Saturday, February 27, 2016

The History Manifesto

In their book: The History Manifesto, Guldi and Armitage made an argument that history is losing its importance and historians are losing their prominence in the world today.  How can we make history seem more valid and how can historians regain that prominence and respect that they once held? The authors also claim that historians today can tend to be a little short sighted when it comes to studying history.  It is this short sightedness; the “Manifesto” says that keeps us from finding the truth and making their history count. Apparently, historians in today’s world are not relevant. I imagine that I would have to agree with this statement. I find that we very rarely get to hear the historian’s point of view when it comes to modern day topics. I watch a lot of cable news, especially when it comes to politics, and there are a lot of people that come and give their point of view on a variety of topics-especially this presidential election. In all the news shows that I have watched I do not recall anyone calling on a presidential historian or an American political historian to hear their point of view. The one and only time this election season that I have heard a historian questioned about their point of view was on the Colbert Show and he spent a small amount of time asking his guest, Doris Kearns Goodwin how she feels about the presidential election (it would make sense being that she is a presidential historian). I am pleased that she was interviewed for her stance; but do I think she would have been asked had she not been a pseudo-celebrity. Probably not.  So yes, I do think that Guldi and Armitage have a point and I would love to live in a world where historians are called upon for their wisdom and knowledge of the past to help us solve our modern day problems.  By layering these “patterns of reality upon each other” we will be able to gain even more insight such as “placing government data about farms next to data on the weather…” we will be able to “see the interplay of material change within the human experience.” This is the solution about how we make history count again.
To solve the current problems that historians are facing, the authors suggest that we return to a “long duree” and focus more on the big picture than what they refer to as “microhistory”.  They also suggest that we try and move away from taking historians and their usefulness for granted and instead turn history back into “engaged academia”.  To back up their “microhistory” theory, the authors mention that “In 1900 the average number of years covered…doctoral dissertations in history in the United States was about 75 years; by 1975, it was closer to 30,” and that dissertations have also “concentrated on the local and the specific as an arena in which historian can exercise her skills of biography, archival reading, and periodization within the perti-dish of a handful of years.” We need to look at the bigger picture and instead of focusing on these little details and biographies why don’t we look at the history of labor or women or politics, etc.  That is not to say that the authors want us to completely get rid of our “micro” studies. Instead we should take these small events and compare them with the larger picture.
In their critique of the manifesto, Deborah Cohen and Peter Mandler suggest that there is no basis for the Manifesto’s argument that historians do not face more on the big picture. In fact, they mention that “there is much more continuity than change across the twentieth century, and if anything, longer time scales had become more, not less, common as of 1986.” They will also claim that the Manifesto is biased because they are too focused on pointing out the advantages of the long duree when they mention “they needed to invert a crisis of short-terminism in the discipline in order to point out clearly toward the advantages of the long duree.” The response to Cohen and Mandler from the authors of the Manifesto is that their book was not meant to be looked at so closely and for every single detail and that Cohen and Mandler are “hanging judges.”   I would personally have to say that Cohen and Mandler get the upper hand in this argument.  I don’t believe that the biggest problem with the study of history is little picture vs. big picture.

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