The Challenges of Writing about the Age of Clinton
tags: Bill Clinton
Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University and a visiting scholar in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution for the fall of 2015. His latest book — his tenth — is The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015).
Years ago, when I was slaving away in graduate school, I visited Moscow. One Russian I visited asked me what I did. “I’m an American historian,” I answered. “Acch,” he spat, and dropping his prepositions willy-nilly said: “That’s current events! History of Kremlin is history -- 900 years fighting invaders!”
My Russian host never discovered that, even worse, I fancy myself a contemporary historian, and have gone on to publish books such as my new one The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s with barely a quarter-of-a-century for perspective. But given just how fresh my subject is for us historians, having broken my neck to get this book out in time for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, I have been thinking a lot about the Russian conversation, and the challenges of writing (and understanding) contemporary history.
As I resurrect my HNN blog while launching my new book, and in the spirit of the History News Network – in all that title’s contradictions – I want to post a series of commentaries on the challenges involved in writing this book. In truth, it would have been a great idea to generate this conversation while I was still writing and editing but I simply had not thought of it. With any luck, these posts will trigger enough interesting responses to make me regret that I didn’t solicit these opinions before and get me working on a sequel, or a corrected first edition. So, while I will occasionally cross-post articles that I have written appearing in other media, this post marks the start of some fresh blogging, exclusive to HNN, on shaping a historical conversation about the Clintons and the 1990s.
Among the blogs I have planned out are “The Clinton Conundrums: Key Historical Questions,” “Developing a Conceptual Toolbox to Understand the Clintons and the ‘90s,” and “The Clinton Historical Stock Market: Where his legacy stands so far.” I am sure other topics will emerge, and look forward to a stimulating but respectful conversation, because of one thing I am sure: it’s time to take the Clintons seriously, as historical figures, not just as political leaders or cultural markers.
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