Wednesday 22 November 18:00 - 19:30

IAS Common Ground, G11, South Wing
Gower Street

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IAS Book Launch: Popularizing the Past by Nick Witham


Join us for the launch of Nick Witham's book Popularizing the Past: Historians, Publishers, and Readers in Post War America


What’s the matter with history? For decades, critics of the discipline have argued that the historical profession is dominated by scholars unable, or perhaps even unwilling, to write for the public. In Popularizing the Past, Nick Witham challenges this interpretation by telling the stories of five historians—Richard Hofstadter, Daniel Boorstin, John Hope Franklin, Howard Zinn, and Gerda Lerner—who, in the decades after World War II, published widely read books of national history.

In this book launch, Witham will argue that we should understand historians’ efforts to engage with the reading public as a vital part of their postwar identity and mission. He will show how the lives and writings of these five authors were fundamentally shaped by their desire to write histories that captivated both scholars and the elusive general reader. He will also reveal how these authors’ efforts could not have succeeded without a publishing industry and a reading public hungry to engage with the cutting-edge ideas then emerging from American universities. As the discussion of the book will make clear, before we can properly understand the heated controversies about American history so prominent in today’s political culture, we must first understand the postwar effort to popularize the past.

More details about the book can be found here:

Nick Witham will be in discussion with Zalfa Feghali (University of Leicester, American Literature) and Xine Yao (UCL English).


Nick Witham joined the UCL Institute of the Americas in 2015. After serving in various departmental leadership roles including Director of Research in the build-up to REF 2021, he took over as Head of Department in 2022.

Before arriving at UCL, Nick worked from 2012 to 2015 as Lecturer and then Senior Lecturer in American History at Canterbury Christ Church University. He completed his PhD in American Studies at the University of Nottingham in 2012, and his BA in History and Politics at the University of Warwick in 2007, during which time he was a Cornell London Club Scholar at Cornell University.

​​​​​​​From 2019 until 2022, Nick was Co-Editor of the Journal of American Studies. His leadership in learning and teaching has been recognized by a Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and has served on the steering committee of HOTCUS (Historians of the Twentieth Century United States), and the executive committee of BAAS (British Association for American Studies). With colleagues at King’s College London and the British Library, he co-organized EBAAS 2018, the largest American Studies conference ever to take place in Europe.

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