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
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?
One of the many things no graduate school teaches you is how universities work. Because of this it can take many years, even on the tenure track, to figure out exactly what your position entails in the way of power and responsibility within the institution that employs you. Moreover, since your encounters with this aspect of … Continue reading Governance
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
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
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
A few days ago I had a lengthy exchange (on FB, so you know I'm old) with a Trump apologist. It started when a friend of mine posted a story about a Canadian citizen -- but, you guessed it, Muslim, and born in Morocco to boot -- being held up, questioned about her views on … Continue reading On Not Calling Trump Apologists Racist
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.
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
"You're saying it's a falsehood and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that." "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