Historical Expertise

Scientists Make Bad Historians

I continue to worry about the erosion or denial of historical expertise by both non-academics and by non-historian academics. Historians bear some responsibility when non-academics dismiss our historical expertise. As William Cornon has recently pointed out in his essay for Perspectives, “Professional Boredom,” historians too readily ignore that non-academic audience and define “professional history according to the norms of the academy.” Cronon highlights an important problem that warrants further scrutiny. Here I want to gesture to the problem that arises when non-historian academics deny historical expertise.

The results of bad scientific history.

In a recent post, “Good Science Often Makes Bad History,” I worried about efforts by scientists to find useful historical information about the weather in 9th- and 10th-century Baghdad. That post was based on summaries of an article by F. Domínguez-Castro et al., “How useful could Arabic documentary sources be for reconstructing past climate?” Weather 67(2012): 76–82. Consequently, my conclusions had to be qualified. Now, having read the article, I realize that my tentative critique fully justified and should be extended. Their denial of historical expertise—both in the form of a distinct methodology and set of practices as well as a command of a body of knowledge—invalidates results, making them problematic as historical or scientific knowledge.

Read my fuller analysis over at PACHS: “Scientists and Bad History

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