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

Against an Academic Boycott. For Now.

Many colleagues and friends whose ethical and scholarly judgment I greatly respect are calling for an academic boycott of the United States. Or, more specifically, a boycott of US-based academic conferences, which are probably the most frequent form of professional contact many of us have with US soil. A petition is doing the rounds. I waver on this both … Continue reading Against an Academic Boycott. For Now.

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

Historians under Trump

We are witnessing -- more than that, experiencing -- events that seem certain to be remembered as a turning point in the history of the United States, part of a series that is changing the political horizons of much of the world. Our knowledge is partial and the future unwritten. But the collapse of a familiar (and flawed) order, the destabilization … Continue reading Historians under Trump