Tory Historian's blog - Should historians speak on other matters?

Posted by Tory Historian Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tim Stanley, the Contrarian, has a good piece in History Today, which deals with the ridiculous issue of David Starkey's comment about the lootings of this summer, that

a particular sort of nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion. And black and white, boy and girl, operate in this language together'.
The ridiculousness does not come from the rightness or wrongness of that comment. There are good historical reasons for disagreeing with Mr Starkey; it comes from the curious reaction from various members of the pontificating classes, including, apparently and shamefully, historians.
Some people argued that the BBC should stop classing Starkey as a historian. Over a hundred academics signed an open letter that 'the BBC and other broadcasters think carefully before they next invite Starkey to comment as a historian on matters for which his historical training and record of teaching, research and publication have ill-fitted him to speak … We would ask that he is no longer allowed to bring our profession into disrepute by being introduced as "the historian, David Starkey".'
The man is unquestionably and historian though other historians may disagree with what he says. The idea that historians should not be allowed to comment and be described as such on matters that are outside their obvious competence is plainly ridiculous.

Some historians spread their interests more widely than just one period or geographic area. Andrew Roberts springs to mind. He has written about nineteenth century politics, twentieth century warfare, Napoleonic clashes and and update to Churchill's History of the English-Speaking People. He holds strong political opinions and often comments on current affairs. What, actually, is wrong with any of that.

As Tim Stanley points out, both Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper and A. J. P. Taylor were known to comment and to argue about many things outside their wide historic subjects. (It is a pity that one of Professor Trevor-Roper's involvements with modern politics was the Hitler diaries scandal and A. J. P. Taylor tended to talk unmitigated rubbish about current affairs.)

Tory Historian agrees: the notion of pigeon-holing historians according to what they may have studied at the beginning of their careers is not just ridiculous, it is destructive of the study of history and any growth of interest in the subject. Of course, one could argue that the letter probably came from historians who spend much of their time complaining about those of their colleagues who happen to have a popular following.


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