The National History Center of the American Historical Association provides a venue in the nation's capital for all who care about the human past to make history an essential part of public conversations about current events and the shared futures of the United States and the wider world.

Set in Stone: America’s Embrace of the Ten Commandments with Jenna Weissman Joselit

Ever since the mid-19th century, modern America has made much of the Ten Commandments.  Although its citizens may not have been able to get the ancient dos and don’ts quite right, honoring them more in the breach than anything else, they insisted all the same on seeing them everywhere:  in stone, paper, cardboard, stained glass and Technicolor.  In her illustrated lecture, the distinguished cultural historian Jenna Weissman Joselit explores the nation’s fascination with the Biblical text.

Jenna Weissman Joselit is the Charles E. Smith Professor of Judaic Studies & Professor of History at The George Washington University, where she also created and now directs two graduate programs in Jewish culture and the arts, the first of their kind in the country. She is the author of The Wonders of America, which received the National Jewish Book Award in History, and of the critically acclaimed A Perfect Fit:  Clothes, Character and the Promise of America. Joselit also writes a monthly column on American Jewish culture for The Forward newspaper, which is now in its 17th consecutive year of publication. Her latest book, Set in Stone: America’s Embrace of the Ten Commandments, will be published next month by Oxford University Press.

The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.

3/20: Radium and the Secret of Life with Luis Campos

Long before the H-bomb associated radioactivity with death, many scientists at the dawn of the twentieth century believed that radium might somehow hold the secret to life. The swirl of provocative metaphors surrounding Marie Curie’s newly discovered radioactive element not only transformed physics and amazed the public, but also ultimately led to key insights into the origin of life, the nature of heredity, and the structure of the gene. From the creation in the test-tube of half-living microbes to the earliest emergence of genetic engineering, in this talk historian of science Luis Campos will explore the long half-life of radium’s biological legacy.

Luis Campos is the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA Chair of Astrobiology at the Library of Congress and Associate Chair of the History Department at the University of New Mexico. Trained in both biology and in the history and philosophy of science at Harvard University, Campos’ scholarship brings together archival discoveries with contemporary fieldwork at the intersection of biology and society.  He has written widely on the history of genetics and synthetic biology, and is the author of Radium and the Secret of Life (University of Chicago Press, 2015), Making Mutations: Objects, Practices, Contexts (Berlin, MPIWG, 2010), among numerous other articles. Campos is the newly elected Secretary of the international History of Science Society.

The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.

3/13: Julia Young on Mexican Exodus: Emigrants, Exiles, and Refugees of the Cristero War

Mexican Exodus investigates the intersections between Mexico’s Cristero War (1926-1929) and Mexican migration to the United States during the late 1920s. The book traces the formation, actions, and ideologies of the Cristero diaspora, a network of tens of thousands of Mexican emigrants, exiles, and refugees across the United States who supported a Catholic uprising against the anticlerical Mexican government from beyond the border. Although they were ultimately unable to achieve their political goals, these emigrants – and the war itself – would have a profound and enduring resonance for Mexican emigrant community formation, political affiliations, and religious devotion throughout subsequent decades, and up to the present day.

Julia Young is an assistant professor of Latin American History at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. She is the author of Mexican Exodus: Emigrants, Exiles, and Refugees of the Cristero War (Oxford University Press, 2015) and the co-editor of Local Church, Global Church: Catholic Activism in Latin America from Rerum Novarum to Vatican II (The Catholic University of America Press, 2015). She recently completed a fellowship as a scholar in residence at the Kluge Center at the Library of Congress. She holds a Ph.D in History from the University of Chicago.

The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center’s History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.