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Beginning With History

Any fool can write history, and many do.  Please do not assume that I mean by this statement to vaunt the “expert” and slight the amateur.  In writing history the amateur is sometimes gifted, and there is no more pestiferous fool than the smug, pretentious “expert” who thinks of his own mind as the repository of ultimate truth.  What a good historian most needs is not “expertise” but the qualities we look for in a juror: intelligence and an inclination to avoid snap judgments and get to the bottom of things, to weigh evidence honestly, and to imagine times and places that are no longer recoverable in the flesh.  No juror can entirely escape his own bias, but some are a lot more honest and fair than others.

Anybody who has been following the pronouncements that have been issuing from the mouths and word processors of professors of history (and official government historians) in recent years ought to be disabused of trust in the competence and good faith of “experts”—even if he has not seen firsthand the gutting of graduate education that has been taking place.  There was a time when professors of history, whatever their viewpoints and degrees of talent, had to have proved themselves by the rigors of primary research and literate, balanced exposition.  Increasingly they are just people who stayed in school a long time and learned the fashionable attitudes...

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