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

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The Rule of the 20th Century (The Shape of Academic History, Part II)

My last post looked at the geographical focus of academic historians in Canada, and found that it was predominantly Canadian and European. This was not too surprising, though it does make media laments about the neglect of Canadian and "Western" history by the academy seem uninformed if not simply dishonest. But what motivated me to … Continue reading The Rule of the 20th Century (The Shape of Academic History, Part II)

The Shape of Academic History, Part I: Geography

I used to open my introductory course on pre-modern European history (c.400-1789) with an image that I have come to think of as "History Goes Boom." It's evidently from the cover of a History Book Club magazine or catalogue, though when or where it was issued is more than I've been able to figure out … Continue reading The Shape of Academic History, Part I: Geography

Quo Vadis? Cui bono? History, bullshit, and the corporate university

A public art competition sounds like a good thing, in the abstract. (Thanks, folks, I'll be here all week.) On the other hand, people like me tend to think that context counts for a lot. With those two points in mind, allow me to introduce "Legado", site of a new art competition that bridges the … Continue reading Quo Vadis? Cui bono? History, bullshit, and the corporate university

Theses on Academia, Academic Scholarship, and Their Critics

I'm no Luther, not even a Posner. But here are some thoughts prompted by several years in academe, and by exchanges on this blog and Twitter over the last year or so. Many criticisms of "academic" scholars from outside the academy reveal a poor grasp of the workings of (a) research and teaching; (b) academic … Continue reading Theses on Academia, Academic Scholarship, and Their Critics

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?

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

Crisis and Elitism in Graduate Education

When I started this blog, late last March, I was just wrapping up a three-year term as Graduate Program Director in a middling-to-smallish history department at a large, urban, public university in Canada. Many of the problems associated with that kind of job, and with graduate training more generally, were fresh in my mind. Joining … Continue reading Crisis and Elitism in Graduate Education