(Khalil G. Chism received his BA in History and M.Ed. in Secondary Education and Social Studies, both from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. He has taught American Studies, U. S. History, U. S. Government, English, and Writing, at both the secondary and post-secondary levels. Currently serving as an Education Specialist at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum, Kahlil specializes in professional development training for social studies teachers, seminar facilitation, curriculum writing, document analysis, and historical writing and research.)
1. How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
I became hooked on history in 1990, when a friend hired me to help run his book store on 2nd Street, in Richmond, VA. It was an African American book store, and I was responsible for ordering and stocking titles. The first of the life-changing books that I read, after selling many copies to various customers, all of whom highly recommended the book, was Assata: An Autobiography, which is the life story of 1960s era Black revolutionary and political exile, Assata Shakur. Reading that book made me feel like I was living in country, up until that point in my life, that I knew very little about, politically speaking.
2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
Personally, historical study has helped me to clearly define my own value system, it has increased my confidence and pride in self and family, and imbued me with a sense of responsibility to my fellow man and community. Professionally, it has become my bread and butter. I guess you could say I studied my past and in it I found my future.
3. How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
I have a Bachelor’s degree in History and a Master’s in Secondary Education, since I went to school to become a high school social studies teacher. And I did teach U. S. history, American Studies, and advanced placement Government, but only during my graduate year. For most of the time that I was in education school, I was also employed as a historical interpreter at a historic house and plantation museum. So I’ve always had one foot in the traditional classroom world, and the other in the world of museum education. Professionally, those are the historic and educational spaces I’ve inhabited for the last fifteen years.
4. Why is studying/knowing history important?
Well, as Marcus Garvey said, “A people without a knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” From the time I first read those words, many many years ago, I believed them and sort of set my course in life, accordingly. In order to know where you might want to go, or what is possible or necessary for you to do in life, you should consult the past to see where others have been, or what others have done, and what is left to do or even redo. I realize to some reading this that this all might sound a bit historically cliché, but trust me; people who know me will tell you that I really do think and talk like this. I’ve long since become comfortable with being a history nerd.
5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
My concentration while in school was the early American period, from the founding of the country through the Progressive Era, in particular. That’s my favorite period because it’s the era that most explains why America is the way it is right now, and what “America” means in the context of world history. Everything great inspiring shameful and horrifying about America has its origins in that time period: the establishment of the 13 original British colonies on the Eastern Coast of this country; the interactions with, cultural exchange between, and slaughter and displacement of the Native American Indians at the hands of the settlers; our revolution from England which gave birth to a nation founding upon the equality of man, freedom from religion, and republicanism. At least on paper, that is. The transatlantic slave trade and the birth of North American race-based chattel slavery, the evolution of the ideology of white supremacy, and our rocky yet admirable striving toward the expansion of citizenship rights to include poor white men, formerly enslaved Africans, women, and new European immigrants, all happened in that period. Westward expansion, manifest destiny, emancipation and reconstruction, the gilded age, industrialization… . Without an understanding of these early decades of American history the present state of affairs in our country must seem, at best, confusing, and at worst, utterly unknowable.
6. What is the mission of the Carter Library?
Generally speaking, all of the presidential libraries and museums of the National Archives & Records Administration, our parent agency, exist to promote understanding of the presidency and the American experience. As an archives, we preserve and provide access to historical materials related to the administration and persons of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, we support research, and we create interactive programs and exhibits that educate and inspire. The mission of Education Programs here at Carter, which I manage, is to provide quality educational materials and experiences to the students, educators, and public of the state of Georgia, the country, and the world. We do this by creating document-based curricular materials and offering educational programming and training rooted in current best teaching practices, all tied to state and national learning standards.
7. How can/does the Library serve educators, students, and the public at large?
We have an award-winning museum that educates general visitors about the life and legacy of America’s 39th president, and life in the U. S. during the Carter years. That is done via our permanent museum installations, but we also have a wonderful temporary exhibit gallery which allows us to host traveling exhibits that deal with a variety of non-Carter related topics, three or four times per year. We also have a very vibrant public lecture program that brings in world-renowned authors several times per month. That program is free, by the way, and we have plentiful and free parking, right in the heart of Atlanta. We provide bus transportation funding to visiting schools to encourage field trip visits from our state’s k-12 students. And we also create standards-based curriculum and conduct professional development training for social studies educators. All of the details of our numerous program offerings and educational resources can be found on our website, at http://www.jimmycarterlibrary.gov/education/. And of course, we have a twitter and a Facebook page for those who want to keep in touch with us in real time.