On Wednesday, the Columbia Historical Association hosted three professors to discuss publishing their recent books, writing history, and teaching it.

On Wednesday, the Columbia Historical Association hosted Professor Charly Coleman, Professor Caterina Pizzigoni, and Professor Manan Ahmed to discuss their recent publications and their perspectives on the teaching of history.  

Professor Coleman, who specializes in the European Enlightenment and the French Revolution, discussed his recent book titled The Spirit of French Capitalism: Economic Theology in the Age of Enlightenment. In the book, which was published this year, Professor Coleman describes the intersections between theology and political economy in France throughout the 18th century.

Professor Pizzigoni specializes in the colonial history of Latin America. Her recent book Indigenous Life After the Conquest: The De la Cruz Family Papers of Colonial Mexico, was also published in 2021. The book is a collection of documents from the De La Cruz family, centering around governor Pedro De La Cruz and his various heirs and the projects they undertook. 

Professor Ahmed talked about his book The Loss of Hindustan: The Invention of India, published in 2020. Professor Ahmed explained how medieval historians in modern-day India in the 1920s and 30s were engaged in anticolonial struggles, so their anticolonial perspective can be seen in the way in which they wrote about the medieval period.

After the three professors discussed their publications, the panel moved on to a discussion of history as an academic subject and the teaching of history as a whole. When asked about how teaching students impacted their work and research, the professors shed light on how the students helped them formulate new ideas and challenge existing ones. Professor Pizzigoni shared that through discussing her work with her students, their questions provide her with a form of “reality check,” alerting her to see the full picture when she may be immersed in certain details. Professor Coleman similarly enjoys the dialogue between him and his students, as it allows him to introduce new ideas he has been pondering and gauge the reception. Both Professor Coleman and Professor Ahmed also underscore the rewards of teaching Contemporary Civilization, as conversations with their students in the course allow them to continue reexamining the core texts. Professor Ahmed believes that Contemporary Civilization is so critical to professors that every professor who has taught the course will have traces of its ideas in the books they publish. 

The professors also discussed how history as a discipline has changed from the time they were in their undergraduate and graduate years compared to how it is now. Professor Coleman points out that with the digitization of archives, many sources have become much more accessible, allowing for greater exploration of primary texts. Professor Pizzigoni was particularly passionate about how she believes that history as a whole has become more inclusive, diving into topics that were rarely discussed in the past. 

Professor Ahmed described the discussion of history as now possessing “an increased violence and urgency.” He noted that in India and Pakistan, countries that he focuses on in his work, history is used as a means of denying those of minority identities of their citizenship and of their right to participate in the public sphere. Thus, the exploration of history has tangible consequences in these regions, making it all the more important. Professor Ahmed also is interested in the practice of “writing history for the future,” an idea central to his book. Ahmed cites the example of climate change, sharing that the region he discusses in his new book will have 150 to 300 million people displaced to rising sea levels and falling of the water table by 2030. In 2030, Ahmed pictures that the audience for his book will be in a world very different from the one we are in right now. Ahmed’s ultimate goal is to write a history that “allows us to imagine a different future,” a goal he personally considers difficult yet worthwhile.

The newest publication from the professors, along with their discussion of Contemporary Civilization and the urgency of history now, conveyed that though history is a study of the past, new ideas about the discipline are constantly presented, debated, and published.

book via Bwog Archives