, 37 tweets, 10 min read Read on Twitter
[Thread on Threads] Recently, the @chronicle published a piece attacking the public engagement of contemporary issues and politics by historians. After some consideration, I felt this needed a response...and why not in thread form" Let's talk about this. chronicle.com/article/The-Ri…
In this ironically pedantic editorial accusing historians
public engagement as pedantic, Dr. Fallon makes a series of accusations that are serious enough to warrant explanation and discussion. I am a relative newcomer to the historical thread phenomenon, but am invested.
So, I will try to respond to some of points raised in the Chronicle piece, speaking from my experience but also (I hope) capturing the experiences and motivations of some of the more prolific Historic Threaders. #twitterstorians
Fallon attacks public writing by humanities scholars (but really those more aligned with history). There is a lot going on here, most of it not particularly helpful. 1) Expertise shared in good faith IS authoritative, at least when faced by non-experts (like Dsouza)
The historical facts "wielded" by scholars either in public writing or on Twitter are *usually* neither trivial nor debatable. Why? Because they are correcting very basic but pervasive intentional misuses of history for political means.
Most public commentary by scholars is not debating historiography or Hayden White or post-structuralism or discourse...not because it isn't sometimes important, but because they are speaking to a larger public who doesn't need that level of bloviating.
To wit, let's talk about language...Fallon faults public historians for "endless threads," "new lows of literalism," "data dumps," "brevity," and most paradoxically "bad history" (from an English professor), presumably as a critique of accessible writing.
(As a side note, wouldn't an English professor be interested in correcting the blatant misreading of Robert Frost's "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors" as a justification for separation when that was clearly not the poet's intent?) classicalpoets.org/2019/02/22/tru…
Meanwhile, in this jargon-laden Chronicle piece, we find Horkheimer, Adorno, Foucault, Hayden White. We find "discursive," ""alternative linguistic protocols," "metonymy," "synecdoche," "tropological strategies," "figurative modes," etc. This doesn't play in Peoria.
I don't mean to suggest that such theoretical discussions aren't of some use in scholarly journals, but these are not what drive the popularity of historians' pushing back against those who freely claim to "know" the history and push real bad history to a populace often unawares.
Let's return to the recent (and increasing) phenomenon of the historical thread led by @kevinkruse flanked by many other historians, which Fallon somewhat cavalierly dismisses as "trivia," factoids," "literalism," "bad history." What would be "good" history for him?
The accessibility of Twitter is a feature, not a bug. The Chronicle article received 9 comments. Twitter threads on history receives hundreds of comments and tens of thousands of interactions. Academics have called for more public engagement...now we are criticized for it?
Regardless, the Historical Threads responding to bad history (not just from Dsouza) but from others are simply NOT data dumps or factoids or games of intellectual "gotcha." They are cited, almost footnoted. In short, they bring the receipts.
These threads deal with important outright lies and weaponized history that needs to combated on the public stage. (And I may be biased, but I don't think they are dull or "fact-grubbing" (What IS that even?)
Or consider this VERY well-argued thread by @tlecaque on the misuse of the Crusades by the political right (oh, and there is an app to roll threads into a one page document if one finds them "endless.")
In any case, I would argue these Historical Twitter Threads are absolutely making discursive arguments, but in ways that are accessible to people who are arguably more important than the Chronicle readership: interested non-scholars.
Fallon accuses us of engaging on Twitter (and other public fora) as a way of justifying the importance of the Humanities. Guilty? Of course, that is important. It's important to show interested people the connections between past and present, especially the dark ones.
It also helps to educate about Higher Ed. @TheTattooedProf, for example, responded to a low blow directed at his university with an in-depth, and informative explanation of where it fits in the constellation of universities.
Finally, @Twitter lets us meet the public where they are, to provide images, screenshots of evidence, graphs, data, links and to reach thousands of people. We are not interested in convincing the crazies they are wrong but in informing the curious and those open to ideas.
Read the comments on these threads. They are full of people thanking the writers for making them aware of history or even <gasp> facts they didn't know about, for contextualizing what they are being fed by talking heads and politicians. This is an absolute good. #NotPedantry
Moreover, these threads also model good source criticism and the USES of evidence to make an argument in ways that hopefully help some readers better decide for themselves if what they are reading from history abusers is correct or of value.
These interactions between the Academy and public also offer important pedagogical opportunities...such as this thread below. And all the while other Twitter users are reading and learning or finding new books they might want to read.
I view our contributions to public education as neither a hobby (too shallow) nor a calling (too self-aggrandizing), but as a duty. Those of us who have the knowledge, have an obligation to step in to challenge weaponized rhetoric cloaked in history. People are dying.
These threads by historians take time and effort. They are thoughtfully researched rather than being theoretical navel-gazing. They seek to provide context and to show their work. And, I, for one, think they are useful and powerful. And if not, they aren't hurting anyone
I will finish by adding some of these scholarly threads for the general public below:
Not a thread, but important nonetheless for context. slate.com/news-and-polit…
Also, crap. I just realized I misnamed the poem. The poem is "The Mending Wall." My English professor mother would be kicking my ass right now. Apologies!
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