Clark G. Reynolds: Time for Reality to Replace "PDB" History

Roundup: Talking About History

Clark G. Reynolds, in Historically Speaking (6-16-05):

The United States has been at war against Middle Eastern-based terrorists since September 11, 2001. Does the American public—much less professional historians and their students—know why? Other than the few specialists in Middle Eastern studies, are historians making serious efforts to learn and teach the causes, stakes, and prosecution of the current conflict?

The short answer is, “No!” Professional and personal excuses for this failure by scholars will not do; their negligence, though understandable, is inexcusable. The major blame lies with the baby boomers who during the 1960s and 1970s sanctimoniously revolted against the consensus mainstream of American culture with their own “counter” (i.e., non-) system—an intellectual “cop out,” to use their own proudly trumpeted but pathetic phrase.

The rebelling historians among this truculent generation, along with intellectuals of similar persuasion in other disciplines, set out to replace conventional approaches to the past with their own philosophical biases. Intolerant of other (mostly older) methodologies and explanations, they fostered a “new” deeply politicized and distorted outlook. It was and is much more (or less!) than a school of historical thought; indeed, it established a virtual dictatorship over the profession.

These rebels—not revolutionaries, because their attack has floundered—condemned what they regarded as a narrow focus on “dead white males”: history’s winners. The “new social” interpretation of the past has focused instead on gender, class, race, and inequality. My own designation of this meanspirited, misguided, conceited, and selfrighteous movement is “PDB” history.

The letters stand for the poor, dumb, bastard folk whose sorry plights and activities were customarily minimized by pre-1960s historians:

poor: the poverty-stricken, exploited, oppressed, ignored, disenfranchised, enslaved.

dumb: the ignorant, under- and non-educated, dull-witted,blindly prejudiced.

bastard: the illegitimate, outcast, criminal.

The PDBs have indeed been the traditional losers of history—and not because of historians . . . .


This article originally appeared in the March/April 2005 issue of Historically Speaking.


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More Comments:

rick matlick - 6/18/2005

Yey, let's do that rather than censor it which seems to be what you are demanding.

Craig Koslofsky - 6/16/2005

So, in _Historically Speaking_, the newsletter of an organization that claims it "promotes frank debate in an atmosphere of civility, mutual respect, and common courtesy," based on "plausible premises" and the "appeal to evidence," we find this denunciation of the "poor dumb bastards" of history. I believe the author is stating (though I cannot find the "appeal to evidence" here) that history's poor dumb bastards (including "the enslaved") have themselves to blame for their poverty, stupidity, and illegitimacy.

Never mind who would write this - who would publish it in the newsletter of an organization of scholars? I hope the current or former editors of _Historically Speaking_, Joseph Lucas and Donald Yerxa, or any other members of the Historical Society, will step forward to explain how this screed can be reconciled with the ideals of their organization. Is it part of the Society's "concerted drive to expand our membership, especially among younger scholars and graduate students"?