Project 4- Should or Shouldn’t Historians be Pundits?

November 29, 2018 |  Tagged , , | Comments Off on Project 4- Should or Shouldn’t Historians be Pundits?

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The question of whether or not historians should be pundits is currently under a lot debate.  Social media, the internet, and the current state of politics in America have created a culture where more people are consuming information about current events than ever before.  Accompanying the increased access to information inevitably is an increase in misinformation circulating. Moshik Temkin persuasively argues against historians acting as pundits in his New York Times Op-ed “Historians Shouldn’t Be Pundits.  However, the argument that historians should be pundits is even stronger in Kevin Lamarque’s article “Why (Some) Historians Should Be Pundits” where he discusses the issue with historians Julian E. Zelizer and Morton Keller.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 One of the main issues that Temkin takes with historians acting as pundits is the way history is being presented.  The fast paced nature of our society means that news cycles are rapidly changing and that people are more interested in reading a brief summary of a situation than a deep dive into historical factors leading up to an event.  In many cases people are receiving their information in a 280 character tweet. Temkin is wary about this because he believes it leads to history being presented in a “superficial way” leading complex situations to be boiled down to historical analogies.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Temkin argues the problem with analogies is that they “often distort both the past and the present” and can be dangerous.  Instead he feels that historians should be using this media attention to explain how analogies are not good by critically exploring and explaining how the past can answer complex questions about the present.  The argument he makes is valid, however, it doesn’t take into consideration whether or not the everyday person will slow down for long enough to read and comprehend a critical historical argument. And if they don’t take the time to listen to the well constructed drawn out explanations by historians what will they be left with?  They will be left with misinformation from unreliable sources pushing certain agendas.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 In Zelizer’s opinion analogies, even if imperfect, can be useful for historians to use.  He believes that if historians limit themselves in the ways that Temkin suggests they will be eclipsed by other sources.  These sources will potentially know much less than historians and as a result will cause the exact things that Temkin fears, myths and misleading analogies. It seems Zelizer would agree that historians providing information, even if in an unperfect high speed format is more useful than other people providing misinformation. He claims that urging historians to not participate in the conversation is huge mistake.  I have to agree with this.  I would rather receive short and imperfect clips from informed people than lose out on their thoughts and opinions all together.  With the way media is consumed there is no perfect answer for the role historians should play.  Of course we should be wary about making cheap analogies instead of digging deep and thoroughly examining a situation and its context.  However, historians should not leave explaining the present to people who do not have a thorough understanding of the past.  


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