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.”

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