With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

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A Message From the New Editor of HNN: Kyla Sommers

Hello History News Network! 

I am so honored to have been selected as the new editor-in-chief of HNN. Rick Shenkman has built an invaluable resource and I am excited to continue his work. Rick traveled to D.C. earlier this month and taught me how to run HNN in accordance with the same principles that shaped its success. In Rick’s farewell interview, he discussed the circumstances that motivated HNN’s founding and mission. I want to share a bit about myself to demonstrate my shared commitment to Rick’s goals for HNN. 

As Rick mentioned, HNN is being taken over by the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. This university has long been my academic home. I started college at GW in the fall of 2008 as the city was abuzz with the presidential election. I was riveted and developed a passion for politics. My father encouraged me to major in history as he thought it would provide a “good classical education” to guide whatever career path I pursued. My history courses helped me consider current events the product of long-term developments instead of unprecedented dramas. I fell in love with the process of writing history and the mission that motivates the endeavor. Historians, I believe, are not isolated in the ivory tower; historians craft arguments that seek to answer difficult questions that affect humanity. 

I decided to pursue a PhD in history because I wanted to formulate my own analysis of such tough questions. As I began graduate school at GW, D.C. became more than my college town—it became my home. Each day I walked to campus on streets that were badly damaged in the 1968 civil disturbances that followed Martin Luther King’s assassination. I wanted to better understand this event and its effect on Washington so I wrote a paper on the civil disturbances for Dr. Leo Ribuffo’s modern American history class. That same semester, the Black Lives Matter movement was born and I found many connections between D.C. in 1968 and the modern discussions of political and civil violence. I selected the disturbances as my dissertation topic because of its potential to inform contemporary debates concerning law enforcement and social protest. Thus, my own scholarship has been guided by HNN’s founding principle: that learning history is essential if the public is to better understand the present. 

My enthusiasm for HNN’s mission is also rooted in my experience in competitive debate as both a participant and coach. Debaters must come up with an advocacy and then have it challenged by the opposing team. Through this competition, good ideas are often strengthened for use in future contests and weak ideas are either honed or discarded. Debaters are exposed to a wide spectrum of ideas that they often disagree with but the “clashing” of arguments both broadens their knowledge and enhances their advocacy. The theories behind competitive debate are similar to those Rick has embraced. Exposure to different ideas is important for historians and the public. Disagreement is often valuable and healthy. Debate strengthens the historical field and the public’s knowledge. 

I welcome and eagerly await submissions from scholars who have written for HNN before and those who want to start. Please email me at editor@historynewsnetwork.org to submit an article for publication. I also welcome any feedback from HNN’s readers as we begin this transition. I am passionate about HNN’s work and I am grateful for the opportunity to continue the mission Rick created nearly 20 years ago.