OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

OAH Distinguished Lectureship program 40 years 1981-2021

James M. Banner Jr.

Portrait of James M. Banner Jr.
Image Credit: Beverly Resneck

James M. Banner Jr. is an independent historian in Washington, D.C. The cofounder of the National History Center, he is now a visiting scholar in the history department of George Washington University. Banner is a coeditor of Becoming Historians (2009), the author of Being a Historian: An Introduction to the Professional World of History (2012), and the editor of Presidential Misconduct: From George Washington to Today (2019). His latest book is The Ever-Changing Past: Why All History is Revisionist History (2021). Banner's play, "Good and Faithful Servants," adapted from the correspondence between John and Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson, is under development.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

This lecture originates in a study of the existence, history, nature, varieties, uses, and problematics of revisionist history since the time of Herodotus. Drawing its examples and arguments from the literature of American and European history, it ventures some general principles about historical interpretations, their arguments, and their lasting influences. Based on Banner's 2021 book, The Ever-Changing Past: Why All History is Revisionist History, the first book on its subject since 1929.
Drawn from Banner's edited book of essays, "Presidential Misconduct: From George Washington to Today," this lecture will cover the record of presidential misconduct originally prepared in 1974 by a group of historians, of whom Banner was one, for the Impeachment Inquiry of the House Committee on the Judiciary and brought up to date through the administration of Barack Obama in 2019. The sole comprehensive account of its subject in the historical literature, its contents are open to many interpretations.
Designed principally as a general guide to graduate students as they commence their preparations to be professional historians, this lecture, building on Banner's 2012 book, Being a Historian: An Introduction to the Professional World of History, reviews the state of the discipline of history today, proposes the practices and institutions deserving of attention in both academic and public history arenas, and ends on the necessity of graduate students' charting the professional courses best for them.
In an era of disputed elections, the presidential elections of 1800 and 1801--one involving voting in each state, the other in the House of Representatives--have new salience. This election, arguably the first "critical election," created a Democratic majority that lasted for 60 years, threatened the constitutional fabric, and laid the groundwork for path-breaking constitutional developments. But there's more to say about it than we know, especially if we focus on the election of 1801, which resolved the deadlocked electoral college vote. Banner also brings to the fore the 1801 election's possible links, personal as well as juridical, to John Marshall's decision in Marbury v. Madison only two years later.