Category Archives: Education

Hot Water and Higher Education

There’s meant to be something somewhat seedy about the profit motive. Perhaps this is why, in the case of education, many of us recoil in horror as soon as the prospect is introduced. This is an irrational response, but it’s not entirely unreasonable. Education is something which makes politicians misty-eyed. It makes their voices quaver. Our leaders describe with great emotion the need for the next generation to do better, to have more, to go without less. Continue reading

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How to Become Interesting at Short Notice

If you, like me, are about to start at a university this month – and what a university – you will probably be thinking about a few things.

Worrying is probably more accurate – seriously fretting, becoming afeared. Continue reading

Decline and Fall?

The continued popularity and influence of Edward Gibbon’s classic work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire represents something of a conundrum. Long included as part of the canon of great historical writing (if such a thing can be said to exist), it is hardly perfect; indeed, there are many reasons – superficially at least – why it should be disregarded by contemporary students. Continue reading

When Historians Write About the Past, Are They Nearly Always Writing About the Present?

On one level, one must agree with the statement entirely: every historian, in the act of writing, is implicitly chronicling his or her own times. In a basic sense, this can be seen in the language or dialect they use, even in the vernacular of their work. Each is connected with history, but each is still of the present, directed by the exigencies of the present day. The words themselves might also have political connotations from which they cannot be entirely dissociated. E. H. Carr, in his seminal work of historiography What is History?, provides a pertinent example:

The names by which successive French historians have described the Parisian crowds which played so prominent a role in the French Revolution ­­– le sans-cullottes, le peuple, la canaille, le bras-nus – are all, for those that know the rules of the game, manifestos of a political affiliation and of a particular interpretation.[1]

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The Historian as a Public Intellectual

Recently I had the great pleasure of reading Niall Ferguson’s The Pity of War. My review of that book – which takes a rather holistic approach – can be read on this blog. It has given me cause to think about the nature both of historical writing and how historians are perceived in the public sphere: whether, in other words, they can be ‘public intellectuals’ – that much overused phrase which somewhat lazy journalists use to denote academics who, in this view of the world, have apparently descended from the ivory tower to commune to the masses. Continue reading

Review – The Uses and Abuses of History (2008) by Margaret MacMillan

History is more than a collection of dates and facts, kings and queens, battles and wars. It is also a guide for how we see the world, a shaping influence in the construction of our own worldview. Added to that, and increasingly seen in places like Russia, where media and writing of all kinds – everything that constitutes the nation’s intellectual life – can be conscripted into the creation of sinister political machinery, it can be a powerful tool. Even a weapon. Continue reading