Episode 38: The Knowledge Producers

Taking an L:
A century and a half after taking an ‘L’ in the Civil War, the Confederacy is still going down to defeat. Confederate statues and school names around the country are being removed by the dozens, with hundreds still to go. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, more than 160 Confederate symbols were removed from public spaces or renamed following the police murder of George Floyd in May, 2020. Pictured here is a removal of one such statue in Alexandria, Virginia. Those who decry their removal as the loss of history extend an understanding of commemoration and public memory that is naive, disingenuous, and dangerous. All such monuments are better understood as theatrical depictions of a racially idealized past, produced to depict and affirm what the scholar Saidiya Hartman calls ‘scenes of subjection.’ These historic productions memorialize white racial violence in the historical guise of white heritage.

Our History

“And how does one tell impossible stories?” A question well placed for our time, and one offered by the scholar Saidiya Hartman, who has journeyed through the heart of darkness of slavery’s archives in search of Black lives past. Yet in their efforts to recover those stories, scholars like Hartman and professional historians compete in a broader marketplace of historical knowledge, where our public memories are fed, constructed, and often distorted by public memorials and statuary, patriotic commemorations and school namings, and even the archives themselves. Often they are designed to serve only patriotic narratives that erase the past lives and histories that contradict the boastful and exceptionalist claims of national identity. Think this pressure for patriotic history happens only in the U.S.? Our special guest this week is historian Xin Fan, whose new book World History and National Identity in China reveals the dramatic and often agonizing personal and professional journeys undertaken by Chinese scholars to maintain intellectual autonomy across four generations of historical writing in modern China. 
    “Before you study the history, study the historian,” warned Carl Becker. So join us for another HAG episode as we consider the fears and fancies, fights and fault lines of the knowledge producers.

Professor Xin Fan

To hear episode 38 The Knowledge Producers click on the link below:


Sources Referenced and other Items of Interest:

Xin Fan, World History and National Identity in China (2021)


Xin Fan on the call for better history (an excerpt from our Episode 38 conversation)

Saidiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts” (2008)


Southern Poverty Law Center Reports Over 160 Confederate Symbols Removed in 2020


“As historians we have to step out, beyond our comfortable zone to deal with different cultures, and different traditions, and different academic frameworks. So that is my first suggestion, we have to do global history, world history, globally and worldly.”

Xin Fan

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