The Relevance of History: The Place of the Discipline in Contemporary Society explored the role of historians and historical thinking in the world today. Through conversations with faculty, alumni, students, and historians in a wide range of careers, the conference reexamined the role the discipline can play in social activism, policy making, and digital media to propose new ways to think about the professional role of historians and to empower the next generation of scholars.

The conference was possible by Making History Work, the American Historical Association's Career Diversity for Historians initiative in the Department of History at the University of Chicago. Generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the intiative explores the culture and practice of graduate education to better prepare graduate students and early career historians for a range of career options within and beyond the academy.

The Relevance of History was held on April 13–14, 2017, in the Regenstein Library, room 112, University of Chicago, 1100 E. 57th Street. The conference began on Thursday, April 13, with the Graduate Student History Challenge and a panel discussion by Chicago alumni. The second day featured three panels and a keynote address by John Lawrence, former chief of staff to Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Conference Program

Thursday, April 13, 2017
11:30–3 PM     Graduate Student History Challenge Introduction

Graduate students from institutions Loyola University and the University of Chicago took part in the challenge, a competition that asked teams of two to three participants to use a collection of primary sources from the University of Chicago archives to develop a public-history project related to the Hyde Park–Kenwood community. Students had three hours to examine the materials and to develop a three-minute two-slide presentation for hypothetical sponsors/funders. The next day teams made their pitches to conference attendees and a panel of judges. The judges provided substantive feedback to each team.

The members of the winning team received airfare, lodging, and registration to the American Historical Association's 2018 Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., and the opportunity to work with community members to realize their project.

3:30–5 PM  Alumni Panel: What Does Being a Historian Mean to You?

Chicago alumni discuss their diverse and fulilling careers:

—Christopher Boyer, PhD '97, professor of history and Latin American and Latino studies, University of Illinois at Chicago
—Andrew Janco, PhD '12, digital scholarship librarian, Haverford College
—Monica Mercado, PhD '14, assistant professor of history, Colgate University
—Jessica Neptune, PhD '12, associate director of national programs, Bard Prison Initiative and director, BPI in Chicago
—Lauren Stokes, PhD '16, assistant professor of history, Northwestern University
—Emily Swafford, PhD '14, manager of academic affairs, American Historical Association
—Moderator: Emily Lynn Osborn, associate professor of African history, African studies, and the College

5–7 PM    Alumni Happy Hour and Dinner
Friday, April 14, 2017
8:30–9 AM  Breakfast & Check In
  9–10:15 AM  Does Engagement with the World Make You a Better Historian?

—Thomas Holt, James Westfall Thompson Professor of American and African American History, University of Chicago
—Theresa Mah, PhD '99 (Chicago), state representative, Illinois Second District
—Kathleen Belew, assistant professor of US history, University of Chicago

10:45 AM–Noon  Do We Need to Think Historically to Solve Contemporary Economic Issues?

—Leah Zell, PhD (Harvard) & CFA, founder & lead portfolio manager, Lizard Investors LLC
—Nils Gilman, PhD (Berkeley), associate chancellor & chief of staff, University of California, Berkeley
—Jonathan Levy, PhD '08 (Chicago), professor of US history, University of Chicago

Noon–1:15 PM     Lunch & History Challenge Presentations 1:30–2:45 PM     Digital Scholarship & Engagement: Why Bother?

—Seth Denbo, PhD (Warwick), director of scholarly communication and digital initiatives, American Historical Association
—Claire Potter, professor of history & director of the Digital Humanities Initiative, New School
—Monica Mercado, PhD '14 (Chicago), assistant professor of history, Colgate University
—Andrew Janco, PhD '12 (Chicago), digital scholarship librarian, Haverford College

3:30-5 PM     Keynote Address by John Lawrence, PhD (Berkeley)

John Lawrence's career in politics spanned four decades. He began as a chief of staff to Congressman George Miller (D-CA) and as staff director of two committees led by Miller, the Committee on Natural Resources and the Committee on Education and Labor. From 2005 until his retirement in 2013 he served as chief of staff for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

5:00pm     Reception in Hutchinson Commons