Thought | In the sandbox called academia, it was the golden age of the grovel


While mediocrity is as common as it gets, it’s the least of the grovel’s golden years. And James H. Sweet, the champion of academia’s latest satire, is a maestro of self-deprecation.

This professor of history at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and the president of the American Historical Association tried to say something reasonable, and one succeeded. But it is dangerous to deviate even microscopically from progressive orthodoxy, as practiced by today’s censorious professoriate, so he saw Twitter in the crosshairs. His “dirty“is”white-centric“and support”white supremacist Aryan eugenicist” stories, etc. Sweet’s detractors have brought him down to a shocker for writing the following:

“Presentism” – the interpretation of the past through the lens of the present – has entered the study of teaching and writing in academia. “Historical questions often grow out of the concerns of the present” but “To do history accurately we need to interpret the things of the past not through the optics of the present but into the world of our historical tools.” As academic historians increasingly focus on the 20th and 21st centuries, “our interpretations of the past have fallen into the common language of contemporary debates.” The “reception of political engagement” is enhanced by this concern: “If we do not read the past through the prism of contemporary social issues – race, gender, women, race , capitalism – are we making history important?”

Sweet threatens the pleasures of progressive development, celebrating himself with contempt for the figures of history: Washington, Lincoln, Churchill – all inferior to the professors of the 21st century. worst of all, from the perspective of the woke, Sweet’s skepticism about history as the slave of progressivism, that history “is what matters.”

He criticized the New York Times’s “The 1619 Project” so well (that, he said in a friendly way, not “before” a work of history) that he did not say what he said. non-complaint: The American Revolution was primarily ignited by A British offer of freedom to those who escaped slavery and joined the British – an offer that came later the battles of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill, after which George Washington became the commander of the Continental Army. Because of his modesty about “The 1619 Project,” he condemned as “contrary to social welfare.”

So, within four paragraphs of self-recording, Sweet immediately regrets the “damage” his “ham-fisted” and “clumsy” attempt to “open a conversation” has caused. What’s the danger? He didn’t say anything. Advanced writers may be disappointed to hear the comments in the third paragraph of this column. And damaged by his crime against the political organization: In violation of the sacrosanct status of “The 1619 Project,” he gave aid and comfort to the Republicans. The horror, the horror.

Sweet’s humble request (“I’m listening and I’m learning”) to be forgiven by those who think he’s been wronged is very difficult because academics are motivated by this. date in terms of difficulty. For example, literary experts don’t seriously read, say, George Eliot’s “Middlemarch,” they “look” at it, like hard-nosed policemen whose eyes, too familiar with our fallen world, peeking under the flaps of their fedoras. . These interviewers have forgotten how their words spread in their childhood games.

Today, many academic historians, who write history “that is important,” like themselves heroes of the “opposition” – Aux barricades, citoyens! They are fighting to overthrow “systemic” this and that. They want to have public results outside the campus, in the political realm, as was the case in the 20th century with Charles and Mary Beard, C. Vann Woodward (whose “The Strange Career of Jim Crow”, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “the historical bible of the civil rights movement”), Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and others. Today, however, those involved in the serious work of politics are not interested in the work of dilettantes who seek politics at the risk of their careers.

A number of professors are deeply regretting the election of Sweet as president of the American Historical Association. When their anger is over, and before there is any time for anger, although it will happen soon, they may ask themselves: Why is it less than 1.2 percent of bachelor’s degrees were awarded to history majors in 2019, the lowest percentage since records began. held in 1949?

One reason for this – and because today’s number of history PhDs is half the 2008 number – is that students are less interested in learning history from professors who are less interested in history than the playing politics. Those professors understand politics as the act of promoting their interests in the sandbox of today’s school, where Sweet is crawling to the rescue.

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