On Approaching the Practice of History: Reflections on Dialogue from Project Edinburgh Co-Founder Zach Phil Schwartz

It was late 1944. Allied forces had landed on France’s shores and begun a cascading series of operations that would ultimately spell the end of the Third Reich and its Axis partners. While partisans engaged Nazi occupiers in Paris as the Allies steamed toward the city, political figures from the alliance met in Washington, D.C., to discuss what would come next. The conferences that would follow at Dumbarton Oaks, the Harvard institute and former home of benefactors Robert and Mildred Bliss (who gifted the property to the university four years earlier) would eventually give rise to the United Nations.

Even in times of war can we see the human spirit, stubborn in its pursuit for peace, justice, and progress, peek through. In the decades that followed those discussions at Dumbarton Oaks, dialogues within international networks have been instrumental in maintaining global peace and security, particularly behind the scenes.

It is with this in mind that I have embarked on my path as a historian, researching international networks in the modern era, both overt and covert, to better understand how and why important political actors exerted influence in their respective states, for better or for worse. This has taken me from the monumental 1873 visit of Shah Naser al-Din to Europe to 1940s/1950s attempts to build an International Penal Court at the Long Island (and later New York) home of the United Nations.

Much of this research has involved investigations into interwar fascist networks with Italy at their core, in efforts to better understand how mid- to low-level bureaucrats exerted influence within the fascist party structure. To research this becomes all the more important given the resurgence of the global right and the unfortunate reappearance of the fascist scourge.

As the study of history moves forward, it remains important to understand how the events of the past may be studied to better understand what is happening today. This is one of the principal ideas motivating my work and that of Project Edinburgh.

We began Project Edinburgh as an endeavor in writing to find and workshop novel approaches to the practice of history. On this website you will find pieces commentating on history as it pertains to current events. You will find research proposals seeking to advance the way we approach and frame our craft. You will find ideas and commentary on the practice of writing in history itself.

You may encounter thoughts you find insightful and conceptions you disagree with. You may even encounter both things in the same piece. This is, I believe, the true essence of the historical craft. In taking this approach to the writing and framing of history I hope to channel this essence into the same type of dialogue that is embodied in the human spirit and to contribute to the development of our craft as we move deeper into the twenty-first century. Perhaps through this dialogue we can build upon old ideas and construct new methods for working with and writing on history, and perhaps through this dialogue we can promote a more equitable and just field of study.

Welcome to the continuing conversation on writing in history. Welcome to Project Edinburgh.

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