Is medieval history really bunk?Historians in the News
tags: medieval history
Historians have been ridiculed since Herodotus, the “father of history”, was mocked by his Athenian contemporary, Thucydides, as a mere storyteller. So it was with some weariness that medieval historians took to their keyboards last week to respond to the latest slur against their discipline.
Robert Halfon, who chairs the Commons select committee on education, is no Thucydides, but he echoed complaints down the ages when he singled out medieval historians as undeserving of public funding.
The former skills minister called for discounts on student fees for degrees in subjects that address skill shortages: healthcare, coding, construction or engineering. Not medieval history. “If someone wants to do medieval history, that’s fine,” Halfon told the Times. “You still take out your loan and pay it. But all the incentives from government and so on should go to areas the country needs and will bring it most benefit.”
At Cambridge, which has one of the largest concentrations of ancient and medieval historians in the world, there was some surprise at Halfon’s implication that history graduates do little to benefit the country. Three of the current cabinet have history degrees: Amber Rudd, the home secretary, Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, and David Lidington, the Cabinet Office minister and de facto deputy prime minister, who completed his PhD at Cambridge on medieval court practices.
John Arnold, professor of medieval history at King’s College, Cambridge, pointed out that few cabinet ministers in the past 30 years have had degrees in science, technology, engineering or maths. “They mostly did PPE [philosophy, politics and economics] and history, and seem to have prospered with that background. Halfon’s comments seem part and parcel of how successive governments have wanted to turn higher education from a public common good into a privatised commodity. This is not something we find in most other successful economies.” ...
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