Historians Against the War: Con





Mr. Yardley holds an M.A. in History from Stanford University, and has spent several years studying the North American left. He is currently Managing Editor of Follow the Network, a forthcoming database on left-wing groups and organizations created by the Center for the Study of Popular Culture.

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This article appeared on frontpagemag.com earlier this month. Afterwards, HNN contacted Historians Against the War for a response. David Montgomery agreed to write one. Click here to read his article.

When the study of history became a profession, historians defended 'that noble dream' - objectivity, balance, and evenhandedness - in their scholarship. They never imagined that dream would pass into history itself, but it has. In recent years, the profession that prided itself on impartiality and avoiding "present-mindedness" has increasingly dedicated itself -- and subordinated its scholarship -- to partisan political battles from the most recent election to the latest war. The newest example of this, a group called Historians Against the War, already claims over two thousand members. While created to attack "the current empire-building and war-making activities of the United States government," they're best at attacking their status as scholars.

Historians Against the War was formally founded at the 2003 annual meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA), although planning for this meeting had been going on for weeks. Professors and graduate students in history departments across America distributed organizing e-mails promoting the event, well-publicizing it in advance. The drive to establish Historians Against the War was primarily led by a professor well-known for his radicalism, Van Gosse of Lancaster, Pennsylvania's Franklin and Marshall College. This cheerleader for the Latin American far-left, former political activist for the Ralph Nader-led Green Party, and director of the leftist Peace Action's Peace Voter Fund would be joined at the founding meeting by approximately one hundred other historians from forty different colleges, many with similar activist credentials.

At their first meeting, Historians Against the War debated getting the American Historical Association itself to formally declare it and its membership against a war on Iraq. Although the proposal would in the end be rejected, this was only for logistical reasons - the meeting where they could raise the resolution normally attracted only a small number of historians, and they realized that they would not be allowed to ram through the motion on such short notice. Instead, they used the AHA's business meeting to read a somewhat alarmist statement, which cried out against a yet-to-materialize "undermining of constitutional government in the U.S." and "the egregious curtailment of civil liberties and human rights at home and abroad." The AHA entered this statement in their minutes.

At the business meeting, Historians Against the War also distributed their primary organizing tool, a petition containing the above statement. It proved quite popular at the AHA conference, where 667 signed; by late January 2003, they had over a thousand signatures. The organizers wasted on time drafting press releases to the media. By the end of April, just over twenty-two hundred professors and graduate students had signed up.

While the majority of those twenty-two hundred did nothing more than sign the petition and receive Historians Against the War's organizing e-mails, many signers went on to further anti-war activism at their own colleges and universities. By April 2003, Historians Against the War had organized anti-war 'teach-ins' at forty different schools, often supplementing already existing protest groups. These meetings made no attempt to feature pro-war speakers or offer arguments in favor of Operation Iraqi Freedom; the slightest pretense of neutrality was rejected. Often, this stacking of the ideological deck was done with full departmental sponsorship. Of course, by presenting only one side of an issue under the guise of history, historians abandon their commitment to examine all viewpoints and deny their students the opportunity to evaluate the arguments for themselves. In addition to on-campus activism, Historians Against the War marched publicly in several of 2003's prominent anti-war protests - a contingent of sixty marched in the February 15th protest in New York, and smaller contingents were present at protests in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

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I can hear the cries from these leftist historians now - "We have freedom of speech in this country! The right to dissent is an essential feature of democracy! By organizing Historians Against the War, we're exercising our freedom of association!" All quite true. There's nothing illegal or unconstitutional about Historians Against the War. However, just because something can be done, doesn't mean it should be done. The constitutional right of Historians Against the War to publicly dissent as an organized body only undermines their own legitimacy as historians; by lending their status as historians to their stance on current events, Historians Against the War are being nothing but self-destructive.

Consider the debate Historians Against the War held on its founding day; on whether to press the American Historical Association to take a stance against a potential war in Iraq. Not bringing a motion forward was the right decision, but the rationale for it was completely wrong. They knew a formal vote on an anti-war resolution on such short notice was against the by-laws, but no one realized that attempting to force a political stance on a professional association risked undermining that professional association' s authority and ability to regulate its profession. Practically every professional historian belongs to the AHA; like the American Dental Association, the National Realtors Association, and a host of other professional regulatory bodies, the AHA is the parent organization of an entire occupation, and therefore deals only with issues pertaining to that occupation. And despite the claims of the Historians Against the War, a public position on Operation Iraqi Freedom in January of 2003 had absolutely no relevance to the historical profession or even to history. Getting a historical association to pronounce on current events is like getting a group of chiropractors to discuss medieval history.

Why were the actions of the Historians Against the War so unhistorical, and therefore not relevant to the business of the American Historical Association? For starters, the war on Iraq had not yet begun, and therefore the collected historians were passing judgment not on the past, but the future. But even now, in June of 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom isn't proper historical subject matter. Historians analyze the past, not the present, because the source material historians painstakingly pore over in the course of their research simply isn't available for present or recently-past events. Operation Iraqi Freedom is still too close to the present for historians to deal with. Many of the relevant documents are still being discovered or analyzed by intelligence; few are currently available to historians. In a generation or two, the events of 2003 will make for some fascinating theses and books from academic presses, but today, all the commentary on Operation Iraqi Freedom isn't history, but op-ed. The careful methodology and training historians ideally bring to their academic work simply can't be applied yet.

That doesn't mean historians can't write editorials or comment on America's current foreign policy - but when they do so, they're not being historians, and shouldn't identify themselves as such. Despite their scholarly credentials, they've got no more claim to an informed stance on the war in Iraq than anyone who follows current events. A 'Historians Against the War' group therefore has as much relevancy as a 'Gardeners Against the War' or a 'Computer Repair Technicians Against the War.' However, try telling that to Historians Against the War. Like many academics, they suffer from a curious egotism that gardeners and repairmen do not - the belief that their hard work in one narrow area, reflected in the Ph.D., gives them a natural brilliance in all other areas. Here, a medievalist presents himself as an expert on U.S. foreign policy; there, a scholar of the Middle East suddenly knows all about the constitutional ramifications of the Patriot Act. None of them realize that they are preaching only to their ideological soulmates, and just how much their overextension of authority lowers them in the eyes of the broader public.

If Historians Against the War flamed out after Operation Iraqi Freedom's successful conclusion, like much of the Left did, we'd have less to be concerned with; we could write the whole ugly episode off as one more in a long series of abuses, ugly but typical. But a few determined radicals want to pump life into the organization's corpse, and do much more serious damage to the historical profession. They partially won the day at the Organization of American Historians' April 4th annual meeting. They first tried to get the body, which represents all historians specializing in American history, to pass a straight anti-war resolution; when this was rebuffed, they proposed another resolution, largely innocuous but with a barbed preamble:

"In view of the threat to free speech in the current climate, the OAH executive board affirms the centrality of dissent in American history and the necessity of open debate over important issues of public policy, including U.S. foreign policy, for maintaining the health of this democracy."

While the body of the resolution is both unobjectionable and obvious, take a look at that first clause. In effect, the radicals were asking the Organization of American Historians to accept as a given that free speech is currently under some sort of threat! It seems the paranoid school of historical interpretation is alive and well, because, to the Organization of American Historians' shame, the motion passed. At the meeting, there was much gnashing of teeth over the Bush administration's actions - one prominent member of Historians Against the War, Blanche Wiesen Cook, took the opportunity to denounce the President as 'brainless' and recommended his impeachment. But the political extremism of individual historians is nothing compared to the institutional abuse of power. On a contentious political issue still unfolding, not yet the domain of historians, the Organization of American Historians decided to pronounce using their authority as historians. Nothing good for the profession can come of this.

Further attempts to subvert the humanities were outlined in Historians Against the War first official organizational meeting, held May 31st in New York City. Although attended by only twenty, these few were bold enough to hammer out a leftist agenda for the entire group. They declared themselves "a network of historians who are opposed to the current empire-building and war-making activities of the United States government at home and abroad;" instead, they stood for "global justice." They then agreed to use their academic positions to influence public opinion, and set out five practical aims:

1) "to work at both the K-12 and the college/university levels" to develop curricula and other resources. This is a politicized nightmare waiting to happen. Responsible historians know it's impossible to teach history on events happening just months ago; and developing curricula on past events (say, Vietnam or the first Gulf War) with a predefined political purpose in mind is 'presentism,' one of the foremost sins of historical scholarship and an invitation to corrupted, partisan work.

2) to further target professional association meetings, "where Historians Against the War will raise issues about Iraq, empire, etc., as well as about repression." This includes future attempts to persuade professional associations to take political stances. Another disaster in the making - those groups adopting Historians Against the War's stance will also bring home skepticism about the objectivity of their own scholarship.

3) to research and investigate potential U.S. war crimes in Iraq, as well as "resistance to the American Empire." Here we see something extremely contentious and debatable - that America is an empire - offered up as a given, as a point to begin. With such an introduction, there's hardly any point in doing the research - no matter what's found, with such radical premises we already know how the conclusion's going to read. It's the Queen of Hearts school of writing history - sentence first, verdict later.

4) to engage in more public outreach. The Historians Against War vowed to use their positions for political purposes by producing op-ed pieces, 'educating' media editorial boards, and placing "anti-imperialist, historical analysis before the public." Do they really expect the public to take them seriously, when they're only offering up one pre-selected, quite narrow point of view?

5) to engage in international work - primarily by bringing in anti-American historians from abroad to join them on the steering committee and in their work.

Believe it or not, it could be worst - the Historians Against the War debated getting involved directly in politics by supporting candidates and other 'electoral work', only to reject this approach because they feared they'd violate non-profit organization tax laws.

Some historians and interviewers have mildly questioned Historians Against the War's legitimacy, only to be glibly rebuffed by Van Gosse, the lead organizer. He claimed that today's leftist historians "are critical intellectuals providing a vital democratic function," but this desire to engage in militant editorializing conflicts with the obligations historians have to their profession. While it's possible to both write history and comment on current events, the Historians Against the War attempt to present their political commentary as history, and transfer their reputations as history professors to their political activism. The two are separate, often conflicting roles, and should not be mixed. And as far Van Gosse's claim that Historians Against the War is "not a partisan thing," the calling of the President 'brainless' and the debate over 'electoral work' proves his statement wrong.

If this is how historians choose to conduct themselves, there's absolutely no reason why anyone should trust anything they write. Partisanship has conquered scholarship. But this sort of professional suicide has been going on in the humanities for decades, to the point where humanities professors have lost the respect of the vast majority of the population. Despite the far left's support, most people view the tenured radical with suspicion at best, and often with open contempt; political extremists, lashing out at all professional restraints, have managed to drag the whole profession down. This is a shame - many professors do excellent work in their own fields, where they have earned their authority, but every politically-motivated plagiarist and bias-Laden lecturer places them and their jobs deeper in disrepute. Not that the comfortably tenured care; their protected positions ensure they will always have jobs, even as their political abuses drive down enrollments and jeopardize their graduate students' prospects. Through the institution of tenure, they have a protected base for their political agitation and unprofessional behaviour, and they know it.

The roles of historian and political activist do not mix easily. As much as today's flock of leftist academics praise 'personal involvement' with one's subject, having strong political views about one's research inevitably leads to loaded preconceptions; the conclusion takes shape before the research is complete, according to the personal desires of the writer. It's far too easy to be seduced into a conclusion supporting your own ideology; even those attempting to remain staunchly objective, unlike the Historians Against the War, can inadvertently act with ideological blinders. Those sharing passions for history and politics have to constantly fight to keep the two spheres separate. When I was a graduate student studying Russian history, I focused on the medieval period, rather than the Soviet, because I had very strong political views on the Soviet Union; when I wrote about politics, I used a pseudonym, to keep my political writing separate from my history. But I could still feel my politics creeping into my writing, my discussions in class - I constantly had to watch myself, to ensure my own papers were driven by the source material rather than personal convictions. To openly incorporate one's activism into one's history, like the Historians Against the War do, is to cease to do history. It makes one's history nothing more than a subset of one's activism. We should be giving tenure to historians, not activists masquerading as historians. Historians like Van Gosse, who declare themselves "public intellectuals," should do the honorable and honest thing and choose between the two.

Broader civil society needs to reform the professorate and correct these abuses. Although I'm not optimistic, perhaps this will be done with the cooperation of the profession, persuaded that politicization is not in their best interests. If not, federal and state governments might have to step in, tying public funding to professional behavior. With or without the professors' cooperation, something has to be done - before the disregard for professionalism in Historians Against the War becomes generalized, and before we have to rebuild higher education in this country from scratch.


This article was first published by frontpagemag.com and is reprinted with permission.


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AHSAY - 8/15/2003

I find it hilarious that you equate Yardley's explicitly opinionated judgement about the ramifications of historians' abusing their professional status with that abuse itself. I thought it was clear that the author was writing not as a professional or historian, but as an opinionated citizen who happens to be a historian. Your suggestion that history should wait until HAW is a few generations in the past before judgement is passed upon its effects is also misguided. Inform me please, wise one, how is Yardley's article a political statement? All he declares is that historians are undermining themselves!

-a history student at Yale


NYGuy - 7/30/2003

Kevin,

HAW is a phony organization that piggy backed on AHA, although they were never sanctioned by the entire organization. So you feel that if a minority can capture your opinion and use it for political purposes is ok with you.

Strange, but everyone has a right to their opinion, even if they are not consistent.


Kevin M. Fitzpatrick - 7/29/2003

I doubt Mr. Yardley would have writen an article attacking a group who supported the war. Mr. Yardley's idea of "objective history" is probably not too different than Hollywood's or George Bush's. An American Indian is not going to have the same perspective on manifest destiny as a white Anglo-Saxon protestant. This is typical neo-con nonsense. Everybody else is biased, we are objective.Mr. Yardley should perhaps realize that the losers have a history too.


James Jones - 7/27/2003

What of those historians who aren't tenured professors, or professors at all? Are we not professional? Must one be a professor to be professional? I suppose we aren't capable of being "objective" and so on. Are we therefore laymen who can be politically active?


NYGuy - 7/25/2003

Jonathan,

"As I've said before, great does not mean perfect. It is depressing to say "we can't get any better, so we'll stop trying."

Sorry I misunderstood

I see your point. Thus when you teach world history you point out to the class how other countries and societies such as China, Russia, Great Britain, France, Germany, those in Africa, Asia, South America etc. are not perfect and you discuss ways in which they can get better so the students can get a perspective on the level of perfection that each society has achieved.

Sounds fair. My guess is even with all it imperfections, the U. S. would still rank in the top 1-2 outstanding countries since the beginning of mankind. So we do agree. Seems like you are a fair man. We would not want you to be depressed being a cheerleader for all those other countries.

Jonathan:

“The rest of your comments are repetitious, specious and clearly indicate a preference for combat instead of exchange.”

NYGuy

I think my comments are perfectly understandable, unless you want to retract you claim that historians have special insights. Seem their claims of empire building, quagmires in Iraq, etc. are unfounded and not based on any scholarship and only reflects their own political position. That is not what you claimed for them.

“Now when we are attacked on our home turf, and take actions to protect ourselves, similar to what all societies have done, why do some historians distort what is happening and blame the U. S. for empire building? Is it because unlike the economist with his mathematical certainty the historians conclusion are based only on personal opinion and political preference?”

Should you develop any other convoluted theories on historian’s clairvoyance would be interested in seeing it. Hope it makes more sense than your last post.


Jonathan Dresner - 7/25/2003

"How can it be that historians don't celebrate the U. S."

As I've said before, great does not mean perfect. It is depressing to say "we can't get any better, so we'll stop trying."

Punditry is available to anyone. But it helps if you can express yourself clearly and have something substantial to say. Historians are generally very good at that. Better than average. Better than you, certainly.

The rest of your comments are repetitious, specious and clearly indicate a preference for combat instead of exchange.


Brad Mayer - 7/24/2003

"Broader civil society needs to reform the professorate and correct these abuses. Although I'm not optimistic, perhaps this will be done with the cooperation of the profession, persuaded that politicization is not in their best interests. If not, federal and state governments might have to step in, tying public funding to professional behavior. With or without the professors' cooperation, something has to be done - before the disregard for professionalism in Historians Against the War becomes generalized, and before we have to rebuild higher education in this country from scratch."

Neo-liberal? Neo-conservative? It is all really an incipient American fascism in the making. Just watch. Former leftists that have moved right? Meet Benito Mussolini.

Oh, and like the classical fascists, these neocons will lose.



David R. Applebaum - 7/24/2003



Yardley's description of the teach-in process and the June meetings of the HAW steering committee are a fantasy. They demonstrate a failure to verify, authenticate, and determine the accuracy of the account of the events. Yardley needs to read and review the literature on oral history and the fundamentals of professional historical methods. Yardley has not examined the breadth and depth of printed sources used and duplicated for discussion and debate in the teach-ins. He has not examined the discussions about pedagogical approaches designed to yield critical historical thinking for all participants that took place before the events he condemns. He failed to investigate the critical and self-critical assessments made following the teach-ins. Yardley ignored the allocation of university resources supporting pro-war policies and public programs, before, during, and after the teach-ins. Yardley ignores the concerted national efforts to curtail debate, discussion, and dissent on campus. Finally, Yardley fails to accurately represent the debates among historians regarding obligations and responsibilities of professional practice. Yardley's homogenized view of disciplinary debates regarding the interplay of the personal, political and professional is ahistorical. In sum, he gets an "F" in history and an "A" for fiction.


Member - Historians Against the War


NYGuy - 7/24/2003

Jonathan,

"Historians can succeed because they study complex situations and human behavior. The greatest historians are the ones who can draw out the hidden patterns from complex but comparable situations."

If this is true, then how can it be that historians don't celebrate the U. S. Having studied the human behavoir of many societies over many decades they would have to conclude that the U. S. has offered freedom, respect for the individual, and opportunity to all, benefits to mankind that very few societies have offered since the beginning of mankind. This has been true for longer than all but 1-2 other societies. The U. S. has also helped save the world on at least two occasions, provided money, food, medical aid, etc. to help other countries on a scale which exceeds any other societies.

Now when we are attacked on our home turf, and take actions to protect ourselves, similiar to what all societies have done, why do some historians distort what is happening and blame the U. S. for empire building? Is it because unlike the economist with his mathematical certainty the historians conclusion are based only on personal opinion and political preference? This is particularly troublesome if some Medieval Historian has failed to take into account the new world dynamics, the technology revolution, a failed U. N. and other factors that are not part of history.

Meanwhile, if I call myself a historian does that automatically confer on me a clairvoyance that others do not possess, or is it just a special few who can draw out the hidden patterns? Not anyone with a PhD, only those with an PhD in history.

Jonathan:
"And very, very few historians actually get to spend all their time in their speciality: teaching duties require us to constantly study and renew our understanding of broader historical and historiographical areas."

NYGuy

Then at what point in one's career does a historian become qualified to become a pundit. If they are studing history then their ability to spend time on the present and future is limited.

I think everyone on this board agrees that as a citizen a historian has every right to express his opinions. But, when they form groups and become activists, claiming that the opinions of a select few historians are the distilled knowledge of the entire historical profession is arrogant and dishonest. When some of these historians go even further and put out false commentary when our troops are in battle, and put them, in my opinion, in greater danger, I think we are dealing with unamerian behave as both citizens and historians.

My final point, which is overlooked by most when considering HAW, is that they want to include people with all different backgrounds from all parts of the world. In other words, a political action group. By joining that group would I automatically have supernatural powers confered on me, or would my contribution, as well as many others like me, dimish the brillance of HAW, and the history profession.

Continue to express yourself as a citizen but don't try to sell the idea that a historian is "all knowing of all things" and therefore is a special person that the world should listen to. It is still a one man/women, one vote society.


Josh Greenland - 7/24/2003

"I believe that this provides two important tools of preparation for discussing contemporary events: analytical skill, particularly of complicated and incomplete information; and a clear understanding of the nature of change in human societies. I don't think that makes historians better human beings, but I do think it makes them more careful and substantial thinkers."

Historians are more likely to have historical background on a current situation, are better able to get that background than non-historians, and probably have a better sense of how human events tend to occur. I don't, however, think that historians are necessarily more careful or substantial thinkers outside their field. Life itself pushes each one of us to develop analytical skill, particularly of complicated and incomplete information, regardless of our educational level. It could be argued that historians develop better analytic skills than others, but I'm skeptical: I didn't see historians as a whole showing more careful and substantial thinking than non-historians when dealing with Michael Bellesiles' book Arming America.


Jonathan Dresner - 7/24/2003

Economists fail because they oversimplify complex situations, particularly human behavior. The greatest economists are the ones who complicate the understanding of economic behavior.

Historians can succeed because they study complex situations and human behavior. The greatest historians are the ones who can draw out the hidden patterns from complex but comparable situations.

And very, very few historians actually get to spend all their time in their speciality: teaching duties require us to constantly study and renew our understanding of broader historical and historiographical areas.


NYGuy - 7/24/2003

HBH,

Economists study the past for many years and develop complex mathematical models and they still have an abysmal record of forecasting. Except for their feeling of superior intelligenct what does a historian's special training bring to the party, particularly if there specialty is Medieval History, or Ancient Egypt?

Inquiring minds want to know.


HBH - 7/23/2003

Precisely. Would Greg Yardley be exercising his ingenuity concocting far-fetched criticisms of the propriety of historians voicing their collective opinions on matters of public concern if the group in questions was called 'Historians for the War'? If not, then are all his objections not simply the most transparent sophistry? Would he be working up such a sweat if he didn't himself privately think that, in fact, a lifetime's study of history does provide a valuable perspective for commenting on contemporary affairs? Would he in fact have pursued a master's degree in history if he didn't think that no subject could better prepare him for a journalistic career? Your own curriculum vitae, Mr Yardley, eloquently displays the silliness of your arguments. It is just as well for you -- and for the professeion -- that you have abandoned a career as a serious academic.


NYGuy - 7/23/2003

HC,

I don't charge historians with being elitist. They tell me they are in their posts. They claim a special ability that is not apparent beyond being citizens.

What is the purpose of HAW? "Concurring in the need for an organization of their own through which historians could join the efforts of other Americans from all walks of life, and of men and women throughout the world."

If others join who are not historians then they are diluting this base of brillance by bring in others who are not as well trained and intelligent.

What is their purpose?
"After an extensive debate, the participants agreed that, whatever the immediate future might hold, the advocates of unilateral use of the military might of the United States to reshape political and economic life around the world would be in the ascendancy for a long time to come."

Therefore they felt a group to counter this measure was necessary. To me this is merely another advocacy group and a PAC. Since all historians don't agree with their position it is unfair to create the image that these "special" professionals:
1. Represent all historians.
2. It now changes of the purpose of historians from being teachers to being advocates.
3. Such a trend would make it even more difficult for students paying $20-30,000 per year to get an education that emphasizes preparation for critical thinking.

As you read the answers about what is an historians, you have to laugh at the self importance they put on themselves.

They have a right to free speech, but when they become an advocacy group they bring into serious question their ability to be an unbiased educators.


Josh Greenland - 7/23/2003

"I find it strange that Mr. Yardley thinks that you need to wait a "generation or two" before you can analyze current events (25 to 50 years seems a bit restrictive) but maybe he should take his own advice before attempting any more historical analysis like this."

It isn't so strange. It's a ploy to keep anti-Iraq war historians from doing anything about that war until it's way too late.


Michael Meo - 7/23/2003

My question is addressed to NY Guy.

You say that historians are antiquarians.

Would you say then that mathematicians are people who are skilled at arithmetic?

Would you accept the analogy as a fair one? If so, don't you have a problem with the (very many) remarkable mathematicians who have been (and are) rather poor calculators?


john horse - 7/23/2003

I agree with Mr. Chamberlain that a arguement can be made against mixing academics and politics but Mr. Yardley fails to make it. I had trouble following Mr. Yardley's reasoning.

To illustrate this, let me use Mr. Yardley's own words with one exception. I have substituted the words "Historians Against the War" for "Operation Iraqi Freedom."

"Historians analyze the past, not the present, because the source material historians painstakingly pore over in the course of their research simply isn't available for present or recently-past events. (The formation of the) Historians Against the War is still too close to the present for historians to deal with. Many of the relevant documents are still being discovered or analyzed by intelligence; few are currently available to historians. In a generation or two, the events of 2003 will make for some fascinating theses and books from academic presses, but today, all the commentary on (the) Historians Against the War isn't history, but op-ed."

I find it strange that Mr. Yardley thinks that you need to wait a "generation or two" before you can analyze current events (25 to 50 years seems a bit restrictive) but maybe he should take his own advice before attempting any more historical analysis like this.


Jonathan Dresner - 7/22/2003

Historians are not "buffs" collecting facts like trading cards. Nor are most "history buffs" historians in any meaningful sense.

Historians are people who collect and analyze data in order to answer substantial questions about change over time in human societies.

I believe that this provides two important tools of preparation for discussing contemporary events: analytical skill, particularly of complicated and incomplete information; and a clear understanding of the nature of change in human societies. I don't think that makes historians better human beings, but I do think it makes them more careful and substantial thinkers.


HC Carey - 7/22/2003

BNY guy, I never said a single one of the thing syou claim i said. i never said historians more wiser than anybody else, or that they had rights other than the rights everyone elese has, I simply said that as far as i was concerned, historians are free to organize around any position they like, just like anyone else. They can try to get people to agree with them, just like anyone else.

Whatever else you imagined was sdaying, take a look and you'll see that it wasn't actually there. You seem very eager to charge historians with elitism, snobbery and narrow mindedness--so eager that you are inventing the very tihgns you claim to despise


NYGuy - 7/22/2003

HC,

"Why should historians, whose business is the history of the nation and it's conduct, exempt themselves from the rights of all Americans?

yes, I would wholeheartedly support the right of any historian or historians to organize movements on any subject."

NYGuy

If your business is the "history of the nation and its conduct" then you have no greater insight into today's "International foreign policy" than any one else. Yes you have the rights of all American's, but you don't have the right to claim a "superiority" which is undeserved. It is even truer if your study was Medieval history.

You than suggest that the business of historians goes beyond history and into the area of Political Action Committees. That is also fine, but then don't claim you are independent scholars seeking the truth. You have already made your mind up as to what you have to say. Perhaps this "advocacy" position is the reason for the low opinion that the profession feels it is getting.


NYGuy - 7/22/2003

Jonathan,

"Certainly historians are often wrong when they try to predict the future. But to argue that the study of the past, and of rigorous standards of argumentation and evidence, is not preparation to discuss the present and future, is to relegate historians to antiquarianis"

NYGuy,

You really have a knack for discrediting your own argument. Yes, looking at the past does not qualify you for forecasting the future any better or worse than anyone else. So what advantage are you claiming? Economist look at the past and develops complex mathematical equations to predict the future and they have an abysmal record. Historians rank evern lower.

So now we have someone who says, we don’t have the tools that economists have, but we are superior human beings and therefore we must be listened to as historians. Yawn. As far as being antiquarians, isn’t that what historians are.


Jonathan

“The "ideal" of a "professional" professoriat with no involvement in political affairs is irresponsible: as scholars of human societies we historians do have valuable things to say and as educators we already have a hand in shaping the future.”

NYGuy

It is interesting to note that very few “human societies” achieved the government, freedom, and rights of human beings that the U. S. has. So you really have nothing to compare with this country, and your past studies do not prepare you to have any greater insight into the U. S. then anyone else. If anything I would think you would be able to recognize the genius of” slave owing” founders and the ideals they put forward.

I thought that educators help our children to think for themselves. I did not realize that they go to college to have their minds “shaped” by godlike people as you. Maybe that is what is wrong with the history profession.


HC Carey - 7/22/2003

If a bunch of historians wanted to put together an anti abortion statement and tried to get other to sign it, I[d support their actions--i wouldn't sign, but anyne has a right to try to organize. I fail to udnerstand the point of this--are you saying historians should not evr make any comment on any present political situation? Why should historians, whose business is the history of the nation and it's conduct, exempt themselves from the rights of all Americans?

yes, I would wholeheartedly support the right of any historian or historians to organize movements on any subject.


Jonathan Dresner - 7/22/2003

The consistency gambit. Yawn. Yes.


Herodotus - 7/22/2003

Consistency is all important. Would you support the actions (but not the arguments) of historians who stood up to champion something like an anti-abortion statement or an anti-affirmative action statement, and attempted to have the entire historical community endorse it?

Replace "anti-war" with "anti-abortion" or "anti-affirmative action" and see if you still feel the same way about mixing contemporary politics with the profession of history.


Leo Strauss - 7/21/2003

The next meeting of Historians For the War will be held in the crypt under the Committee On Social Thought at the University of Chicago on Monday, July 21, 2003. Sorry for the late notice, but, hey, if you're one of the elite, you already knew about it.

By the way, did you know that Socrates signed off on the invasion of Iraq thousands of years ago? I never would have believed it myself, but it's one of those intractable truths I extracted from Plato just moments ago. Shhhhhhh, it's our little secret....

Oh, and anybody ever call up a Chinese restaurant and order food with a Chinese accent? I love doing that! Crack myself up every time.


Jonathan Dresner - 7/21/2003

The "ideal" of a "professional" professoriat with no involvement in political affairs is irresponsible: as scholars of human societies we historians do have valuable things to say and as educators we already have a hand in shaping the future.

The idea that historians are no better at evaluating present policy and future possibilities is debatable. Certainly historians are often wrong when they try to predict the future. But to argue that the study of the past, and of rigorous standards of argumentation and evidence, is not preparation to discuss the present and future, is to relegate historians to antiquarianism.

The study of history is about the development of humanity to the present. To try to discuss the present without attention to the trajectories which brought us here is like trying to steer a baseball after you've hit it with body language. It's fun, but it's not very effective.


Oscar Chamberlain - 7/21/2003

Mr. Yardley makes some good points about the problems in mixing academics and politics.

But in his desire to separate academics from politics, he goes way to far. Consider this statement:

"That doesn't mean historians can't write editorials or comment on America's current foreign policy - but when they do so, they're not being historians, and shouldn't identify themselves as such. Despite their scholarly credentials, they've got no more claim to an informed stance on the war in Iraq than anyone who follows current events."

Come on, Mr. Yardley. Do you really mean that there is no such thing as expertise as the result of scholarship? Do you really mean that we should not accord the opinion of Daniel Pipes--a historian by trade--any more respect because of his research than that of intelligent layperson who watches and reads the news with some care.

I doubt very seriously that you really want that. I suspect--perhaps hope--that what you would like is for historians to be more judicious in their public political statements and in their use of the profession as a sign of their knowledge.

But I think you would be more likely to achieve that greater judiciousness if your own critique of the profession was a bit more judicious itself.