interpretations of US history (Ross, 1995; Hornbeck, 2018). In any case, this complicated past – and claims regarding how the past bears upon the present – largely sets the stage for understanding ongoing historical KMB.

Presently, several interconnected features further contextualise the phenomenon being studied, including:

  • a transformed media landscape, such that ‘traditional’ news sources have generally lost ground while others have newfound ability to communicate directly with large audiences, outside traditional gatekeeping mechanisms (Malin and Lubienski, 2015; Drezner, 2017); alongside, early optimism about the democratisation of knowledge that might emerge from new tools/platforms has largely given way to concern, if not outright panic, given growing recognition these same technologies are being leveraged to propagate false information (Persily and Tucker, 2020);

  • large, ongoing shifts in national demographics (Devine, 2017);

  • intense political and ideological polarisation (McCarty, 2019), and related concerns about partisan media and social media echo chambers (Guess and Lyons, 2020);

  • large and growing economic inequalities, including persistent inequities across racial and ethnic lines (Saez and Zucman, 2019);

  • increasing incidence and documentation – and, for some, awareness – of unequal treatment, discrimination, and violence against historically marginalised peoples (Pew Resource Center, 2020) – and, related;

  • mass protest and civil unrest against systemic racism, largely precipitated by widely-seen instances of police violence.

Former US President Donald Trump could be seen as the nation’s highest profile historical knowledge (de)mobiliser. His 2016 campaign slogan was to ‘Make America Great Again’ – implying America was better sometime in the past, a message finding resonance with certain demographics (or example, White, male, Evangelical) more than with others. Since then, Trump has made numerous controversial historical claims, including that his political adversaries want to ‘wipe out our history’, ‘defame our heroes’, ‘erase our values’, and ‘indoctrinate our children’ (for a summary, see Wheeler, 2020). Related, he has attacked historical teaching in schools, calling it ‘left-wing indoctrination’ (Balingit and Meckler, 2020: 1) and throwing his support behind ‘pro-American curriculum that celebrates the truth about our nation’s great history’.

Disputation about our nation’s history and how we ought to understand, teach, and respond to it have heightened in the wake of the tragic police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. A national debate over systemic racism and police brutality reached levels of intensity not seen since the 1960s, prompting mass protests for police reform and pushes for the removal of perceived racist and discriminatory monuments, symbols, and statuary. Such movements, however, historically have been met by retrenchment or backlash (Crenshaw, 1988), as appears true now; for example, as we make article revisions in mid-2021 (post-Trump), widespread concern has developed around the supposed teaching of critical race theory (CRT) in schools and workplaces and how this might be negatively affecting those exposed to such concepts: that is, teaching them to ‘hate America’ or feel guilty about their place in the world (Wallace-Wells, 2021).

Trump and right-wing colleagues have also led blistering assaults on what they describe as ‘fake news’, even calling the media ‘the enemy of the people’ (see Smith, 2019) while simultaneously favouring provocateurs and reporters in the alt-media, such as the far-right One America News Network (Grynbaum, 2020). Recent research reveals asymmetrical media patterns: partisan conservative media (relative to left-wing counterparts) is less constrained by journalistic practices/norms, includes more hyperpartisan content and fake sites, and even its mainstream outlets frequently amplify extreme/misleading content (Benkler et al, 2018). Though it is challenging to quantify their effects, certainly there are ongoing, transformative shifts to production/consumption of political information (Persily and Tucker, 2020).

Some such features are consistent with global trends. For instance, there are global movements towards populist ideologies (Moffitt, 2016), and online misinformation and disinformation present issues internationally (Guess and Lyons, 2020). Likewise, alterations in political communication are a global phenomenon (albeit nuanced contextually; Persily and Tucker, 2020).

For our purposes, the main point is that this tumultuous context substantially motivates and structures the historical KMB that is occurring. Large questions like the following are looming large, of intense interest to many: What [was/is] America, and what can America be? Historical KMB is actively underway, and it is thus essential to advance our understanding of this evolving phenomenon.

Historical methods

Historiography concerns the study of the work and methodology of historians (Howell and Prevenier, 2001). Accordingly, historiography addresses how historians have studied given topics (for example, sources, techniques, theoretical approaches). The formal study of history has roots in the Greek/Roman period with the written works of Herodotus. Early historians attempted to separate historical reality from myth, a difficult task prior to written record-keeping and the development of a set of agreed-upon methods (Howell and Prevenier, 2001). Traditionally, historiography focused on the triumphs of great men, nations, and religions, and often took moralist tones. In the last century, it has taken a progressive turn with the study of social and cultural history with roots in Marxism and historicism (Howell and Prevenier, 2001). Historiography at the Western academy today, though diverse, typically employs a more critical tone, often including Marxist and intersectional critique, and including marginalised voices that would have been absent in the past (Bohrer, 2018). Often, such work is aimed at better understanding the past and is accomplished, in part, by deconstructing narratives from the historiography of the past. Historians’ past and present work necessarily includes interpretive elements, and reported findings/conclusions flow at least in part from methodological choices and researcher positionalities; especially given time/space challenges, objectively verifiable truth is rarely attainable by historians (indeed, this statement broadly holds true, except perhaps through application of scientific methods).

Conceptual framework

Researchers have variously worked at understanding if/how robust knowledge can be brought to positively affect others’ (that is, practitioners, policymakers, laypersons) thoughts, decisions, or actions. In the past two decades, particularly, the academic literature on this topic has exploded (Ward, 2020); for instance, Davies, Powell, and Nutley (2015) identified 71 substantial reviews of KMB literature across three broad areas (health, social care, and education). Historical KMB, conversely, has gone nearly unstudied within KMB/KMB-adjacent fields.

As Vicky Ward (2020) notes, KMB literature is vast and unwieldy; accordingly, a framework ‘that summarises and simplifies key insights, processes, and activities is likely to have enormous value for those wishing to get to grips with it or support it in practice’ (Ward, 2020:169). We sought such a framework; we were particularly drawn toward process frameworks, given their ability to surface often-unstated practical aims of KMB in given contexts (Ward, 2020).

This study utilises Ward’s (2017) meta-framework, developed from her cross-disciplinary analysis of 47 existing process-focused KMB models and organised around four questions: ‘Why is knowledge being mobilised? Whose knowledge is being mobilised? What type of knowledge is being mobilised? How is knowledge being mobilised?’ (Ward, 2017: 477). The ‘answers’ to these questions formed 16 subcategories (Appendix A). A strength of Ward’s framework lies in its ability to surface hidden assumptions (for example, regarding the value and purpose of mobilising different forms of knowledge: Ward, 2020).

Methods

This exploratory qualitative study was time-bound within the Trump presidency (November 2016–November 2020). We observed how his words and actions commanded enormous media and public attention, frequently driving the news and shaping social media interactions (Rothschild, 2021). Further, based in part on the nature of his claims, subsequent media responses and debates often featured historical KMB. Specifically, Trump frequently made false or misleading claims (Pfiffner, 2021), many which were historical in nature. Accordingly, many of his (and colleagues’) claims served to stimulate/amplify historical KMB.

First, we sought to select a manageable set of cases for analysis, ultimately identifying four case types: 1) topics/events eliciting historical KMB; 2) new mediums wherein historical KMB took place; 3) prominent ‘Twitterstorians’ who routinely engaged in historical KMB; 4) media pieces/collections including/eliciting historical KMB. To assist in making these selections, we inventoried and discussed major, national-level news stories, using Google News and Nexus Uni searches. We also examined/selected from new mediums. Our initial aim was to obtain a ‘lay of the land’ regarding how historians and historical knowledge were being brought to bear within these mediums, as major events and discussions were occurring. Then, we carried out several directed searches using Twitter, aiming to select several prominent ‘#Twitterstorians’ for further analysis. Twitterstorians are ‘historians who have embraced the social media platform as a form of scholarly communication’ (Hart, 2019). We also noted/selected several scholars from adjacent fields (for example, African American Studies, Sociology) whose knowledge sharing was often historical and spoke to previously identified topics/events. We performed general Google searches of ‘Twitterstorian’, among other techniques, aiming to check/enhance our selections. Through this process, we also located and saved items that were relevant to addressing our research question, including a New Yorker story by Widdicombe (2020) examining ‘The Twitterstorians trying to de-Trumpify American History’. It provided provisional insights regarding how and why historians were engaging in historical KMB.

Given the immensity of the studied phenomenon, we were reticent to think in terms of ‘generalisability’; however, we sought cases that were rich/generative across time, enabling us to apply extended case methods (Small, 2009) to generate inferences about the processual and evolutionary nature (Buroway, 1998) of historical KMB. Additional detail and rationale about our cases is in Appendix B.

We applied qualitative media analysis (Altheide and Schneider, 2013) to a set of media documents (for example, pertinent tweets, op-eds, podcast transcripts) germane to our cases. In alignment with our conceptual frame, we attended to content, style, and process. We also examined the origin and spread of ideas, as such needing to constantly compare across materials and against the (shifting) context within which they were authored. We carried out analyses vis-à-vis our research questions and employed Ward’s framework to provide prefigured codes while also being open to additional, emergent ones (Creswell and Poth, 2018). We met repeatedly to review our data, discuss our analyses and tentative themes, and reach agreement.

We recognise that historians are not positionally, ideologically, or methodologically monolithic; there are, for instance, conservative historians and others who use critical or subaltern approaches to study history. Given our aims and the time period studied, however, our focus tilted toward those who appeared to be responding to (often blatantly false or substantially misleading) historical claims, often advanced by the political right. Still, we recognise that some historians may have been in agreement with Trump or his allies, and some found legitimate flaws in the historical interpretation of media pieces we selected. The historians we selected apply varied perspectives and methods in the scholarship and explore multiple voices beyond just those holding political and social power (which, as previously noted, is now common in the Western academy; Bohrer, 2018). Our history-adjacent cases tend to apply critical perspectives to understand the past.

Findings

In this section, we examine historical KMB, focusing on ‘why, whose, what, and how’ questions (Ward, 2017: 169). First, we identify three themes revealing why historical knowledge is being mobilised: (a) correcting or countering a master narrative; (b) real-time correction of historical claims; and (c) contextualising complicated political moments. The three themes coalesce around a uniquely tumultuous political reality, and an influx of platforms enabling broad knowledge dissemination and exchange, thus (in a sense) democratising the way knowledge is mobilised. After identifying why, we turn to whose, what, and how, carrying these themes forward to support those analyses too.

Why is historical knowledge being mobilised?

Countering master narratives

The first major purpose for historical KMB is to correct or counter historical master narratives. The concept of a master or grand narrative, when attempting to broadly understand human history, is a recent idea – coming from the school of critical theory – where one identifies meta-narratives existing within a sociocultural context (Lyotard, 1979). Often these master narratives work to recreate hegemony and dominance. However, counter-narratives can also be used to emancipate/liberate marginalised people and help connect cultural stories and ideas (Lyotard, 1979). Academics like Howard Zinn and James Loewen helped lay the groundwork for questioning master narratives. Revisionist history that questions master narratives has been on the rise; in these accounts, stories of the dispossessed and marginalised are told, rather than focusing singularly on those holding more social power (Loewen, 1995; Zinn, 1997). Such shifts also have implications regarding the what and whose dimensions of historical KMB (see next section).

A recent example of scholarship gaining widespread attention for its questioning of historical master narrative was the New York Times’ 1619 Project (Hannah-Jones et al, 2019). This media collection’s stated aim was to ‘reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative’ (Silverstein, 2019). Hannah-Jones (2019: essay one) states that America’s founding ideals were ‘false’ and that to assume equality has been a central governmental aim is a myth. Active efforts to reframe history imply there are problems with how history has been framed in the first place. This project has been popular and controversial, lauded by some and attacked by others, such as former Speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, who stated ‘the whole project is a lie’ (Shaw Stroup, 2020). Also demonstrating how historical interpretations can be disputed within academic circles, a group of prominent US historians sought to rebut certain claims made within the collection (Riley, 2020). For example, they contested the claim that the US founders were not committed to the principles they espoused, reminding us that several of them held anti-slavery positions both in their personal and public lives. The New York Times responded that they stood by the project, making a couple of editorial concessions. This academic dispute, though, is clearly more nuanced than many sweeping and/or post-factual claims about the 1619 Project (or its contents) observed via social and partisan media.

Recently, Hannah-Jones announced she and her friend/colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates would join the faculty at Howard University, a prestigious historically Black university in Washington, DC. This announcement came after a controversial tenure process with the University of North Carolina (she initially understood she would receive tenure, then was denied it, then was again offered it) that appeared related to 1619 Project work. When considering why the 1619 Project generated such attention and heated response, Coates supposed it is largely because this project ‘goes right to the root of who we are’ and ‘changes the story’. This, he elaborated, is ‘really, really, really… disturbing because it removes America and the American project from the place that we’ve traditionally held it’ (Ezra Klein Show, 2021). Hannah-Jones agreed, adding that this also explains ‘what has united in some ways opposition to the project across the political spectrum’. In other words, her contention and experience has been that even many politically moderate or left-leaning individuals are uncomfortable with such critical, reoriented renderings of American history.

A second example is a podcast series by historian Jill Lepore called The Last Archive. Lepore seeks to answer an overarching question, ‘who killed the truth?’ (lastarchive.com, n.d.). According to the lastarchive.com (n.d.), the purpose of the podcast is to better understand truth and how doubt plays a major role in historical understanding. While such issues might have been debated exclusively in academic journals in the past, Lepore publicly points to an epistemological conundrum in our political world where it’s difficult to settle on what is and is not true: ‘there is an epistemological crisis, and it’s urgent, and maybe especially urgent for our students’ (Lepore, as quoted in Mitchell, 2020: 1). In our analysis, Lepore is mobilising historical knowledge in an effort to teach a lesson about the importance of consensus that objective knowledge is knowable. A Harvard historian, Lepore uses her position of influence to publicly address questions that previously might only have been much less accessible. Through these examples, one can see how knowledge is being mobilised to challenge narratives that we might have long assumed to be true. Moreover, with new ways to disseminate this knowledge such as podcasts, it is becoming increasingly accessible.

Real-time correction of historical claims

A second, highly prevalent, purpose of historical KMB is to provide real-time correction or contextualisation of inaccurate historical claims. We frequently saw this type of response on Twitter, where publicly active historians and adjacent academics were observed responding to others’ claims (for example, clarifying or correcting). As an example, former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley claimed the Confederate battle flag previously symbolised ‘service, and sacrifice, and heritage’ (Widdicombe, 2020: 1). Civil War historian Kevin Levin responded, using Twitter, with a picture of white supremacists displaying the flag during the Civil Rights Movement, and offered a widely disseminated clarifying statement (Widdicombe, 2020). In another example, conservative media personality Dinesh D’Souza claimed via Twitter that the Democratic party is similar to the Nazi party. Kevin Kruse, Princeton historian and Twitterstorian, rebutted this claim in a series (‘thread’) of widely-retweeted posts. Sometimes, it is even said, a historian has ‘dunked on’ a claimant – for instance: ‘Kevin Kruse dunked on Dinesh D’Souza!’– by dismantling their arguments, and sometimes also by challenging their motives/character. (Note, though, there are ongoing debates regarding the wisdom of engaging in this way, and individuals from marginalised groups engaging in such arguments are more likely to face online abuse and harassment; Laats, 2018; Nielson and Fletcher, 2020).

When asked why he engages with people like D’Souza who appear uninterested in facts, Kruse stated he does it ‘for people on the sidelines, [for] people who aren’t already his fans but are confronted with people pushing his work directly or his arguments indirectly. It’s a way to serve as counterbalance’ (Perry, 2018). He described it as challenging and largely thankless work (though he acknowledges it has built his following), but he believes historians ‘have a duty to engage with the public’. He also noted how he, ‘a white straight man, a full professor at an Ivy League university – catches one percent of the crap that is thrown at other scholars out there’. As such, he deems it essential to use his privilege in this manner. Similarly, Kevin Gannon noted he finds value in using Twitter as a medium to correct historical claims because history has been and is being weaponised against marginalised groups; thus, correcting the record is a way to rectify the injustice of false or misleading claims: ‘if we are going to continue to be a democratic society, we have to be honest about our history’ (Gannon, quoted in Widdicombe, 2020: 1).

Twitterstorians have assumed prominent roles clarifying history regarding controversial statuary, inaccurate claims made by Donald Trump, and the history of racial oppression by police departments (Widdicombe, 2020). Notably, the department of history at Columbia University has created a database that maps Twitterstorians and popular hashtags or historical themes in a project called ‘History in Action’. Twitter threads about history are categorised and topically accessible. The History in Action website also has a feature connecting questions about history to historians from Columbia. This website/project shows how historians are attempting to meet the present moment as the knowledge economy shifts.

Contextualising complicated political moments

The third purpose we identify is to contextualise complicated political moments. The political moment largely has centered around Donald Trump’s presidency, revealing stark political/ideological divisions among Americans: some polling shows a country more divided than it has been since public polling began (Newport, 2019). We provide two examples showing historical KMB providing contextual support.

During Trump’s impeachment hearings, the Judiciary Committee called four academics as expert witnesses to provide legal, political, and historical context about charges alleged against the president (Shear, 2019). The four professors provided contextual testimony about the two prior impeachment trials, including how the current evidence measured against the others, and clarified what the Constitution’s framers had in mind when including the provision for impeachment (Shear, 2019). The reality that only three presidents have been indicted on impeachment charges reveals the highly contested nature of this presidency; moreover, the desire to relate this moment with previous ones was strong enough for government officials to seek expert historical counsel.

A second example came when historian Jon Meachum, a noted presidential scholar, provided remarks at the August 2020 Democratic National Convention (Alter, 2020). Meachum was invited to speak at the convention, asked to ‘define the soul of America’ (Alter, 2020: 1). In his remarks, Meachum used historical context to argue the Trump presidency was unique and dangerous. He ultimately argued that, in order to provide stability for American democracy, his chief opponent (Joe Biden) should be elected president. The Biden campaign also broadly made history part of their pitch, for example by claiming Trump was the most dangerous US president in history. In appealing to an ostensibly non-partisan and well-known historian, historical context was elucidated at the convention (Alter, 2020).

What/whose knowledge is being mobilised?

The type of historical knowledge (that is, what knowledge) being shared by academic historians, we conclude, is largely fact-based knowledge (closest to Ward’s ‘scientific/factual knowledge’) grounded in debate/discourse about truth and reality. However, we also often see other evidentiary forms and persuasive approaches being integrated with the fact-based knowledge. For example, at times the exchanges and rebuttals are contentious, with historians not only rebutting others’ claims but also attacking the claimants. Likewise, written facts are frequently supplemented with screenshots of primary sources, links and references to other scholars’ work, animated GIFs (that is, ‘providing receipts’), and so on, all presumably serving to heighten others’ interest in these exchanges (Figure 1).

Conservative media personality makes a historical/political claim, and an academic historian replies, dismissing both the claim and the claimant.
Figure 1:

Academic historian Kevin Kruse colourfully responds to Dinesh D’Souza’s historical claim

Citation: Evidence & Policy 2022; 10.1332/174426421X16328406523829

Regarding whose knowledge is being mobilised, we provide a two-part answer. First, relative to Ward’s framework, the knowledge we focused upon (reflecting the parameters of our analysis) came primarily from, and was actively presented by, professional knowledge producers. Initially, we focused on academic historians, but it also became clear that numerous academics in adjacent fields – for example, sociologists like Eve Ewing, legal scholars like Kimberlé Crenshaw, and social psychologists like Jennifer Richeson – frequently and skilfully drew upon and shared historical evidence and historically-informed interpretations. Richeson (2020), for example, penned a highly-circulated Atlantic article describing many Americans’ belief, ‘despite our tragic racial history… that the country has made and continues to make steady progress toward racial equality’. She contends there is a pervasive ‘mythology of racial progress’ which, she argues, both ‘distorts our perceptions of reality’ and ‘absolves of responsibility’ for changing it. She argues: ‘unless people understand the systemic forces that create and sustain racial inequality, we will never successfully address it’ (Richeson, 2020). Weaving historical accounts with her/colleagues’ research regarding perceptions of racial economic inequality, Richeson (2020) claims peoples’ perceptions and narratives must shift so demands can be collectively made, and bold actions taken, to build a more just society. (Here, we suggest Richeson also explains ‘why’ historical knowledge is, in some cases, being mobilised: to counter master narrative so as to motivate social change).

Though outside this study’s main focus, it is important to reiterate that professional knowledge producers are not the only stakeholders mobilising historical knowledge or advancing historical claims. Rather, innumerable non-academics are actively participating, often even initiating communications. As noted, for instance, non-academics like D’Souza often make inaccurate/misleading historical assertions, which then are challenged by historians. Accordingly, historical KMB should be seen as an endless occurrence, a perpetual discourse – for example, perhaps originating with one person’s (or bot’s) claims, precipitating responses, which are then shared and taken up by more people, and so forth. Knowledge production and contestation accordingly is a perpetual discourse between events and claims made by myriad parties, and with digital media such that it is, those who join the ‘conversation’ can serve to amplify, reframe, or silence the voices of others, whether it be those who attempt to correct historical claims or those who make the claims initially. Related, and although such individuals and their activities fell outside this manuscript’s scope, often members of the public acting on behalf of their communities (Ward, 2017) are sharing historical knowledge, some which may derive from historical scholarship/scholars, but most of which derives from other sources (for example, family stories, personal experiences, literature, advocacy-related materials; this relates to what knowledge).

Accordingly, one must also attend to the specific populations/identities about/for whom the debate frequently centres. We observe active contestation regarding whose (and, related, what) histories/stories get told and whose do not, and how they are told. This relates to the earlier-noted tensions between master- and counter-narratives: should stories centred on the decisions and actions of those who held powerful positions be told, or should we also/instead centre the experiences of the oppressed and marginalised, and how these oppressions have morphed into the present? Historical studies centre around people and their decisions, actions, and the consequences thereof, making such debates/discourses complicated and, at times, highly personal. Historical study is also impacted by shifting cultural norms and practices, which in turn alters how we view the past. Moreover, views about oneself, one’s culture, one’s identity group(s) affect our self-concepts, which means historical KMB is deeply significant on personal and social levels. As James Baldwin (1968) said, when addressing a white audience, in 1968: ‘All that can save you now is your confrontation with your own history’. Baldwin, a noted African American writer and intellectual, articulated a reality about the importance of history and justice, which was that unless white supremacist historical narratives were dealt with, there would be continued social troubles. Perhaps that is the crux of what our themes reveal, which is that there is an outcry and powerful demand for historical knowledge that might help to rectify what seems to be an unstable and divisive society.

How is historical knowledge being mobilised?

Regarding how historical knowledge is being mobilised, we reach a twofold answer. First, as noted, we see historical knowledge being mobilised as a discourse or debate and a way to counter historical master narratives, correct inaccurate historical claims, or understand the present through knowledge about the past. Second, the medium through which such knowledge is specifically being transmitted is, to a large extent, online via digital platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Podcasts are another valuable resource, providing a wealth of knowledge and more of a ‘long-form’ venue for historians. There are also cases where videos are taken from other traditional media appearances, like news broadcasts, press conferences, hearings, or print media, and then given new life on these platforms.

Reflecting on these new media, Cornell historian Lawrence Glickman wrote in one Twitter thread: ‘We are living through a terrible time in many ways, but it is a Golden Age for public-facing history’ (Glickman, 2020). Glickman explained how historians now have many platforms through which they can disseminate their work and spread historical knowledge, which he hails as a great innovation. In the same thread, he also lamented that traditional knowledge-producing institutions like universities are not being adequately funded, leaving talented historians without paid work.

Our findings demonstrate the dynamic nature of historical knowledge – and that even traditional forms of KMB, which have been around since the Gutenberg press, have a way of being referenced and disseminated on a large scale. Indeed, images of primary documents from hundreds of years ago are being photographed and shared by historians, to support/defend their arguments. Similar to historical knowledge, numerous primary documents are being archived, translated, and stored on public or private online databases, like the website for the National Archives or the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. As well, tweets are being categorised by historians at Columbia University, demonstrating the dynamism of how historical knowledge is shifting and the ease with which it is now being made accessible to members of the public. However, one can also see that misleading and even outright false historical claims are being propagated via these same technologies, placing considerable burdens on end users (who themselves are often active contributors) – such that, ultimately, critical information literacy is required to differentiate between good and downright bad information.

Discussion

As we completed the preceding section, the topic under study became still more charged: late in his term, former President Trump doubled down on his American history emphasis, including how it has (supposedly) been and how it should be taught in schools: he advocates for the teaching of American exceptionalism and directly attacked two examples of historical KMB described in findings: the 1619 Project and the Zinn Education Project. Trump essentially claims America’s students have been taught a national history that is overly critical, and he connected this problem with ongoing social unrest and protests (as such, he portrayed the protests as wrongheaded). Consequently, his position (and the Republican party’s; Balingit and Meckler, 2020) is that pro-American/exceptionalist history must be taught, and critical concepts such as structural/systemic racism are problematic and should not be taught. This position gained traction even after Trump’s 2020 election defeat; now in mid-2021, dozens of state-level, Republican-led legislative efforts are underway to restrict education accordingly (Stout and Lamarr Lemee, 2021).

Much can be written about this evolving situation. Minimally, we suggest Trump and colleagues’ decision to elevate this issue underscores the vital, ongoing importance of the phenomenon being studied. Just as Trump presumably has, we sense the high demand for and power of historical knowledge to stir citizens’ passions and move them to favour or oppose particular courses of action. We too notice political fault lines associated with different historical accounts; we can see, for instance, how people with different identities (for example, White males, African American females) in the US frequently respond differently to different historical ‘facts’ and meta-narratives. These topics can be socially divisive, and in predictable directions; accordingly, it appears that an overarching strategy by Trump (and colleagues) has been to exploit and inflame these divisions. Trump, then, partly aimed to demobilise/delegitimise certain historical facts, accounts, and approaches, and to make political hay out of these efforts. He opposed non-exceptionalist accounts, those acknowledging historical and contemporary injustices, centring and recognising the contributions of marginalised and indigenous people to the nation’s development, and so on. Instead, he wanted triumphalist accounts to prevail. This stance appealed to his predominantly White voter base, who can be threatened by non-exceptionalist historical accounts and/or who fear declining social status/power. Thus, what Trump (and now, the party at large, and affiliates) advocates for largely aligns with how American history has often been taught over the years: Though there is important variation given US schooling’s decentralised nature, many Americans have been taught exceptionalistic national histories, which are both misleading and socially/psychologically toxic (Hornbeck, 2018).

The Democratic party, by contrast, presently is more connected to a progressive view of historical interpretation, focusing on reconciling negative actions of the past. For example, current President Joseph Biden (Democrat) recently commemorated a new national holiday, Juneteenth, meant to remember when enslaved Americans in Texas were released from bondage. In his remarks, he asserted that we need to remember America’s ‘original sin’ of slavery and to ‘heal’, to emerge from these memories ‘a better version of ourselves’ (White House, 2021).

Nuanced positions exist, and different people connect to these ideas in different ways. For example, to some, Biden’s remarks might seem uncritical and his prescriptions insufficiently specific. Indeed, many Democratic politicians still do present patriotic lessons of liberty as a fundamentally American value (Biden’s Juneteenth remarks exemplify this) and frame even ostensibly ‘critical’ narratives through this lens. Notwithstanding, it is clear politicians and other elites recognise the ‘power of the past’ and accordingly seek to build collective memories about it. As Bosch (2016) notes, how to deal with legacies of past injustice is among the most pressing problems facing many societies, especially those (like the US) undergoing transition/s. Accordingly, what we observed is understandably not merely the reporting of historical ‘facts’; more often, we observed activities of historians and non-historians alike to mobilise the usable past in service of the present. At risk of oversimplifying: in a polarised environment, what is usable varies, with duelling preferences between those favouring ‘historical memories’ that motivate progressive social change versus those favouring policy inaction and/or reversal. Accordingly, both faithful and false historical accounts (and narratives flowing thereof) are being used to justify courses of (in)action. Within this competitive and divisive milieu, historians (and historian-adjacent academics) are merely one set of actors, albeit important, and must determine if/how to engage.

To be clear, our contention is not that all historians who disagree with specific critical interpretations are somehow flawed, are politically conservative, or are intending to promote hegemonic master narratives. The prominent US historians who disputed certain 1619 Project claims underscore the distinct positions/interpretations academic historians can reach. Again, though, we note how (in the public sphere) such nuanced concerns often give way to sweeping and/or post-factual claims.

Notwithstanding, these developments underline the importance of ‘getting to grips’ with historical KMB, in and beyond the US (this issue is relevant in many societies, though it manifests distinctly), and our study has made inroads. We have, for instance, elucidated three chief reasons why it is occurring. We do not imply we have uncovered all reasons (for instance, we have not fully considered self-interest as a motivator/inhibitor of engagement, nor well explored how institutional conditions enable/constrain academics’ public activities), but we have made considerable progress. Moreover, when thinking of these reasons as opportunities/occasions for historical KMB, we conclude such opportunities are ubiquitous. Trump’s naming of critical race theory (CRT), for example, drew immense public attention toward understanding it. A timely Twitter thread CRT explainer by sociologist Eve Ewing (2020), for instance, was retweeted 4.6K and liked 23.6K times. Likewise, Trump’s repeated mentioning of the 1619 Project has, among other things, vastly increased citizens’ knowledge of that year’s historical significance. More broadly, daily there are historical claims that, from some historians’ standpoints, are begging for refutation, clarification, or contextualisation – and doing so is apparently not overly taxing (Perry, 2018). Citizens’ demand for such information is high: generally, many of us want to know our histories, how we got to where we now find ourselves, so again we see no end in sight to historical KMB.

We now consider implications and opportunities. First, we suggest there are fields/literatures that can provide useful information for those engaging in historical KMB. We assume most academic historians, historical experts though they are, will be relatively lacking in expertise regarding the art and science of knowledge mobilisation. Therein, for example, they might learn about ‘exploiting windows of opportunity to prompt action’ (Cairney, 2019: 35); We concur with Richeson, who recently asserted that a rare and fleeting window was open to take bold action to address systemic inequities; as she said: ‘The year 2020 has not been a good one for America’s “master narrative” in any of its traditional forms’ (Richeson (2020).

Likewise, the multidisciplinary field of memory studies – which takes up such questions as how and why collective memories are developed and their implications – is relevant. Key ideas here are that memory is shareable, and often this occurs in a mediated fashion, but also that memory is not history (though it might be made from similar material). Instead, these memories tend to privilege the contemporary and emerge/evolve from complex cultural negotiations (Bosch, 2016), in keeping with our observations. Indeed, we believe the present study provides insight into ongoing cultural negotiations in the US, and how historians situate within these. Historians frequently/variously aimed to enhance the accuracy of the memories being negotiated, though given a fractured context and phenomena like online echo chambers, we are unclear regarding the efficacy of these efforts.

In this regard, we also point to digital media studies and misinformation studies as an important cognate field for active historical knowledge mobilisers and those attempting to understand their activities and impacts. Empirical work in this area suggests information-based interventions (interpreted as being aligned with much of what we observed) can be effective, although effectiveness depends on audience, mode, and political context (for review, see Walter et al, 2020). One can glean from such literature strategies to maximise the effectiveness of refutation efforts; as argued: ‘In an age where misinformation can diffuse rapidly via the Internet and social media, it is more imperative than ever to think creatively about how best to debunk misinformation’ (Wittenberg and Berinski, 2020: 186).

To some extent, we concur that we are ‘living through… a Golden Age for public-facing history’ (Glickman, 2020). Considering infrastructural and empirical support for historical KMB, however, in our view we are not there yet. Much of what we observed occurred individually; we imagined historians sending tweets during free moments. Some prolifically did so, and apparently were broadly disseminating their viewpoints and knowledge. However, we suggest their influence could dramatically magnify (and reach different audiences) if/when stronger infrastructures and networks were developed to support their efforts (Cooper et al, 2020). For instance, knowledge brokers possess skills and expertise that would complement theirs. We also envision historians and brokers, in tandem, being better equipped to identify major, recurring topics deeply, and take multi-pronged, multi-media dives into major, recurrent topics (for example, what is CRT?) for public benefit. This is not to say no such infrastructures exist presently (for example, see the History in Action project) – rather, just to say more can/should be done. Indeed, governments and foundations might wish to financially support such work. Looking to our North, for instance, the Canadian government has for years been funding an ambitious knowledge mobilisation project and network, the History Education Network/Histoire et éducation en réseau (THEN/HiER), ‘devoted to implementing, supporting, and disseminating research in history education’ (Clark and Sandwell, 2020: 253). Parallel efforts in the US are needed.

An important consideration for going forward, though, concerns the intense politicisation of this topic. Accordingly, we suggest historians could learn from the earlier/ongoing work of scholars in other areas (for example, climate scientists: Oreskes and Conway, 2010) who have operated in contentious spaces while aiming to communicate their/colleagues’ scholarship and its policy implications. To this end, Roger Pielke’s (2007) The Honest Broker offers a useful framework. For instance, does a historian (or broker/mediator) wish to publicly advocate for a particular agenda or group, or do they instead aim to take a ‘just the facts’ approach? Either approach will carry benefits and costs, and what may be the ‘right’ decision can vary by person, issue, and situation.

Overall, we believe this study has yielded initial insights and patterns regarding historical KMB in the US. We hope it motivates scholars to pursue this complicated topic in different ways, historians to think differently about the KMB activities they engage in, and funders and other intermediaries to consider if/how to support it. We acknowledge the challenges and limitations posed by this initial study of a vast and politicised topic, but again have aimed to provide a start for further communication and work.

Research ethics statement

The authors drew solely upon publicly available data to conduct this study and thus did not seek approval from an organisation to conduct this research.

Acknowledgements

The Authors are most grateful to this manuscript’s anonymous reviewers and the editor for their feedback, which was both detailed and insightful, and which served to strengthen the manuscript.

Contributor statement

JM and DH wrote first and subsequent drafts of the manuscript. JM initially conceived of the study. JM and DH jointly conducted data analysis and interpretation. JM led revision processes, with DH leading revisions related to historiography.

Conflict of interest

The Authors declare that there is no conflict of interest

References

  • Alter, A. (2020) A presidential historian makes a rare appearance in today’s political arena, New York Times, 21 August, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/21/books/jon-meacham-joe-biden.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Altheide, D.L. and Schneider, C.J. (2013) Qualitative Media Analysis (2nd edn), Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

  • Baldwin, J. (1968) How can we get the black people to cool it? Esquire, 70(1): 49.

  • Balingit, M. and Meckler, L. (2020) Trump alleges ‘left-wing indoctrination’ in schools, says he will create national commission to push more ‘pro-American’ history, Washington Post, 17 September, https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Benkler, Y., Faris, R. and Roberts, H. (2018) Network propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bohrer, A. (2018) Intersectionality and Marxism: a critical historiography, Historical Materialism, 26(2): 4674. doi: 10.1163/1569206X-00001617

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bosch, T. (2016) Memory studies: a brief concept paper, MeCoDEM Working Paper Series, http://www.mecodem.eu/publications/working-papers/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Buroway, M. (1998) The extended case method, Sociological Theory, 16(1): 433. doi: 10.1111/0735-2751.00040

  • Cairney, P. (2019) Evidence and policymaking, in A. Boaz, H. Davies, A. Fraser and S. Nutley (eds) What Works Now? Evidence-informed Policy and Practice, Bristol: Policy Press, pp 2140.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Clark, P. and Sandwell, R. (2020) The history education network: an experiment in knowledge mobilisation, in C. Berg and T. Christou (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of History and Social Studies Education, Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, pp 25393.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cooper, A., Rodway, J., MacGregor, S., Shewchuk, S. and Searle, M. (2020) Knowledge brokering: ‘not a place for novices or new conscripts’, in J. Malin and C. Brown (eds) The Role of Knowledge Brokers in Education, New York: Routledge, pp 90107.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Crenshaw, K.W. (1988) Race, reform, and retrenchment: transformation and legitimation in antidiscrimination law, Harvard Law Review, 101(7): 133187. doi: 10.2307/1341398

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Creswell, J.W. and Poth, C.N. (2018) Qualitative Inquiry & Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches, 4th edn, Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Davies, H.T.O., Powell, A.E. and Nutley, S. (2015) Mobilising knowledge to improve UK healthcare: learning from other countries and other sectors – a multimethod mapping study, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK299400/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Devine, J. (2017) We are a changing nation: a series on population trends, United States Census Bureau, 9 August, https://www.census.gov/library/stories.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Drezner, D.W. (2017) The Ideas Industry, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Ewing, E. (2020) Status, 17 September, https://twitter.com/eveewing/status/1306788046625476608.

  • Ezra Klein Show (2021) Transcript: Ezra Klein interviews Ta-nehisi Coates and Nikole Hannah-Jones, New York Times, 30 July, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/30/podcasts/transcript-ezra-klein-interviews-ta-nehisi-coates-and-nikole-hannah-jones.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Grynbaum, M.M. (2020) One America News, the network that spreads conspiracies to the West Wing, New York Times, 9 June, https://www.nytimes.com/article/oann-trump.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Guess, A.M. and Lyons, B.A. (2020) Misinformation, disinformation, and online propaganda, in N. Persily and J.A. Tucker (eds) Social Media and Democracy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp 233.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hannah-Jones, N., Elliott, M.N., Hughes, J. and Silverstein, J. (2019) The 1619 project: New York Times magazine, 18 August, https://pulitzercenter.org/sites/default/files/full_issue_of_the_1619_project.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hart, J. (2019) Becoming a Twitterstorian: social media, scholarly communication, and professional practice, 14 October, https://clioandthecontemporary.com/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • History in Action (2015) ‘#Twitterstorians’, Columbia University, http://historyinaction.columbia.edu/hashtag/twitterstorians/.

  • Hornbeck, D. (2018) Democratic representation in state content standards, High School Journal, 101(4): 25173. doi: 10.1353/hsj.2018.0014

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Howell, M.C. and Prevenier, W. (2001) From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods, Ithaka, NY: Cornell University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Laats, A. (2018) The dangers of dunking on Dinesh D’Souza, History News Network, 25 November, https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/170521.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lastarchive.com (n.d.) Guiding questions for teaching the last archive, https://www.thelastarchive.com/guiding-questions.

  • Loewen, J.W. (1995) Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, New York: Touchstone.

  • Lyotard, J.F. (1979) La Condition Postmoderne [The Postmodern Condition], Paris: Minuit.

  • Malin, J.R. and Lubienski, C. (2015) Educational expertise, advocacy, and media influence, Education Policy Analysis Archives, 23(6): 132. doi: 10.14507/epaa.v23.1706.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Malin, J.R. and Paralkar, V. (2017) Educational knowledge brokerage and mobilisation: the Marshall Memo case, International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership, 12(7): 120.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Malin, J.R., Brown, C. and Trubçeac, A. (2018) Going for broke: a multiple case study of brokerage in education, American Educational Research Association Open, 4(2): 114, doi: doi: 10.1177/2332858418769297.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • McCarty, N. (2019) Polarisation: What Everyone Needs to Know, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Mitchell, S. (2020) Tracking down a murderer, Harvard Gazette, 20 June, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2020/06/jill-lepore-launches-a-podcast-on-history-and-truth/

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Moffitt, B. (2016) The Global Rise of Populism: Performance, Political Style, and Representation, Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Newport, F. (2019) The impact of increased political polarisation, Gallup, 5 December, https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/268982/impact-increased-political-polarization.aspx.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nielson, K. and Fletcher, R. (2020) Democratic creative destruction? The effect of a changing media landscape on democracy, in N. Persily and J.A. Tucker (eds) Social Media and Democracy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp 13962.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Oreskes, N. and Conway, E.M. (2010) Merchants of Doubt, New York: Bloomsbury.

  • Perry, D.M. (2018) How to beat demagogues online: know your history, Pacific Standard, https://psmag.com/education/kevin-kruse-how-to-beat-demagogues-using-history.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Persily, N. and Tucker, J.A. (eds) (2020) Social Media and Democracy: The State of the Field, Prospects for Reform, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pew Resource Center (2020) Amid national reckoning, Americans divided on whether increased focus on race will lead to major policy change, 6 October, https://www.pewsocialtrends.org.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pfiffner, J.P. (2021) Donald Trump and the norms of the presidency, Presidential Studies Quarterly, 51(1): 96124. doi: 10.1111/psq.12698

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pielke Jr., R.A. (2007) The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Pushkin Industries (2020) The last archive, https://www.thelastarchive.com/.

  • Richeson, J.A. (2020) Americans are determined to believe in Black progress, Atlantic, September, pp. 912, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Riley, N.S. (2020) The 1619 project enters American classrooms adding new sizzle to education about slavery – but at a significant cost, Education Next, 20(4): 3445.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ross, D. (1995) Grand narrative in American historical writing: from romance to uncertainty, American Historical Review, 100(3): 65177. doi: 10.2307/2168599

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rothschild, N. (2021) Boring news cycle deals blow to partisan media, Yahoo News, 29 June, https://www.yahoo.com/now/boring-news-cycle-deals-blow-093059161.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Saez, E. and Zucman, G. (2019) The Triumph of Injustice: How The Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay, New York: WW Norton & Company.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Shaw Stroup, J. (2020) The furor over the 1619 Project, Jane Takes on History, 10 September, https://janetakesonhistory.org/2020/09/10/the-furor-over-the-1619-project/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Shear, M.D. (2019) Key moments from the first impeachment hearing in the Judiciary Committee, New York Times, 4 December, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/04/us/politics/impeachment-hearings.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Silverstein, J. (2019) Why we published the 1619 Project, New York Times, 20 December, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/12/20/magazine/1619-intro.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Small, M.L. (2009) ’How many cases do I need?’ On science and the logic of case selection in field-based research, Ethnography, 10(1): 538. doi: 10.1177/1466138108099586

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Smith, D. (2019) ‘Enemy of the people’: Trump’s war on the media is a page from Nixon’s playbook, Guardian, 7 September, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/sep/07/donald-trump-war-on-the-media-oppo-research.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stout, C. and Lamarr Lemee, G. (2021) Efforts to restrict teaching about racism and bias have multiplied across the US, Chalkbeat, 24 June, https://www.chalkbeat.org/22525983/map-critical-race-theory-legislation-teaching-racism.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wallace-Wells (2021) How a conservative activist invented the conflict over critical race theory, 18 June, https://www.newyorker.com/news/annals-of-inquiry/how-a-conservative-activist-invented-the-conflict-over-critical-race-theory.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Walter, N., Cohen, J., Holbert, R.L. and Morag, Y. (2020) Fact-checking: a meta-analysis of what works and for whom, Political Communication, 37(3): 35075. doi: 10.1080/10584609.2019.1668894

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ward, V. (2017) Why, whose, what and how? A framework for knowledge mobilisers, Evidence & Policy, 13(3): 47797.

  • Ward, V. (2020) Using frameworks and models to support knowledge mobilisation, in J. Malin and C. Brown (eds) The Role of Knowledge Brokers in Education, New York: Routledge, pp 16881.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wheeler, T. (2020) Donald Trump fakes history in order to divide us, Brookings, 6 July, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/07/06/donald-trump-fakes-history-in-order-to-divide-us/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • White House (2021) Remarks by President Biden at signing of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/06/17/remarks-by-president-biden-at-signing-of-the-juneteenth-national-independence-day-act/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Widdicombe, L. (2020) The twitterstorians trying to de-trumpify American history, New Yorker, 21 January, https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-twitterstorians-trying-to-de-trumpify-american-history.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wittenberg, C. and Berinski, A.J. (2020) Misinformation and its correction, in N. Persily and J.A. Tucker (eds) Social Media and Democracy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp 16398.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Zinn, H. (1997) The Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy, New York: Seven Stories Press.

Appendix A

Summary of Ward (2017) Knowledge Mobilisation Framework, by Question

Why is knowledge being mobilised?

  • Develop solutions to practical problems

  • Develop policies/programmes or recommendations

  • Implement defined policies and practices

  • Change practices and behaviours

  • Produce useful research/scientific knowledge

Whose knowledge is being mobilised?

  • Professional knowledge producers

  • Frontline practitioners

  • Members of the public/service users

  • Decision makers

  • Product/programme developers

What type of knowledge is being mobilised?

  • Scientific/factual knowledge

  • Technical knowledge/skills

  • Practical wisdom

How is knowledge being mobilised?

  • Making connections/brokering relationships

  • Disseminating and synthesising knowledge

  • Interactive learning and co-production

Note. This appendix also found in Malin and Paralkar (2017) and Malin et al (2018).

Appendix B

Selected ‘Cases’ (four-fold)

  1. 1.Topics/events

Topic/eventRationale for selection
Debates (especially in 2020) around statuary removal, particularly related to statues commemorating confederate military officersHighly public, charged debate which included obvious historical components; high-level figures including Trump expressed strong opinions on this topic too.
The 2020 murder of George Floyd by a police officer, and subsequent debates about the history and nature of policing in the US and around systemic racism in AmericaHighly public, charged debates ensued and historical knowledge mobilisation and contestation was central to these; high-level figures including Trump expressed strong opinions on this topic as well.
Trump’s first impeachment trial (early 2020)Weighty, highly-public event, and one that featured and elicited historical claims and arguments; also directly featured historians who were present/active contributors at the trial.
2020 Democratic ConventionHistorical claims were relatively commonplace, and we paid special attention to a speech by Presidential historian Jon Meacham.

  1. 2.New mediums

MediumRationale for selection
TwitterPopular among academics, including historians; Trump’s preferred means of communication.
PodcastsIncreasingly popular means of distributing audio content, and often enables in-depth exploration of topics; readily-identified examples of historical knowledge mobilisation through podcasts.

  1. 3.Prominent ‘Twitterstorians’ and history-adjacent scholars

Twitterstorians

PersonRationale for Selection
Kevin KruseAn original, well-recognised, highly-active Twitterstorian; also active in other ways (for example, op-eds, television). Kruse is a Professor of History at Princeton University.
Kevin GannonKevin Gannon is an active Twitterstorian who often engages in debate with right-wing historical conspiracies. He addresses himself with the nickname, ‘the tattooed professor’. Gannon is Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and a Professor of History at Grand View University.
Robin MitchellAn historian of European history specialising in the black experience in colonial Europe. Active in social media and debates of the black experience in Europe. Mitchell is an Associate Professor of History at the California State University Channel Islands.
Joanne FreemanProminent Historian of the American Revolution who is active on social media, often engaging in major historical debates of the day. Freeman is a Professor of History at Yale University.
Heather Cox RichardsonHistorian of the Civil War and Reconstruction who is active on Twitter, often engaging in contemporary historical debates. Richardson is a Professor of History at Boston College.

History-adjacent scholars

PersonRationale for Selection
Nikole Hannah-JonesNew York Times Journalist and now Professor of Journalism (Howard University) behind the 1619 Project published in the New York Times.
Eve EwingAn educational sociologist who writes about social inequality and racism, in and beyond the context of K-12 education. Has used social media to debate about issues related to race and history, and specifically in relation to CRT. Ewing is an Assistant Professor at University of Chicago.
Jennifer RichesonA social psychologist who is active in the debate surrounding race in the US. Has written to debunk the myth of racial progress as well as other prominent arguments that resist conceptions of a post-racial society. Richeson is Philip R. Allen Professor of Psychology at Yale University.
Kimberlé Williams CrenshawLegal scholar who is a leading scholar of CRT and who developed the theory of intersectionality. Crenshaw is also publicly engaged via Twitter and other media, and directs several centres/forums (for example, the African American Policy Forum).

  1. 4.Media pieces/collections

TitleInformation/rationale for selection
The 1619 Project (New York Times)The 1619 Project is an interactive, ongoing project directed by Nikole Hannah-Jones, including essays and various other types of material and with a goal of ‘refram[ing] American history’ regarding slavery and its aftermath, and African Americans’ contributions to the nation’s development. It has attracted much attention, controversy, challenges, and accolades, and has since been adopted as a curriculum/resource in many schools and districts across the US; Hannah-Jones received the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her introductory essay.
The Last Archives (Pushkin Industries)Lepore’s podcast explores how our historical conceptions of what is and is not true have changed. Identifying shifting and changing ways that people have defined truth and reality, Lepore explores how these definitions have evolved and where they might be headed. She notes that postmodern thought has complicated claims that muddy the idea of objective reality, which makes her podcast especially relevant for the purposes of this study.
Now & Then (Vox Media, 2021).Historians Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman direct this podcast, which is aimed to explore ‘How… the past [can] help inform today’s most pressing challenges’; in the podcast, these historians ‘use their encyclopedic knowledge of US history to bring the past to life’, helping to ‘make sense of the week in news by discussing the people, ideas, and events that got us here today’ (VoxMedia, 2021).
  • View in gallery

    Academic historian Kevin Kruse colourfully responds to Dinesh D’Souza’s historical claim

  • Alter, A. (2020) A presidential historian makes a rare appearance in today’s political arena, New York Times, 21 August, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/21/books/jon-meacham-joe-biden.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Altheide, D.L. and Schneider, C.J. (2013) Qualitative Media Analysis (2nd edn), Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

  • Baldwin, J. (1968) How can we get the black people to cool it? Esquire, 70(1): 49.

  • Balingit, M. and Meckler, L. (2020) Trump alleges ‘left-wing indoctrination’ in schools, says he will create national commission to push more ‘pro-American’ history, Washington Post, 17 September, https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Benkler, Y., Faris, R. and Roberts, H. (2018) Network propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bohrer, A. (2018) Intersectionality and Marxism: a critical historiography, Historical Materialism, 26(2): 4674. doi: 10.1163/1569206X-00001617

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bosch, T. (2016) Memory studies: a brief concept paper, MeCoDEM Working Paper Series, http://www.mecodem.eu/publications/working-papers/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Buroway, M. (1998) The extended case method, Sociological Theory, 16(1): 433. doi: 10.1111/0735-2751.00040

  • Cairney, P. (2019) Evidence and policymaking, in A. Boaz, H. Davies, A. Fraser and S. Nutley (eds) What Works Now? Evidence-informed Policy and Practice, Bristol: Policy Press, pp 2140.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Clark, P. and Sandwell, R. (2020) The history education network: an experiment in knowledge mobilisation, in C. Berg and T. Christou (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of History and Social Studies Education, Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, pp 25393.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cooper, A., Rodway, J., MacGregor, S., Shewchuk, S. and Searle, M. (2020) Knowledge brokering: ‘not a place for novices or new conscripts’, in J. Malin and C. Brown (eds) The Role of Knowledge Brokers in Education, New York: Routledge, pp 90107.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Crenshaw, K.W. (1988) Race, reform, and retrenchment: transformation and legitimation in antidiscrimination law, Harvard Law Review, 101(7): 133187. doi: 10.2307/1341398

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Creswell, J.W. and Poth, C.N. (2018) Qualitative Inquiry & Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches, 4th edn, Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Davies, H.T.O., Powell, A.E. and Nutley, S. (2015) Mobilising knowledge to improve UK healthcare: learning from other countries and other sectors – a multimethod mapping study, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK299400/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Devine, J. (2017) We are a changing nation: a series on population trends, United States Census Bureau, 9 August, https://www.census.gov/library/stories.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Drezner, D.W. (2017) The Ideas Industry, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Ewing, E. (2020) Status, 17 September, https://twitter.com/eveewing/status/1306788046625476608.

  • Ezra Klein Show (2021) Transcript: Ezra Klein interviews Ta-nehisi Coates and Nikole Hannah-Jones, New York Times, 30 July, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/30/podcasts/transcript-ezra-klein-interviews-ta-nehisi-coates-and-nikole-hannah-jones.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Grynbaum, M.M. (2020) One America News, the network that spreads conspiracies to the West Wing, New York Times, 9 June, https://www.nytimes.com/article/oann-trump.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Guess, A.M. and Lyons, B.A. (2020) Misinformation, disinformation, and online propaganda, in N. Persily and J.A. Tucker (eds) Social Media and Democracy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp 233.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hannah-Jones, N., Elliott, M.N., Hughes, J. and Silverstein, J. (2019) The 1619 project: New York Times magazine, 18 August, https://pulitzercenter.org/sites/default/files/full_issue_of_the_1619_project.pdf.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hart, J. (2019) Becoming a Twitterstorian: social media, scholarly communication, and professional practice, 14 October, https://clioandthecontemporary.com/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • History in Action (2015) ‘#Twitterstorians’, Columbia University, http://historyinaction.columbia.edu/hashtag/twitterstorians/.

  • Hornbeck, D. (2018) Democratic representation in state content standards, High School Journal, 101(4): 25173. doi: 10.1353/hsj.2018.0014

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Howell, M.C. and Prevenier, W. (2001) From Reliable Sources: An Introduction to Historical Methods, Ithaka, NY: Cornell University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Laats, A. (2018) The dangers of dunking on Dinesh D’Souza, History News Network, 25 November, https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/170521.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lastarchive.com (n.d.) Guiding questions for teaching the last archive, https://www.thelastarchive.com/guiding-questions.

  • Loewen, J.W. (1995) Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, New York: Touchstone.

  • Lyotard, J.F. (1979) La Condition Postmoderne [The Postmodern Condition], Paris: Minuit.

  • Malin, J.R. and Lubienski, C. (2015) Educational expertise, advocacy, and media influence, Education Policy Analysis Archives, 23(6): 132. doi: 10.14507/epaa.v23.1706.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Malin, J.R. and Paralkar, V. (2017) Educational knowledge brokerage and mobilisation: the Marshall Memo case, International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership, 12(7): 120.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Malin, J.R., Brown, C. and Trubçeac, A. (2018) Going for broke: a multiple case study of brokerage in education, American Educational Research Association Open, 4(2): 114, doi: doi: 10.1177/2332858418769297.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • McCarty, N. (2019) Polarisation: What Everyone Needs to Know, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Mitchell, S. (2020) Tracking down a murderer, Harvard Gazette, 20 June, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2020/06/jill-lepore-launches-a-podcast-on-history-and-truth/

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Moffitt, B. (2016) The Global Rise of Populism: Performance, Political Style, and Representation, Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Newport, F. (2019) The impact of increased political polarisation, Gallup, 5 December, https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/268982/impact-increased-political-polarization.aspx.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nielson, K. and Fletcher, R. (2020) Democratic creative destruction? The effect of a changing media landscape on democracy, in N. Persily and J.A. Tucker (eds) Social Media and Democracy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp 13962.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Oreskes, N. and Conway, E.M. (2010) Merchants of Doubt, New York: Bloomsbury.

  • Perry, D.M. (2018) How to beat demagogues online: know your history, Pacific Standard, https://psmag.com/education/kevin-kruse-how-to-beat-demagogues-using-history.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Persily, N. and Tucker, J.A. (eds) (2020) Social Media and Democracy: The State of the Field, Prospects for Reform, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pew Resource Center (2020) Amid national reckoning, Americans divided on whether increased focus on race will lead to major policy change, 6 October, https://www.pewsocialtrends.org.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pfiffner, J.P. (2021) Donald Trump and the norms of the presidency, Presidential Studies Quarterly, 51(1): 96124. doi: 10.1111/psq.12698

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pielke Jr., R.A. (2007) The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Pushkin Industries (2020) The last archive, https://www.thelastarchive.com/.

  • Richeson, J.A. (2020) Americans are determined to believe in Black progress, Atlantic, September, pp. 912, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Riley, N.S. (2020) The 1619 project enters American classrooms adding new sizzle to education about slavery – but at a significant cost, Education Next, 20(4): 3445.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ross, D. (1995) Grand narrative in American historical writing: from romance to uncertainty, American Historical Review, 100(3): 65177. doi: 10.2307/2168599

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rothschild, N. (2021) Boring news cycle deals blow to partisan media, Yahoo News, 29 June, https://www.yahoo.com/now/boring-news-cycle-deals-blow-093059161.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Saez, E. and Zucman, G. (2019) The Triumph of Injustice: How The Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay, New York: WW Norton & Company.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Shaw Stroup, J. (2020) The furor over the 1619 Project, Jane Takes on History, 10 September, https://janetakesonhistory.org/2020/09/10/the-furor-over-the-1619-project/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Shear, M.D. (2019) Key moments from the first impeachment hearing in the Judiciary Committee, New York Times, 4 December, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/04/us/politics/impeachment-hearings.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Silverstein, J. (2019) Why we published the 1619 Project, New York Times, 20 December, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/12/20/magazine/1619-intro.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Small, M.L. (2009) ’How many cases do I need?’ On science and the logic of case selection in field-based research, Ethnography, 10(1): 538. doi: 10.1177/1466138108099586

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Smith, D. (2019) ‘Enemy of the people’: Trump’s war on the media is a page from Nixon’s playbook, Guardian, 7 September, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/sep/07/donald-trump-war-on-the-media-oppo-research.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Stout, C. and Lamarr Lemee, G. (2021) Efforts to restrict teaching about racism and bias have multiplied across the US, Chalkbeat, 24 June, https://www.chalkbeat.org/22525983/map-critical-race-theory-legislation-teaching-racism.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wallace-Wells (2021) How a conservative activist invented the conflict over critical race theory, 18 June, https://www.newyorker.com/news/annals-of-inquiry/how-a-conservative-activist-invented-the-conflict-over-critical-race-theory.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Walter, N., Cohen, J., Holbert, R.L. and Morag, Y. (2020) Fact-checking: a meta-analysis of what works and for whom, Political Communication, 37(3): 35075. doi: 10.1080/10584609.2019.1668894

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ward, V. (2017) Why, whose, what and how? A framework for knowledge mobilisers, Evidence & Policy, 13(3): 47797.

  • Ward, V. (2020) Using frameworks and models to support knowledge mobilisation, in J. Malin and C. Brown (eds) The Role of Knowledge Brokers in Education, New York: Routledge, pp 16881.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wheeler, T. (2020) Donald Trump fakes history in order to divide us, Brookings, 6 July, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/07/06/donald-trump-fakes-history-in-order-to-divide-us/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • White House (2021) Remarks by President Biden at signing of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/06/17/remarks-by-president-biden-at-signing-of-the-juneteenth-national-independence-day-act/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Widdicombe, L. (2020) The twitterstorians trying to de-trumpify American history, New Yorker, 21 January, https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-twitterstorians-trying-to-de-trumpify-american-history.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wittenberg, C. and Berinski, A.J. (2020) Misinformation and its correction, in N. Persily and J.A. Tucker (eds) Social Media and Democracy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp 16398.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Zinn, H. (1997) The Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy, New York: Seven Stories Press.

  • 1 Miami University-Oxford, Ohio, , USA
  • | 2 University of Texas at Arlington, , USA

Content Metrics

May 2022 onwards Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 7 7 7
PDF Downloads 11 11 11

Altmetrics

Dimensions