Historians Run Amok

“…Ferguson reports the “not wholly surprising” fact that “Emotions in History” boasts a total enrollment of one student. Yale competes with its own offerings such as “Witchcraft and Society in Colonial America” and “History of the Supernatural.”

Ferguson delicately asserts that he does “not wish to dismiss any of these subjects as being of no interest or value. They just seem to address less important questions than how the United States became an independent republic with a constitution based on the idea of limited government.”

Not only does this new type of history take on minor concerns but it deals with them in miniature ways that amount to what a student dubs “heirloom antiquarianism” and Ferguson calls Microcosmographia Academica – focusing on topics like “the habits of New York restaurant-goers in the 1870s or the makeup of various Caribbean ethnic groups in areas of Brooklyn that made up the West Indian Day Parade in the 1960s” (real examples).

Finally, there’s the politicizing, moralizing, and anachronistic insistence on judging “the past by the moral standards of the present—and indeed to efface its traces, in a kind of modern-day iconoclasm, when these are deemed offensive.”

  • DavidinNorthBurnaby

    I laff while the shredder deals with begging letters from my alma mater. Only way to deal with this.

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  • Waffle

    It’s the commodification of the artsie courses. How are you going to fill the lecture hall and justify your tenure and salary if you aren’t “selling’ something to hold the attention span of snowflakes who have been raised on special effects, video games, social media and the next best thing?

    This is probably the end. Here in Canada a year of tuition for an Arts course is more than 5 times what it was in the early 70s — 45 years ago. It is way more than inflation over the same period. It is criminal. I think this little bubble will burst soon.

    • Etobicoke_Gladiator

      This is an excellent article by Daniel Pipes about Niall Ferguson’s ideas about the problems facing the general field of history. As for snowflakes, you’re bang on. Kids in their late teens and up to mid-20s can’t even sit in a concert without glowing screens frequently in front of them in venues where it’s wildly inappropriate, and telling them it is disturbing you might ‘trigger’ them into a rage. We are screwed in so many ways, indeed.

  • canminuteman

    Nial Ferguson has written some books about economic history that are well worth reading.