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First Post at Progressive Historians

It took a while, as the semester was winding down but I finally have my first post up at Progressive Historians; entitled “The Virtues and Vices of Historians as Public Intellectuals.

Have to attend to CTLab and Chicago Boyz later today 🙂

4 Responses to “First Post at Progressive Historians”

  1. historyguy99 Says:

    You’ve posted a beautifully crafted piece. Really enjoyed reading it and finding our views are on parallel tracks. Especially enjoyed your response to Jeremy:
    An old prof I had, who was a psychologist as well as a historian, used to say that historians had bigger "cognitive maps" than other fields. That we carried around more of the puzzle pieces in our heads to fit the seeming anomalies into place.

    Truer words were never spoken!

  2. zen Says:

    Thanks HG, coming from a fellow "history guy", very kind words!
    BTW, Jeremy is running a blogging symposium on "What is a Historian?" – you should post up if you have the time.

  3. democratic core Says:

    Very good post.  However, isn’t there a concern in the opposite direction, namely, that an historian will permit his or her public political positions to interfere with the objectivity of his or her historical analyses.  I believe that this was a particular problem for Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who really used his historical writings to promote a partisan agenda; for example, he cooked up a great deal of mythology about "Jacksonian Democracy" in order to create an historical pedigree for the argument that the Democratic Party has always represented the "little guy."  This is history as propaganda, not science.  I see much of the same in Willentz’s work.  I still believe that history can be undertaken as a scientific endeavor, and insights derived therefrom are valuable – even indispensable – to policy decision-making.  But for that to work, you need good science.

  4. zen Says:

    Hi democratic core,

    Thank you. Yes, I think that’s a highly valid concern on your part & Schlesinger is a prime example where the itch to be " in the game" influenced or overrode scholarly judgment ( my own mentor, a Social Democrat of the old school of historical scholarship, used to refer to Schlesinger as "wicked").  I can’t put Wilentz in Schlesinger’s category because the former suffers from argumentative fervency but his scholarship remains in the mainstream while the latter was simply grossly manipulative ( a "propagandist" – though a charming and at times, wise, one).

    History certainly has a strong empirical component and at times, real science can be utilized to determine authenticity or verify assertions in the records. Once the research is "complete" though there will always be intuitive and speculative efforts where we have gaps in the evidence. It’s here that historians have to steel themselves to be as honest and objective as possible, even if the possibilities run against our favored political outcomes. I think this is where we have room for differing interpretations and honest error and a willingness to give others the benefit of the doubt as to being " decently wrong" until they prove themselves to be either intellectually dishonest or blindly ideological.  Credibility once lost, is lost.

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