No, Carly Fiorina, a degree in medieval history doesn't qualify you to fight Isis

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tags: election 2016, ISIS, Carly Fiorina



David M. Perry is a freelance journalist and history professor at Dominican University. Buy his book: Sacred Plunder
Read his blog at thismess.net. Follow him on Facebook.

Carly Fiorina received a BA from Stanford in medieval history and philosophy almost 40 years ago, but she’s always ready to revisit her undergraduate glory days. Last Sunday, the Republican presidential candidate tried to burnish her national security credentials by claiming that her bachelor’s degree prepared her to fight Isis. She said: “Finally my degree in medieval history and philosophy has come in handy, because what Isis wants to do is drive us back to the Middle Ages, literally”.

I’d like to state unequivocally that my years of training to become a professor of medieval history in no way make me fit to be appointed commander-in-chief of the US military. While the Middle Ages do in fact shape contemporary events all the time, Fiorina unfortunately almost always gets the lessons of history wrong.

When we use the word “medieval” to characterize something we don’t like, be it Isis, the Ferguson Police department or Russia’s driver’s license regulations, we are trying to impose chronological distance between ourselves and things we find unpleasant. Thinking of these distasteful or evil aspects of the modern world as belonging to the past makes it harder, not easier, to understand their root causes and fight them.

That hasn’t stopped Fiorina from bringing up her medieval history training surprisingly often. It used to just be part of her “self-made” mythology: she graduated from Stanford with a degree that taught her how to think, but no specific skills, dropped out of law school, then clawed her way to the top. 

The veracity of that story has been called into question, but she does make good points about the value of a humanities education, saying: “My medieval history and philosophy degree … did prepare me for life … I learned how to condense a whole lot of information down to the essence. That thought process has served me my whole life … I’m one of these people who believes we should be teaching people music, philosophy, history, art”. I wish more of her Republican colleagues would take these words to heart. ...




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