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No, Don’t Leave Historical Analogies to the Pundits

June 26, 2017

The main thrust of this piece, exemplified in its title, is just wrong. Irresponsible, in fact. It’s entirely counterproductive in relation to a great deal of new historical work that has radically increased awareness of recent history. If historians are not going to *be* pundits, they should engage them constantly.

The article’s title derives from this line (by Moshik Temkin): “…the most important thing historians can do is to leave the analogies to the pundits…”. The author adds a bit more nuance, saying that historians can and should provide complexity and a sense change over time when possible.

But trading in analogies and complexity need not be mutually exclusive. Rather, historians should be provided time and space to fully express what rhymes, and what’s different, in relation to the past and present. If we were to take this author’s advice, historians would pick up their toys and leave—just because some bad historical analogies are being perpetuated by politicians and pundits.

Leaving history to that crowd is, in fact, dangerous and irresponsible. We need more historians engaging faulty historical analogies. We can’t wait for journalists to find our dusty but 100 percent correct monographs. We must fight, in Churchillian fashion, bad history where it’s found, and fight the faulty purveyors wherever they live, whether on the radio, on television, or on the web.

Historians should not disengage. Never. We should, in fact, bring more historians to the public sphere. I trust an imperfect historian—i.e. one talking about an historical analogy outside of one’s specialty—more than I trust a politician or pundit doing the same.

No one is better positioned than a historian to correct historical errors of fact or analogy in the public sphere. – TL


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