I wrote about the waning popularity of history at universities. Historians weren’t happy.Roundup
tags: education, historians, public engagement
Max Boot is a historian, best-selling author and foreign-policy analyst who has been called one of the “world’s leading authorities on armed conflict” by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
I seem to have struck a nerve among historians with my Feb. 20 column on the waning popularity of history as a major among college students. You would think that most historians would approve of an article calling on students to study their subject. But 90 percent of the reaction focused on 10 percent of the article — namely, my contention that historians “bear some blame for the increasing irrelevance of their discipline,” because many “have retreated from public debate into their own esoteric pursuits,” neglecting the study of political, diplomatic and military history.
The History News Network website devoted a whole article to the brouhaha. A few of the more polite tweets: “Omg. Get out from under your rock! Meet some of the many historians doing exactly that. Quit trading in outdated assumptions about what we do or don’t do. It’s tiresome.” “I love that today is the day we watched a Dutch historian shred Tucker Carlson into tiny little tantrum pieces and it’s also the day Max Boot told us historians hiding in broom cupboards are to blame for everything in the world.” “Max, I don’t think this is accurate. There has been amazing work in all of these subfields, indeed as good as the ‘classics.’ Yes, political/diplomatic/military history have been reimagined, but the publications and classes are as good as ever.”
A number of historians pointed to their own work as relevant to the public debate. They’re right! I never suggested that all historians engage exclusively in esoteric pursuits. I’m delighted to note that there are prominent exceptions, such as Harvard’s Jill Lepore, who is a writer for the New Yorker, and Princeton’s Kevin Kruse, who regularly skewers Dinesh D’Souza on Twitter. The Post’s own Made by History column brings historical research to bear on current events. “Public” historians working at museums, archives, foundations and historical sites do a wonderful job. But the historians who are on Twitter are, by definition, more likely to engage in public debate. They are not necessarily a cross-section of the profession.
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