The Clare Spark Blog

January 7, 2018

“Are Historians Pundits?”

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 9:33 pm
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Whatever happened to the “context” that postmodernists/hipsters claim to embrace? Of course historians have lost credibility; we are all journalists now, and the “consensus” that “progressives” are imposing on our young people is alarming. The line between (factual) history and (partisan) propaganda has almost broken down. Cultural anthropology reigns supreme in academe and journalism alike, while classical liberalism is defenestrated.

This blog was inspired by interviews in Washington DC conducted by History News Network publisher Rick Shenkman at The American Historical Association. Shenkman is described as both a journalist and historian ( According to his “bio,” Shenkman was educated at both Vassar and Harvard, but appears not to have completed a dissertation, but to have gone with the flow in condemning Andrew Jackson’s lowbrow electorate (?).

There probably is no liberal consensus (, but (liberal) elites are in agreement that the masses are asses ( thus Shenkman could publish a book condemning Trump voters as Stone-Age holdovers, easy prey for demagogues.

Since HNN “published” (but buried) several of my articles, I have followed their progress/degeneration, noting how the profession has developed since the end of World War II, when “the liberal consensus” supposedly took hold, marking the triumph of The Popular Front Against Fascism.

If the profession of history seems one-sided, chalk it up to the New Left of the 1960s, and to the proliferation of social movements the “Left” engendered: civil rights, feminism (and gay rights), the “new” culturally focused labor history, and environmentalism. The “New” Left abandoned the 1930s emphasis on empiricism and class struggle for romantic primitivism/the counter culture. Science, like technology, was Out.

Whatever happened to footnotes?
While in graduate school, I was derided by a Trotskyist as “the last positivist.” And others on the Left claimed that I was an “atomizing” individualist/bourgeois. Apparently, not all radical claims need to be “sourced.” I am reading Eric Foner’s massive and footnoted book  Reconstruction (1988), which seems to me to feed into the most extreme claims of black cultural nationalism, conflating past and present and condemning both ante-bellum and post-bellum Amerikkka for the most horrid forms of racism and “white supremacy.” For Foner’s argument is not always sourced, nor does he explain why there was tension between the original civil rights movement and the followers of Malcolm X who famously followed.

The eminent “liberal” Columbia professor does not warn against present-mindedness (the reading of present values into the past). Neither do many of the social justice warriors who were students of New Left professors, and who may be training a new generation of “cultural nationalists” like themselves, all too given to collectivist discourses in thought and deed.

I suppose that footnotes, like facts, are sometimes atomizing and only convenient when it suits the Social Justice Warriors’ convenience.

April 12, 2014

The Organization of American Historians taking sides

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 9:36 pm
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dissenthouston[From Rick Shenkman’s report on day 2 of the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians, 2014:] The major event of the day was the late-afternoon plenary session devoted to “historians and their publics.”  The standout panel included Alan Kraut, Spencer Crew, Jill Lepore, Sean Wilentz, and filmmaker Shola Lynch.  Unfortunately, we can’t show you a video as one member of the panel objected to cameras.  So you’ll have to take our word for it that it was a great panel.  Wilentz, typically combative, said that historians should use their authority to police the public square.  When pundits and politicians (Glen Beck, they’re talking about you) make stuff up about history, they should be called out.  Lepore said when she tried to do that very thing in her book on the Tea Party historians wondered why on earth she was bothering. 

Wilentz got off a great line.  Historians, he said, “want to make the alien seem more familiar and the familiar seem more alien.”  That was something all the panelists seemed to agree with.

– See more at:]

[My stunned comment:] This is an astonishing statement to emanate from an academic conference. Read it closely. No longer is US history to be a search for more accurate knowledge about the past, but one of its leading lights, Princeton professor Sean Wilentz recommends [the alienation-effect made famous by Bertolt Brecht?]. Even worse, Rick Shenkman, former chief editor of History News Network, agreeing with Wilentz, sees historians as an arm of the state, policing “the public square”—presumably filled with bothersome and  unteachable Tea Party hoi polloi.

These sentiments are what passes for academic freedom and free speech today. “We have seen the enemy, and the enemy is [not] us.”


No conservative call for anticommunist or anti-progressive historians will remedy the sorry state of academe. Rather, what is needed is an injection of courage and especially the re-examination of the liberal assumptions of yesteryear.

Ralph Bunche complained bitterly of those upper-class white liberal foundations that funded only those projects that increased communications between warring groups, such as white and black. Such tactics offended him because he saw structural flaws in American society that would not disintegrate because whites and blacks played nicely together, eschewing [hate speech].

We should be so lucky now. The polarization is so complete and hardened that certified teachers of the young see themselves as guardians of public order, ONLY. (In the past, their impetus toward political and social “stability” was rarely stated with such startling candor. If the rabble was rioting, you bought them off or co-opted them]

But more, though self-satisfied in their allegiance to that side that works toward “social justice” Wilentz’s Brechtian moment suggests a tactical distancing from complacency with respect to received knowledge, that is belied by the opinion that historians should be the thought police.

It is back: the same old liberal double bind that I complain about endlessly here: There is no conflict between Truth (found out by poring through archives and distancing oneself from inherited biases–i.e., making the familiar seem alien, making the invisible visible) and Order.

These social democrats and leftists may hold the commanding heights of academe, but their opposition holds the mantle of free speech, which I implore them, as the [unruly] public, neither to abuse, nor to take for granted. Our betters have spoken and now it is up to us to uphold reasoned dissent and the rule of law. [Update: 5-7-14: a conservative scholar has taken issue with my thesis here; says that OAH is a private organization and has the right to these sentiments, which he does not associate with policing, but rather with inspection, and that my blog would deny similar rights to conservative academics. I stand by my reading of “policing”, but hope that cultural pluralism is alive and well, as much as this conservative scholar believes to be case, as opposed to leftish academics functioning as an arm of the State while dominating higher education.]



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