The war on journalism is a war on the humanities

tags: academia, journalism, humanities

Dr. Monika Eisenhauer is an independent historian and medievalist. She studied history and philosophy at the University of Hagen, Germany, and wrote her magister thesis on the transformation of procedural law at the end of the Middle Ages. She wrote her doctoral thesis on the monastic reforms in the 15th century, focused on the political and state-building character of the reforms. Today she lives in Koblenz, Germany, and her research covers legal, economic, social and religious history in connection with philosophy, theology and art history.


The Assange case goes beyond the attempt to criminalize investigative journalism: Julian Assange is an Australian citizen and has published outside US territory. This extraterritorial access to an author would set a dangerous precedent for international law and place any publication of sources and texts under threat from an assertion of sovereignty by any world leader. Assange himself called this procedure “lawfare.” As an example of such an extraterritorial possibility, imagine that the ruler of North Korea made a request for extradition because an author had published a text about a secret detention camp in North Korea.

So, what we are facing here is the criminalization of the reading, processing and publishing of “national security” documents in a vast number of countries around the world, with the prospect of prosecution by the United States. The sovereignty over the interpretation of the term “national security” would lie with a small political elite of the US oligarchy.

And here we are: Within the humanities, history is particularly affected. What are the intentions and tasks of history? Well, the intention of historical science is to write the history of people and societies as objectively as possible. For this purpose it needs free and unrestricted access to the sources. It also needs the ability to freely and objectively edit the sources. And in the end it needs the freedom to publish independently.

For other people being able to work on sources, some historians publish pure sources for other historians to place them in the overall context. This is what Julian Assange has done for the journalistic field. The sources are not only available to journalists, but also, just like transcribed manuscripts in medieval studies, to the general public and, of course, to the humanities. The historical sciences’ task is to improve the perception of contemporary problems through analysis of historical developments and working out the complexity of their causes.

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