Categories
Historical Expertise

Columbus’s Voyage was a Religious Journey

Despite President Obama’s recent suggestion, Columbus was anything but an unproblematic spokesman for innovative, modern, secular thought. Columbus was, instead, motivated by conservative prophetic and apocalyptic fears. He considered his voyage across the ocean as part of an effort to convert all the races of the world to Christianity before the end of the world. […]

Categories
Historical Expertise

Why the Flat Earth Myth Bugs Me

President Obama’s recent suggestion that Columbus proved the earth is round continues to bother me for a number of reasons. In this case, when he appears to be speaking without a script, his words reflect his own lack of historical knowledge. That it wasn’t immediately seized upon as a significant mistake suggests that many people […]

Categories
Historical Expertise

Is Everyone a Historian?

I worry, constantly worry, about what makes any form of history—though I am most concerned with the history of science—a distinct discipline with a particular expertise. Both a broad, non-academic public and the more narrow academic audience fail to recognize history’s unique methodological and philosophical approaches or the historian’s unique domain of expertise. Perhaps because […]

Categories
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 […]

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Historical Expertise

Good Science Often Makes Bad History

A new article in Weather has been getting considerable attention the last few days. In “How useful could Arabic documentary sources be for reconstructing past climate?” Spanish researchers had the novel idea to look at medieval Islamic texts to see if they could find any climate information. According to the summary, Arabic Manuscripts: It Used […]

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Historical Expertise

History and the Problem of Historical Expertise

[Reposted from History and the Problem of Historical Expertise at PACHS.] In his recent post, History: The Everyman Discipline?, Paul Lockhart wonders about what makes a person a historian. His characterization of “the public ‘at large,’ if you will” seems accurate both to academic and non-academic publics. This public at large, he suggests, believes: If […]

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Historical Expertise

Historians of Science—A Call to Action

[Reposted from A Manifesto at PACHS.] Recently I have had the opportunity to reflect formally on the functions and uses of the history of science, both in my scholarly activities and in general public discourse. I think historians should more frequently and openly consider such broad questions. I am happy to see a number of […]

Categories
Historical Expertise

Retro-Diagnosing Fictional Plagues

Teaching a course on plagues and epidemics in history makes me more aware than normal of press reports about some group of scientists trying to retro-diagnose some historical plague or epidemic (Find a description of this course and a link to the syllabus on my Recent Courses page). There seems to have been a rash […]