AMERICAN HISTORY | An Overview of The Journal of American History

The Journal of American History is a quarterly journal that was originally established in 1914 as the Mississippi Valley Historical Review. Under the guidance of its first editor, Clarence Walworth Alvord, founder of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association which headed the journal, the first volumes dealt mainly with the history of the political and territorial disputes of American frontier states, particularly those in or near the Mississippi Valley. However, even its first volumes branched out a bit to look at history of the Northwest or Florida, for instance, and though the journal’s scope was regional, it was generally not as provincial as its original title suggests. Within the first fifty years the journal developed a close relationship with the History Department of Indiana University, and by 1964, with the publication of issue #51, it was decided to change the name to The Journal of American History, and to rename the professional association to the Organization for American Historians. The rationale for the change was explained in the June 1964 issue:

Back of this change in title is an awareness not only of a growing nationally distributed membership in the Association but a recognition of a decided shift in contributor emphasis from regional to nationally-oriented history. This change is reflected not only by articles that have been published in the Review over the past half century, but by articles submitted for consideration by the managing editor and the board of editors. For example, only ten out of 167 articles submitted for possible publication during this past year were definitely concerned with Mississippi Valley history.

Though the geographic outlook of the journal expanded, the topics still dealt mainly with political history.

However, as the landscape of professional history broadened, these changes were reflected in the articles found within the journal, as well as in the authors of those articles. Social history and women’s history became more frequent, and especially prominent were conversations dealing with race. These were appearing with regularity by the late 1990s and into the new millenium. For instance, the June 1999 issue included the articles, “Mobilizing Women, Anticipating Abolition: The Struggle against Indian Removal in the 1830s” by Mary Hershberg, and “The Architecture of Race in American Immigration Law: A Reexamination of the Immigration Act of 1924” by Mae M. Ngai. Or in the 2000 issue, with articles such as “The Slave Trader, the White Slave, and the Politics of Racial Determination in the 1850s” by Walter Johns and “From Amazons to Glamazons: The Rise and Fall of North Carolina Women’s Basketball, 1920-1960” by Pamela Grundy. Signifying this shift is the appointment of Joanne Meyerowitz as editor from 1999 to 2004, who has written extensively in gender studies and whose 2002 work, How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States, won prominent awards. In addition to these shifts, a move to seeing American History within the context of a global community is reflected in the extensive list of “International Contributing Editors”.

From 2005 to 2016, the journal was edited by Edward T. Linenthal, a historian whose particular interests lie in memorials and sacred spaces. A shift towards the inclusion of public history and historical memory is reflected in the 2007 special issue, “Through the Eye of Katrina: The Past as Prologue?”, which states in its introduction: “As historians have long recognized, current events – especially traumatic shocks that disrupt the status quo – alter our perceptions of the past. In the shadow of human catastrophes, scholars are pushed to formulate new questions and to revisit old orthodoxies as they probe for fresh meaning.” Here the journal looks to current events as history-in-the-making.

The journal has expanded in other ways, including online articles, podcasts, and a blog called Process, which “features posts about teaching, public history, careers in history, the newest scholarship on U.S. history,” among other topics. The current editor, Benjamin H. Irvin, a historian of Early America, began his post in the summer of 2017.

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