The Future of History

Friday, 24 May 2013

History in Aspic

Shh!  Listen carefully ...

Can you hear that?  It's the sound of doors slamming.

I blogged a few days ago about history's High Priesthood.  Now, I won't say that I had my finger on the pulse, because as far as academic historians go that pulse is no longer beating.  But I was, I think, on the ball.

A rather good documentary about Anne Boleyn last night has led to howls of protest from "proper" historians, who have claimed that it was "unbalanced".  In fact, it was remarkably balanced, giving equal weight to various theories about Anne's downfall.  But no - it was "unbalanced" because it dared to interview some women (Shock! Horror!) who were also (wait for it) novelists.

In other words, by exercising an admirable degree of balance, the programme became "unbalanced" because it heard from more than one side (a bizarre new definition of "unbalanced").

History, it would appear, has become a closed shop.  Those doors we hear banging are the old guard having a sulk.  They are scuttling behind their barricades and refusing to come out until we apologise and admit that they - and they alone - are the experts in these things.

Not so long ago, the same community of "proper" historians had a similar hissy fit over the TV documentary which revealed that the bones of King Richard III really had been discovered underneath a car park in Leicester. It struck me as odd that such a fascinating historical discovery should have ruffled their feathers, but put it down to professional jealousy.  Those "proper" historians hadn't found Richard and they were rather miffed that somebody else had.

But it wasn't as simple as that.  The "proper" historians might have found King Richard's bones if they'd tried, but they didn't bother.  A Puritan propagandist - John Speed - had written some rubbish about Richard's remains being thrown in a river, and that was good enough for them.  They simply did not have the curiosity to go and look for themselves.

They had decided what "history" was and got a bit narked when someone proved them wrong.

I'm anticipating a similar response from the "proper" historians to my Who Killed William Shakespeare?  Those who made no effort to track down the evidence will be outraged that an "amateur" has done what they couldn't be bothered to do.

And there it is in a nut-shell. They are the "professionals".  Anybody else - no matter how extensive their research - is an "amateur".

Branding somebody an "amateur" means that you can dismiss their research and their arguments.  But this is being taken way too far.  Not only is the academic establishment laying claim to some sort of monopoly but it is actively obstructing genuine research.

Or, if you prefer, a clique has decided what the truth about history is and who is entitled and qualified to tell it.  Theirs is a history preserved in aspic.  What is more, because they have so stubbornly resisted looking at a great deal of actual evidence, their official account is often inadequate and inaccurate.  Although, what it lacks in veracity or accessibility it more than makes up for in its political conservatism.

But they are the "professionals" so let no one gainsay them!

Welcome to the new Dark Ages, folks, where only the official line is permissible (even when it is demonstrably wrong) and any research which is not carried out by the Anointed Ones is "amateur" and can be safely ignored, regardless of how accurate and relevant it is.

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