Press and Pop Culture

Weekly Roundup: On Copernicus and Historical Expertise

This week’s roundup of posts and articles focuses on Copernicus and historical expertise.[1]

Copernicus, the father of the Gold Standard:
While Newton appears frequently in banking and management articles, Copernicus hasn’t enjoyed his day in the financial limelight, until lately. Coperncius is making the rounds lately in the financial papers and blogs, mainly amongst those arguing for a return to a gold standard. Last month Jonathan Decker kicked things off with a post at Forbes, “Nicolas Copernicus Was More Than A Scientific Icon.” Then Ralph Benko followed up with a comparison between Keynes and Copernicus, “Keynes and Copernicus: The Debasement of Money Overthrows The Social Order and Government.” Last week, Nathan Lewis wrote a post for Forbes, “42 Year Into Our Funny Money Experiment…,” which was reposted. All three versions of Copernicus’s treatise on money are available online: Copernicus’s Writings about Money.

Copernicus, a proponent of Intelligent Design:
An Intelligent Design site caught the Copernicus bug in “Copernicus: How much of what you know …,” apparently prompted by a Scientific American post, “The Case against Copernicus” (cf. Michael Shermer and another ID site).

Copernicus, the first string theorist:[2]
What does Copernicus have to say about String Theory uses a realist Copernicus against an instrumentalist Ptolemy—Copernicus explained retrograde motion whereas Ptolemy did not—to justify treating string theory as a science as opposed to mere mathematics.

These uses and abuses of Copernicus for the present (to paraphrase Nietzsche) are just the latest examples of the somebody invoking the authority of the past in a current argument. History seems particularly susceptible to the incursions by non-historians (a fate it seems to share with writing).

Historiann pointed out the interview with Eric Foner at The Atlantic: “You Have to Know History to Actually Teach It.” In her post, Effective history teaching: passion and deep knowledge (and stay classy!), Historiann draws attention to the common denial of historical expertise. She quotes Foner and adds:

You have to know something about science and math to teach them effectively, and that professional training is recognized not just as a nice thing for teachers to have but as a necessity by the principals, superintendents, and school boards who staff our secondary schools. History expertise? Not so much.

Recently, Suzannah Lipscomb has argued for the value of the historian’s expertise particularly in policy debates, an expertise that comes from the specific and rigorous training that historians receive: Practice Makes Perfect. I have worried about the erosion (or more often the denial) of historical expertise a number of times.

  1. Each Monday morning I will post a short note of links to recent articles and posts that I found interesting with some brief commentary.  ↩

  2. Okay, not really but the post’s title seems to imply it.  ↩