When I look back on 2022, one of my favorite things has been the chance to find and share so much amazing public scholarly work. Since 2020, I have compiled #ScholarSunday Twitter threads, chronicling the best public-facing writing from humanities scholars each week. Below I have winnowed down the highlights from 2022 to arrive at a list of 30 of the best pieces written in the past year.
Efforts like my #ScholarSunday threads strive to model the solidarity among public scholars and the support that we all need as we do that vital work. In some ways writing is very individual and intimate work, which is then shared with audiences. In addition to authors and readers, there is a third group—including people who solicit pieces, edit them, and share them on platforms like Twitter. I’m proud to be part of a community that supports, shares, and amplifies public scholarly writing.
A few quick notes before we dive into 30 of the year’s top pieces, selected for their combination of importance and originality.
- For this top 30 list, I did not include digital archives, podcasts, or books (all of which are consistently part of my weekly threads), but instead selected individual pieces of public, scholarly online writing. These are exemplary pieces that you can open and read immediately, models of the best of short-form, online public scholarship.
- This top 30 also does not include pieces published on either the Washington Post’s Made by History blog or the African American Intellectual History Society’s (AAIHS) Black Perspectives blog. These two blogs consistently feature such high quality public scholarly writing that they could dominate this list. I recommend reading these sites daily for examples of outstanding public historical scholarship.
- I have created a Google Doc that lists all 106 threads to date; everything there is worth checking out and can be perused by date or, in some cases, searched by keyword.
- Finally, these pieces generally focus on the United States, my area of scholarly expertise. There is of course just as much great online public scholarship being written about the rest of the world, and I welcome nominations of such work in comments!
Here I share 30 of the very best pieces from 2022, presented in chronological order (with the exception of the final piece):
Lindsay Chervinsky, writing for Governing, used the anniversary of the January 6 insurrection to consider what made that event distinct from past national crises.
Rann Miller wrote for The Philadelphia Inquirerabout the importance and challenges of teaching hard histories on MLK Day (and every day).
Tiya Miles meditated for AHA Perspectives on personal, literary, and communal histories of and through the Ohio River.
Cultural critic and California City Council member Sergio Lopez wrote for Scalawag on the southern blues that carried Americans through and beyond the devastating Great Flood of 1927.
Megan Kate Nelson’s piece for Smithsonian Magazine on Sitting Bull and the creation of Yellowstone National Park exemplifies her new book’s reframing of the defining American stories behind that contested space.
Torsa Ghosal wove together memoir and history for Catapult in a piece on hiking through the colonial contexts of National Parks.
Michelle Moyd wrote for Nursing Clio on the ubiquitous but under-appreciated medicinal herb yarrow and its uses across military history.
Sands Hall dove deep for Alta into the acclaimed 20th-century novelist Wallace Stegner, the overlooked 19th-century author Mary Hallock Foote, and the contemporary relevance of a longstanding plagiarism debate.
Emily Cataneo wrote for Atlas Obscura on a secret 19th-century women’s guide to birth control that might have to make a comeback in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision…
while Molly Farrell reflected for Slate on a forgotten side of Ben Franklin and abortion histories in colonial America.
Keisha N. Blain’s piece in The Atlantic, drawn from the magazine’s “Inheritance” project, traced the 1971 murder in Mississippi of Joetha Collier, the vibrant young woman known as “Black Jet.”
For the National World War II Museum, Stephanie Hinnershitz explored the second-generation Japanese American cartoonist and author Frank “Foo” Fujita’s military service and POW experiences during the Second World War.
Ed Simon wrote for JSTOR Daily on the surprising relationship between T.S. Eliot and Groucho Marx.
Erika Lee, writing for Public Books, discussed how and why the United States has produced and amplified xenophobic narratives throughout its history.
Aderivaldo Ramos de Santana wrote for AAIHS Black Perspectives blog on a Spanish slave ship and a shark. (I know I said there were too many great Black Perspectives pieces to include, but I had to make an exception for one of the single coolest pieces of the year.)
Taylor Harris made an impassioned case in Timeon the work Americans have yet to do when it comes to gun control in order to live up to the nation’s most cherished ideals and values.
Vanessa A. Bee meditated for Harper’s Bazaar on immigrant families and the avoidable tragedies that they seek to escape, yet find in the US.
Andrew F. Lang argued in Current for the contemporary lessons 21st-century Americans can draw on Ulysses S. Grant’s 200th birthday from his lifelong battles for civil rights and equality.
Kathryn Gin Lum, in Religion & Politics, discussed the anti-Chinese roots of “replacement” theory in the American past and present.
Christopher Bonanos wrote for New York magazine’s online series Curbed on what a box of discarded documents found on the street reveals about a 170 year-old Swedenborgian Church and New York’s immigrant and religious histories.
Edvige Giunta dove into family and communal histories for Memoir Magazine in an essay on sourdough and other recipes for cooking and eating our way back to our ancestors.
Dagomar Degroot followed up his American Historical Review article with this reflection on writing about climate change and whaling in the 17th century.
A.D. Carson wrote, composed, and DJed a mixtap/e/ssay on personal and collective ghosts for Scalawag, exemplifying this multi-media form of autobiographical and historical art.
Alex Rossino traced for HistoryNet what happened to the escaped slaves after John Brown’s Harper’s Ferry raid.
Esther Kim, writing for the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, discussed what we can learn from the fall into obscurity of Korean American literary pioneer Younghill Kang (~1903–1972).
W. Scott Poole wrote a piece for Literary Hub on twenty-first-century horror films like Get Out and Midsomar, social critique, and the collapse of the American Century.
Clint Smith in The Atlantic discussed what Americans can learn from Germany’s Holocaust memorials as politicians, historians, and the general public debate long-overdue efforts to memorialize slavery.
Joseph M. Pierce produced a timely piece for Hyperallergic on Thanksgiving, the National Day of Mourning, and artistic misrepresentations of Native Americans from throughout US history.
Susanna Ashton analyzed for Southern Spaces an 1849 white supremacist attack on a post office, the censorship and suppression of free speech behind that act of domestic terrorism, and the lessons for twenty-first-century activism.
Finally, N.A. Mansour wrote for Contingent Magazine on the public audiences for whom historians write. I broke chronology to end with Mansour’s essay from May. I believe each piece in this list—and in all of my weekly threads—illustrates that historians and public scholars write for all audiences, from scholars and students to communities and the general public. And they contribute to conversations of every type, in every facet of politics, culture, and society.
While I believe that public engagement has always been an important goal for historians, it’s never been more crucial than in recent years, as we witness, live through, and seek to understand and grapple with the legacies, aftermaths, effects, and ongoing presence of so many fraught histories. From racial discrimination to abortion, xenophobic immigration restrictions to environmental crises, and debates over education to attacks on democracy, the American past is not past at all. The scholars above exemplify the reasons why we produce public scholarship, and model as well how we can do so most successfully: in accessible and engaging writing for online and media sites, and in nuanced and compelling pieces able to be read and shared by audiences; this work can genuinely contribute to and shape our evolving conversations and collective future.
Here’s to an even more public scholarly 2023!
Featured image created by Clio editorial team.