Seizing the Power of the Pen at #AASLH2019

By Tim Grove (

Calling all writers! Whether you write on the job or are working on a manuscript on the side and harbor secret dreams of publication, a session at the upcoming AASLH conference is for you. At last year’s conference in Kansas City, I ended up in quite a few conversations with people working on personal writing projects who wanted to talk about writing. This year, we’ve made it an official session.

With history so much a part of the news today, we need talented writers who understand history to engage with the many people who consume history. As public historians, we can do more to promote a national dialogue about the value and relevance of history. We in the public history field can take a lead from our academic colleagues and use the power of the pen to provoke, argue, defend, entertain, educate, inform, and propose. We should write about more than just content, and include our process, stellar projects we encounter or produce, and opinions about why history is so important. There are more ways to get the message out than ever before and we can utilize our writing skills to share our passion for history content and value.

Did you know that librarians are begging for more history nonfiction for young ages? Did you know that Scholastic (the publisher of Harry Potter) and W.W. Norton have both launched a new imprint focused on middle grade (ages 8-12) nonfiction? The publishing industry is swamped with fiction, but it wants more nonfiction. Who better than those of us in the history field to write these books?

Our panel of experts will cover all kinds of issues, including:

  • The tension between writing scholarly history and popular history. How do we find a balance?
  • How can the public history field write to raise the profile of history in society?
  • How can we reach younger audiences and promote a love of history at an early age?

We’ll also cover a variety of formats, including:

  • Magazine articles
  • Books (for practitioners and armchair historians)
  • Books for young readers
  • Op-ed
  • Blogs

This session’s panel of experts approaches the topic from multiple perspectives and all panelists are published authors. Trevor Jones, Director and CEO of History Nebraska, just wrote a book for ages 5-8. Josh Leventhal runs the Minnesota Historical Society Press and has worked in the trade publishing field. Rebecca Shrum teaches public history at IUPUI and serves on the AASLH editorial committee.

As the final panelist, I’m a seasoned public historian who somewhat unexpectedly has fallen deep into the publishing industry. I seized an opportunity to pitch a book idea for ages 10-14 a few years ago. The book received a lot of attention, and next year my third history book for that age will be published. I’m now represented by an agent in a large New York literary agency and maintain a list of future book ideas. With every book I write for this age, I try to teach the historical thinking process and foster an interest in the past.

Whatever your writing ambitions, if you are a good writer, you can help promote history. Don’t put history writing in a box. There are many audiences who consume history writing and many formats to reach those audiences. We have power to help shape the national dialogue on history. What are we waiting for?

Come join in the conversation.

Seizing the Power of the Pen
Friday, August 30
12:30-1:45 pm

Learn more about #AASLH2019 and read more about sessions in the Preliminary Program.

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The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) is a national association that provides leadership and support for its members who preserve and interpret state and local history in order to make the past more meaningful to all people.

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