Condemned to repeat ourselves? Historians and the perils of deflection

The maxim that ‘those who forget the past condemn themselves to repeat it,’ long a favorite of history students eager to demonstrate their understanding of the value of the discipline, might profitably be turned upon those of us who make our living as historians. This article questions a repetitive tendency among academic historians to deflect from opportunities to connect with the life that lies at the core of their work. I call for a historical practice rooted in an openness toward our historical subjects, our students, and our colleagues; I identify some theoretical precedents for such an approach; and I relate a few of my own efforts to discard the discipline's truisms and professional standards in the interest of recovering a sense of the immediacy and pathos of historical change.