What’s the Use of History? A Postscript

Having already devoted my two last posts to John Pepall's attack on "university historians", I don't wish to go on beating a dead horse. But inasmuch as I find his take on the nature of history's relevance misguided, and his understanding of history as an academic discipline factually incorrect, I am loath to leave the subject on a wholly … Continue reading What’s the Use of History? A Postscript

What’s the Use of History? Part 2

Continued from here. For Pepall, then, the relevance of history to any member of the public is rooted explicitly, indeed exclusively, in that person's identity -- an identity conceived, moreover, in terms of birth, nation, and a kind of essential ethnic continuity ("some of what happened [in Sumer] is with me still"). Yet Pepall is at … Continue reading What’s the Use of History? Part 2

What’s the Use of History?

So asks John Pepall in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of the Dorchester Review. Not that he really thinks there's any question. As he informs us on page one, The use of history, the only use of history, is its being known and understood by the general public, those of us who are not historians, not producers … Continue reading What’s the Use of History?

Now in Paperback: The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish History

Moderate self-promotion alert: I'm happy to say that the paperback edition of this book will be out early next month. My own very modest contribution is a chapter on Restoration Ireland (1660-1688). I'm grateful to the editor, Alvin Jackson, for inviting me to write it; having looked at this brief but decisive period of Irish history from … Continue reading Now in Paperback: The Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish History

Historians, Public Intellectuals in Waiting

When stupidity and mendaciousness rule the roost it is hard not to think that something has gone wrong with education. The last year -- probably much longer, but it was about a year ago that this piece appeared, and I've seen several like it since -- has seen a lot of accusations being hurled along … Continue reading Historians, Public Intellectuals in Waiting

Moving Targets

To move is to invite suspicion. For the period I study -- and perhaps especially in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries -- perhaps no word captures the variety of phenomena that exposed marginal people to the scrutiny of observers and the machinations of the state so much as "mobility." Homelessness, vagrancy, wandering, roaming the streets, running up … Continue reading Moving Targets

Giving Rare Books to Undergraduates

Not a great idea? I tried it this week in my seminar on historical research, in the course of trying to move beyond the idea of primary sources as disembodied texts to see individual books, letters, and manuscripts as objects whose physical properties and fates could be as or more interesting, if harder to trace, than their contents. I … Continue reading Giving Rare Books to Undergraduates

Statistics, Power, and Expertise

When we think of knowledge in the context of government, we often think of statistics. In fact, it's arguable that statistics are not merely an especially prominent form of politically useful knowledge, but that their increasing use, starting in the seventeenth century and gathering pace ever since, was precisely what gave rise to our very … Continue reading Statistics, Power, and Expertise

Alternatives to Reality: Bush, Trump, Empire, and Alt-Facts

"You're saying it's a falsehood and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that."[1] "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's … Continue reading Alternatives to Reality: Bush, Trump, Empire, and Alt-Facts