22 March 2017

Historian Erik Loomis writes of Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust,

I will also say that Faust is an embarrassment to the reputation of historians. Faust herself works on issues of justice in her writing and yet has sold out all the way. I really struggle to understand how you can know everything she knows and then want to treat pregnant hotel workers or impoverished dining hall workers in this way. I guess that’s why I will never climb the corporate ladder. 

I find this strange in two ways.  I do think Loomis is justified in pointing out hypocrisy in academia at the highest levels:  it's his profession, and he cares about the moral standards of his profession (that's how I, son of an academic, would put it anyway).  But:

1.  Do historians even have a "reputation" in this country to embarrass?  I suspect if you asked a hundred college-educated people between the ages of 30 and 90 to name some living American historians, the names David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin would come up a lot, a lot.   I wish more college-educated people knew the names Barbara Tuchman (although she's dead) and James McPherson, and Linda Colley too.  Goodwin has had a few spots on her record.  Does knowing the hypocrisy of one Ivy League president lead to a feeling that those historians are hypocrites, just like the politicians?

2.  "How you can know everything she knows and then..."  Well, didn't Upton Sinclair warn us about this?  "If a man's salary depends on his not understanding something..."  Sinclair lived through the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, a man who knew many many things as a historian and president of Princeton University.  Then, Wilson got into the Oval Office and waged unrelenting war on African-American civil rights.  (He called himself a 'progressive,' of course, and cared deeply about national self-determination for white Europeans.)  This was fifty years after slavery had been abolished.  One would hope the lessons of black American competency were ready to be learned by this point, right?  And yet, because Wilson relied on white Southern Democrats for his nomination, he did not seem to understand.

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