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Diplomatic History declining

This won’t come as a shock to anyone, but the NY Times reports that diplomatic (also military, constitutional) history is declining and has been replaced by cultural history, women, minorities, immigrants, etc. Sample:

"How have some departments sliced up the pie? At the University of Wisconsin, Madison, out of the 45 history faculty members listed (many with overlapping interests), one includes diplomatic history as a specialty, one other lists American foreign policy; 13 name either gender, race or ethnicity. Of the 12 American-history professors at Brown University, the single specialist in United States empire also lists political and cultural history as areas of interest. The department’s professor of international studies focuses on victims of genocide."

Discussions - 5 Comments

I think the serious students will just follow suit. Fluff and Puff is a great medium for the lacking and mediocre, also those who don't wan't to risk making judgements of any serious kind. I heard about the thesis entitled: Feces through the ages, and was not impressed. My greatest suspicion about this comes from how do you research these subjects? I think there is a lot of starting with conclusions and fitting a few documents in and that is bad for history in general.

PWS, as a former history grad student who purposefully avoided an academic career precisely because of these exact trends, I can testify that these are long-term (and disturbing) trends. Diplomatic, political, and such history have been seen as extremely suspect because they seem to promote the "old" and "traditional" way of studying history and lack all the fashion of gay and lesbian studies, identity studies, cultural history, post-modernism, post-structuralism, post-colonialism, and all that. Seen as the bastion of old white men who need to be swept out of departments for propagating their hegemony and all sorts of -isms by even the sub-discipline of the history they study and teach. Even worse, there are unwritten but very clear rules about the "race, class, gender, and ideology" of the people who are going to be accepted for the positions. Oh, I could go on all night. It's just so sickening and frightening if it weren't all true. I'll stick with a nice high school classroom where the kids are 6 months younger to avoid all that.

Funny that I am making this connection, but I remember about six months ago running across a blog by a grad student from Dallas who wrote on interesting things and had the sort of clarity of thought necessary to any good student. I found his work invigorating not only because he was a conservative, but because with him came the instruments necessary to discerning anything about human nature; for every blog about contemporary politics, there was another about Aristotle or Baudelaire or any number of great thinkers.

And I think that this is what is lost with the new sort of history that has become so popular: it is a trend. These topics are passing things that will not continue to have any sort of significant relevance beyond the particular time frame that they are taught in. Often the value of the work is predicated on the overtly doctrinaire research done by professors seeking to usurp the regime ancienne, as if some valuable mind living in a utopian world on a college campus in California has some insight into the chaos that surrounds us absent of a Dante, Plato, or, heck -- even a Nietzsche.

When Thucydides wrote that the Peloponnesian was "a war like no other" he was not being facetious. The importance of that statement rested upon his assertion that in the singular events of ancient Greece could be found universal truths, and he took great pains to back that up.

Sad that today it is foolish to call Thucydides or Herodotus the "fathers of history," more hip to dismiss them as "fathers of lies" -- it makes one wonder whether the value of history is really understood...But how can you understand the human without acknowledging the ancestral? How, when we are "far wiser" in our "enlightened" 21st century mindset?

I believe it is better referred to as the history of victimization in America. Or better yet, let's try this oxy-moron: The Imperalistic History of America.

T-Hag, if it is any comfort, I have a 16 year old daughter who loves Thucydides just now, roughly for the reasons you discuss, though she is not so articulate. She loves the story he tells and all stories with universal truths.

However, the new look at history is more than a trend. It is also about more than the Left's obsession with the common man. Young historians are more worried about finding a niche than about finding Nietzsche. (sorry, I couldn't resist) Attending historial society conferences one is struck by all of those PhD candidates trying to find a unique field of study. That is easier with cultural history, women, minorities, immigrants, etc. wherein you can do a thoughtful examination of butchers on the Lower East Side of New York in 1830 or the role of not-quite assimilated Indian in 1920's Pocatello, Idaho than with the difficult issues in diplomatic history or the history foreign policy or especially the well-trod, though honorable, paths of universal truth. Though, yes, it is also true that if we are going to have an anti-war world, a world of peace and common pleasures, we do not want anyone looking at any hard truths in those types of historical study.

It is too bad. Maybe the guys coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan and going to college on the G.I. Bill will turn this tide and look at hard and important historical truths instead of simple ones.

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