Response to Cormac Shine

October 10, 2018 |  Tagged | Comments Off on Response to Cormac Shine

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Michael Savoca

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 HIST 799: History Engages the Public

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Every field has its stereotypes. Just close your eyes and you can see him. His white hair is neatly quaffed, not even a wisp falling out of place onto an oft furrowed brow. He wears a sweater vest that is layered beneath a well-worn jacket…of tweed, perhaps. Speaking with a rarefied air, he regales listeners with stories of the past and speaks with an implied authority which means they must be fact. Likable enough, he often seems out of touch, and is regulated to the lofty heights of the ivory tower with little real impact or involvement outside of academia. This dusty, dull, but sometimes informative figure is the historian—and he is an outdated parody of what and how historians truly are in the modern age. An increasingly diverse group of professionals from all walks of life have continued to shape historic discussion and debate for some time now. Yet, the earlier depiction is an image that has been hard to shake; after all, how well can the historian and modernity blend? In a recent article for the Guardian, “Our world is changing. It’s time for historians to explain why”, Cormac Shine makes a simple argument which recalls the tired old fellow outlined above.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Shine laments the idea that historians are losing relevancy because of a lack of public engagement and an unwillingness to change with the times. He argues that, “this irrelevance is largely self-inflicted. Too many historians still think that engaging with the public means they’re compromising the integrity of the discipline. As a result, many practitioners have passed the opportunity to shape the narrative over to other disciplines.” This portrayal leaves readers with the idea that historians are disconnected from the world around them due to either bookish snobbery or technological limitations. These images do not jive with the realities of modern historians. Great numbers of historians interact daily with large segments of society and contribute greatly to public discourse on a variety of topics. Ironically, nowhere was this disparity so quickly highlighted than in the article’s electronic comment section and on Twitter. Various posts detailed a staggering amount of work historians do every day to reach out to wider audiences. Links to articles, posts, groups, course descriptions, and selections for further reading all point to the ample work historians do each day to bring a historical perspective to the masses.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 One of the issues taken to task in the reader feedback was the idea that historians do not interact with their audience. In today’s world there is an abundance of stimuli feuding for our attention. Public discourse has fissured along party lines, and the concept of “fake news” is tossed around at any fact which disagrees with a person’s preconceived notions. There is no longer a single repository of information, or only a couple of choices for news, but rather an endless supply designed to satisfy a person’s views with little challenge. News networks will often fill their airwaves with experts, but public interest dictates the airwaves as much as the actual events of the day. Sad to say, historians simply do not generally land on the priority list. Shine calls for historians to be at the forefront of debate, but in many cases this is not possible; or it wouldn’t be without technology.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The classic skill set of historians; studying a particular sequence of events, source analysis, and careful documentation of sources is indeed vitally important to today’s world. It is no longer a question of diligent research and development of set ideas, but rather a play to base beliefs and mentality which has been worsened by algorithms and an endless supply of information. It is hard to say that Shine’s push for a greater voice for historians in public life is wrong, but perhaps the onus of the issue is not really with historians but with the perception of public appetite. Historians have too much to offer to be idle and in time there will be even greater gains to the wide variety of social outreach many already engage in. It is vitally important that historians continue to fight until they are granted a more prominent seat at the table. While the past cannot predict the future, it is an unquestionably useful tool in guiding people today. Continued and heightened outreach via technology and social platforms will be central to elevating the communal voice of historians. The deliverable may change, less tomes and more posts, however if methods stay true, facts and reason will prevail. Shine, well-intended as he was, missed so much of what historians are doing daily that it begs the question; Who is really out of touch?


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