The History Education Advisory Council is co-chaired by Dr. Libby O’Connell and Dr. Reginald Ellis. Dr. O’Connell is a historian and author at A&E Networks’ History Channel. Dr. Ellis currently serves as the interim dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Research at Florida A&M University. In the following Q&A, these esteemed experts share their aspirations for the council charged with working to deepen our shared understanding of the nation’s past and broaden our understanding of each other as Americans. Dr. O’Connell and Dr. Ellis center our discussion on developing and improving access to historical resources for teaching and learning for students of all ages and enhancing professional development for educators in both formal and informal educational settings.
A250: What inspired you to be a co-chair for this advisory council?
Dr. Reginald Ellis: When I was first introduced to America250 by Dr. James Grossman of the American Historical Association, I was engaged in a deep read of Eddie S. Glaude, Jr.’s, Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and its Urgent Lessons for Our Own. Additionally, during the evenings, I was revisiting the HBO mini-series entitled “John Adams,” which is a cinematic depiction of the founding of the nation. While revisiting the ideals of America from both a scholarly and semi-fictional approach, the nation was in the midst of the summer of social unrest after the world watched George Floyd being killed by Derek Chauvin. Thus, when offered the opportunity to serve as co-chair for America250 — in my heart, I heard the voice of James Baldwin and John Adams calling me to duty. Hence, it is my high honor to serve in this role.
Dr. Libby O’Connell: The challenge of building history awareness has pulled me into its vortex throughout my professional career. As a public historian with academic training, I believe that sharing the fascinating stories of history with all ages builds perspective on and understanding of the wide range of people and events that shaped America. When I was asked to co-chair this committee, I felt that I had been called for service to my country.
A250: What do you hope to accomplish as a co-chair pair?
Dr. Reginald Ellis: Working with my co-chair and the History Advisory Committee, I would like to create platforms to empower local communities to establish programs and resources on the histories of their areas and the larger impact of those communities on the nation.
Dr. Libby O’Connell: I think Reggie hit the nail on the head on this one.
A250: What is your vision for the advisory council?
Dr. Reginald Ellis: To ensure the voice of all Americans is weaved throughout the narrative of the semiquincentennial of The United States of America.
Dr. Libby O’Connell: Local is key! Working with experts in history education, recognized historical scholars, and our outstanding advisory council members, I envision the creation of accessible materials that provide national context for local history. The rich diversity of our nation will weave throughout the fabric of these materials. Although our name is “History Education,” we will join across disciplines, working with the other advisory councils to strengthen our mission and widen our net.
A250: How will you know you’ve accomplished your goals?
Dr. Reginald Ellis: From my assessment, we will be able to measure this by the number of programs that will be developed between 2022 through 2026.
Dr. Libby O’Connell: I’d use Reggie’s answer here and I would add — if we achieve our goals, these educational efforts will have a long-lasting influence in encouraging people of all ages to learn more about the voices of America’s past, and how they continue to speak to us today.
A250: What does America need to know about your advisory council?
Dr. Reginald Ellis: The History Advisory Committee is made up of a gender, racially, culturally, and regionally diverse group of scholars who are committed to the mission of America250.
Dr. Libby O’Connell: History can celebrate, history can commemorate, history asks questions, and history provides answers. We believe in the power of history education, inside and outside the classroom, for everyone.