History’s greatest strength is also its deepest weakness. When history ceased to be the application of rhetoric to the knowledge of the past in view of informing the present and warning about the future – models of behaviour to follow and unethical examples to avoid -, it also lost most of its popular appeal. The prestige of the historian today is located somewhere above the politician and below the scientist. In fact, the historian is both, a rhetor and a lab technician, a persuader and an analyst. But because of this, the historical profession is marooned on an island of mediocre relevance. Biography may escape this splendid isolation. Popular history is not doing bad at all, though I wouldn’t be too quick to celebrate the apparent prosperity. Scientific, serious, academic history, on the other hand, may need to take a minute to think about its future. And its relevance in a fast changing world.
An island of mediocre relevance
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