Some Reflections on Manifestos for History
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July/August 2008 · Historically Speaking 29 and it must also, partly through the support of these neighboringcommunities, diminish whatever skepticism aboutits operations might arise in more distant parts of the learned world and beyond, in the society which scientists and scholars do, after all, serve. So die structure of cognitive authority moves out from particle physics to physics to natural science to science to the learned world as a whole, and dien to die most informed members of the public. The farther you get from the technical particulars of the field, the less authority you have to decide what should be goingon, but in a democratic society diere is some authority distributed all die way out It is die job of deans and provosts to keep abreast of diese transdisciplinaryconversations, and to pressureparticular departments and schools to change theirway of doing tilings if the parts of die learned world most qualified to judge are truly dubious about their research programs and their attendant teaching and public service activities. Now in the case of historical study, it is essentia ! to acknowledge that many "amateurs"—journalists and writers who did not complete a Ph.D. and have not held a faculty appointment—often produce works of scholarship that are readily absorbed into die body of historical knowledge as recognized by the history profession. Yet unless we include history within the domain of peer-reviewing communities of inquiry as I have just described it, historians diminish their credibility in the learned world and in the societywe scholars and scientists serve. Although some of the contributors to ManifestosforHistory do understand this, most—includingWhite—display no concern about it whatsoever. Hence they are of little help to anyone engaged by die problem with which I began these remarks: how to meet the challenge of presenting our best historical knowledge in ways diat can make a difference in the world. Although I introduced diat concern rather narrowly , with regard to empowered elites, it is no less relevant to voting publics. Lowenthal quotes a conversation in which a Parisian host recounts her effort to explain to a visitor from the United States what Sainte Chapelle was about Although this conversation took place on a European site, one can imagine comparable conversations in front of the Taj Mahal or on die steps of die Lincoln Memorial. "Well, it was built by Saint Louis." "Saint Louis?" was her puzzled reply. 'Tes, it was built by a king of France who went on a crusade." "Crusade?" she asked, bewildered. Despairingly, I persevered. 'Tes, he went on a journey to the Mediterranean, and brought back a sacred relic, the Crown of Thorns." "Crown of Thorns?" she queried, still more at sea. Lowenthal's example here concerns basic historical literacy, sayingnothingaboutdifferentways inwhich the Crusades or Christianity might be interpreted, but the point about public knowledge becomes all die more acute when such issues are in play. Professional communities are imperfect But as Williams notes, even if someone dismissed as a crank later turns out to have been right, and those who ignored him or her "are attacked for dogmatism and prejudice," the only real alternative to this "prejudice" would be to abandon die best available standards of plausibilityand pursue everycounterintuitive lead, bringing science and scholarship virtually "to a halt." White is wrong to characterize as "scandalous " the very distinction "between the professionalized historian" and others interested in history. The distinction is a valuable one, and we ignore it at the peril of diminishing our ability to produce knowledge and our ability to share it with die public . DavidA. HoUingeris Preston Hotchkis Professorof American History atthe University of California, Berkeley, andvicepresidentof the Organisation of American Historians. His most recent book is Cosmopolitanism and Solidarity: Studies in Ethnoracial , Religious, and Professional Affiliation in the United States (University of WisconsinPress, 2006). Some Reflections on Manifestos for History Bruce Kuklick This book publishes fifteen essays about die nature of professional historical study and where it should profitably go in the future. The essays were commissioned and edited by two scholars at the University of Chicester in England and a third scholar visiting there. Some wellknown historians and theorists of history are included, but diere are at...