The Inferno of History

Just as there is a history of Hell, there should also be a Hell of history, the Inferno of the historical profession.

One of the many things we are indebted to Dante for is that he’s put Hell on the map. Before him, Hell was a place. After him, it is not only Others, but also a self-sufficient universe, hierarchically organised, mappable and perversely enticing. In giving us Inferno, he typologised Hell, making it a template for other possible worlds, circles, bolgie, warts and all.

So the historian’s Inferno may now be sketched. In Limbo, the visitor encounters those researchers who, coming from various fields, never quite crossed the line into history. They must remain forever outside.

The subsequent rings host various kinds of historical sins, crimes against the writing of history, whose penalty is eternal damnation. There are the lustful after the kind of evidence that would support their thesis, not the other way around. The avaricious who never shared their research findings with their peers at conferences are doomed to incomplete footnotes. The wrathful never understood that historians need to be relaxed and serene about their topic, and ponder the issue at hand in tranquility.

As she goes further down, the visitor encounters the flatterers, who embraced history only because it gave them an opportunity to praise and be praised in return. The hypocrites who say one thing at workshops and publish another, the thieves who steal ideas and claim them their own, the sowers of discord who dream up fancy controversies and useless debates, finally the falsifiers who are just thieves with a penchant for plagiarism. At the bottom of the pit lie the traitors, those who sold their talent, time and scholarship to dubious agendas, those who bring together, in their abysmal and diabolical nastiness, all the sins mentioned above, and many more. These stand forever condemned, a reminder of how easy it is to slide into the inverted cone.

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