History in the Toilet

My last two posts dealt with a troubling letter and article the appeared a peculiar sort of publication: a history magazine. Perched between the worlds of "pop history", an unwieldy category to which both much good work and a good deal of dreck belong, and the often duller and less accessible world of professional scholarship, such … Continue reading History in the Toilet

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Crackpot Historicism

The observation that the Trump era is a good time to be a historian is by now cliché. The routine yet outlandish lies that increasingly puncture public discourse; the proliferation of "fake news" and the appropriation by its makers of the label "fake news"; the appeal to "alternative facts" and the self-fulfilling prophecy of "post-truth" … Continue reading Crackpot Historicism

Brains drained: Some thoughts on the Canada 150 Research Chairs

Canadian academics and perhaps a handful of other people will have heard over the last month or so of a new program: the "Canada 150 Research Chairs". This is a version of the long established Canada Research Chair program, by which generously funded chairs in  all manner of disciplines are allotted to universities across Canada … Continue reading Brains drained: Some thoughts on the Canada 150 Research Chairs

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?

Universities, Academic Freedom, and the Advertising Imperative: Thoughts on the Potter Case

The anniversary of my first post on this blog comes as friends and colleagues again debate the merits, costs and consequences of various forms of academic engagement with the public. This time the occasion is the forced resignation of Andrew Potter from the directorship of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, in the wake … Continue reading Universities, Academic Freedom, and the Advertising Imperative: Thoughts on the Potter Case

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