As you all know, due to the pandemic we were forced to postpone our July 2020 meeting until the summer of 2021. Let me again emphasize, however, that the conference and the wonderful panels crafted by program co-chairs Nancy Isenberg and John Belohlavek and their superb committee have not been cancelled but merely delayed for twelve months, and the conference will still be held in Philadelphia.
But to remind our members that we remain a vital organization, even in this troubled time, we offer a special and very timely online plenary, “The Politicization of Andrew Jackson.”
Daniel Feller, Professor of History, Distinguished Professor in the Humanities, and Editor/Director of The Papers of Andrew Jackson at the University of Tennessee will present his paper, “Jackson in the Age of Trump,” which focuses on Donald Trump's embrace of Andrew Jackson as his presidential model and how this has made Jackson a centerpiece for debate. Jackson has become, on both sides of the current political divide, in effect a stand-in for the American historical legacy. One side celebrates him as the progenitor of full-throated nationalism and insurgent populism, while the other condemns him as the archetype of American xenophobia, bigotry, and racism.
Neither of these portraits has much connection to the real presidential Jackson. Both reduce him to caricature not only by stripping off subtlety and nuance, but often by propagation of naked error. While Trump celebrates Jackson for purportedly raising tariffs and rattling sabers, critics decry him for originating Indian genocide, conducting public policy as personal vendetta in the Bank and nullification controversies, and propounding a uniquely vicious and virulent racism.
In short, we are now waging a public debate about Jackson—and, through him, about American history and character at large—premised upon a set of facts that are drastically oversimplified and even demonstrably untrue. Politicians and pundits have taken the lead in this distortion of the record, but historians have been acquiescent and sometimes directly complicit. Yet if we believe that the manipulation of history for presentist ends—even ones we agree with—is misguided and potentially dangerous, we should make it our business to speak out in defense of the integrity of our discipline, regardless of our present political sympathies.
The panel will be chaired by Jessica Lepler of the University of New Hampshire, and Vanessa Holden of the University of Kentucky will serve as the host. Comment will be provided by David Waldstreicher, Distinguished Professor of History, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, Harry Watson, Atlanta Distinguished Professor of Southern Studies, University of North Carolina, and Jeanne T. Heidler, Professor Emerita of History at the United States Air Force Academy and, together with co-commentator David S. Heidler, the co-author of The Rise of Andrew Jackson: Myth, Manipulation, and the Making of Modern Politics.
Please use this form https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdyHHSU4ZJk1PStkim2t17bfLak1uEHkhPQNuCbF_L6fe15_A/viewform?usp=sf_link to register for our Virtual SHEAR Plenary Panel on Friday, July 17, from 2-4pm (EDT). After you're registered, you will receive a copy of Daniel Feller's pre-circulated paper along with instructions for logging into the Zoom session. You will also have the opportunity to submit questions to the panel in advance, via a separate form. (Questions can also be submitted via the Zoom chat feature during the Plenary.)
Looking forward to seeing you all there!
Douglas R. Egerton
President, SHEAR 2019-2020