Sorry, Vice-Chancellor. We need more historians of the sixth century.

quote-historians-ought-to-be-precise-faithful-and-unprejudiced-and-neither-interest-nor-fear-hatred-miguel-de-cervantes-362344Just a quick note, in the UK, the Vice-Chancellor of a university is what we call the President, just a difference in terms. This is a quite interesting article.

Yesterday, the Belfast Telegraph published an interview with the Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, Patrick Johnston. Most of the interview was about the things one expects VCs to talk about these days – global competitiveness, knowledge transfer, government funding, a defence of a large salary – but buried among the anodyne was this astonishing comment:
Society doesn’t need a 21-year-old who is a sixth century historian.

Why? Because, explains Johnston, what ‘society’ needs is ‘a 21-year-old who really understands how to analyse things, understands the tenets of leadership and contributing to society, who is a thinker and someone who has the potential to help society drive forward’.

So extraordinary is this statement, coming from the leader of a major UK university, that my first instinct is to assume that the journalist must have misheard or reworked Johnston’s comments in some way. After all, surely the VC of a university can hardly not know that history as it is taught at universities is essentially all about analysis. That is why it is so highly valued by employers, who know that history graduates, whether they specialise in the sixth or the 16th century, are indeed thinkers, people with intellectual initiative who may well have the ‘potential to help society drive forward’ (whatever Johnston means by that). To think otherwise is to profoundly misunderstand the skills that are honed in the course of a history degree.

via Sorry, Vice-Chancellor. We need more historians of the sixth century. | History Today

In theoretical terms, he’s right of course. History at it’s best teaches one to analyze, to investigate, to think for oneself, indeed to be a very valuable person to any organization.

But while I don’t know about the UK, and the historians I know there are indeed all that he says, that is not what I see coming out of American Universities. What I see here are almost completely a group of whiners, not competent to organize a two-car funeral, whose idea of research is Wikipedia (yes, I use it too, for a quick check, but for anything that can be spun, it is not reliable), if not YouTube, and who can barely defend themselves in written English.

In the last analysis the market is never really wrong, if history was really a good major for businesses, somebody would have given it a shot, and made a lot of money as a result. But they haven’t, and so maybe historians should think about how to put the rigor back into the program. And a pro-tip, working to an agenda is not the way. Especially one that says that everything western civilization has ever done is both racist and wrong.

What I so often see are people who can’t defend their opinion (even if they do call them theses), and who run crying to their safe-spaces if anyone dares criticize them, and who follow fads and fashion rather than do research. Undoubtedly, I’m using too broad a brush here, but so is he. The amount of pure bullcrap put out in jargon form by historians and other social science professionals beggars the imagination. It also overwhelms one with the turgid, obfuscating language used to conceal the lack of thought of many of the authors. So, maybe the VC does have a point after all.

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About NEO
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18 Responses to Sorry, Vice-Chancellor. We need more historians of the sixth century.

  1. Faith Williams says:

    I am of the firm belief that to move forward, we must look to our past. A firm grasp on history, idealistically, should provide a person with the tools to look at our world. Then, with the past in mind, drive society forward.
    Of course, I’m speaking as an idealistic liberal arts grad with a degree in history and English. I’m bound to have bias.
    One think I will say about our American education system: I agree that it is churning out “students” who have no idea how to have a coherent conversation (verbal or written), much less synthesize any subject they have learned into a meaningful whole. I’m a believer in classical education, which teaches a student how to learn and synthesize information, instead of just throwing subjects and a test at them. If you’re interested in learning more about the classical concept of education, read Dorothy Sayers’s essay “The Lost Tools of Learning.”(http://www.gbt.org/text/sayers.html) Classically educated students are much more likely to be able to defend their opinion against criticism and do the research required to have a fully-formed and rational conversation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Agree with all you say, Faith, but then I would. Back in the day, I was a history minor. Just started your link, it looks very good.

      I agree strongly with your point about classical education, we were far better off when we taught people to think, rather than indoctrinate them to be cogs in the industrial machine.

      I do my share of whingeing about the stupidity of the electorate, but you hit upon the cause of it. Now if we could convince our societies that life is more than a job…But we must, and we must not despair, although that’s is hard for me lately.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Faith Williams says:

        The state of public education in the US is most certainly indoctrination. It’s a damn shame, really. Life is so much more than a job. Life is a gift, meant to be experienced and savored. For me, it’s all interconnected with my sacramental view of the world. God has given us art, music, literature, nature, people, truth, goodness, beauty, all these wonderful things so we can experience his vision of the world. We can’t allow a clinical and cold view of the world to take over, where nothing matters but the daily grind to make some cash. So much matters. Fight against despair!! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          How right you are! Always, Always, fight against the despair! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I question the premise that the purpose of learning is to make people more efficient in the workplace. It is perfectly reasonable that universities, employers and students take such an instrumental approach to learning. However, if universities have ‘safe spaces’ at all they should be areas where people learn, if they want to, simply for the joy of the thing. If they then go on to flip burgers or wash cars, fine, at least they can read medieval Sanskrit or whatever in their leisure time which was their ambition rather than being efficient drones.

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      I can’t really speak to the UK system, although it sounds much like ours anymore. But here we imported Bismarck’s Prussian system which most accounts agree was designed to make docile soldiers and workers.

      Exactly, I don’t think a university education should really be designed as a vocational program, it should build a well rounded program, if it makes one fit for a job/profession, that’s a bonus.

      The world needs burger flippers and car washers too, after all. I’m a decent example, I read a good bit of history, but I’m a power lineman and electrician, but I’m more than that, although a lot of it is that I simply like to read.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Universities like Gothic Cathedrals have their roots in the Middle Ages. Much of the stuff in a medieval Cathedral serves a functional purpose. There are also beautifully crafted objects which are placed where only God can see them. Universities should be the same, most students will come out with career-ready skills but some will be equipped with beautiful learning whose purpose is known to God alone.

        Liked by 3 people

        • NEO says:

          I couldn’t agree more, and all will come out better people for the experience.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Both George Santayana and I believe too Sir Edmund Burke earlier, spoke about ‘Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.’ History does repeat itself to some degree. And btw too whatever happened to the requirement of college students to take at least some basic Philosophy? The art of logic, thinking and reason!

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Long gone, at least in America

      Like

      • I have quite noted that logic & reason are missing in the American presidential front runners in both party’s politically! Trump is especially bad here, but Mrs. Clinton has a problem with truth also. (Note I said also, so that includes Trump) Wow, its not looking good for America! And my little brother (the new American) will vote it appears for the libertarian?

        How can young Americans be educated in such a mess?

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          I think the lack of young Americans being educated is the prime cause of the mess. We, the elders of our society, have been derelict in our duty to them.

          Like

        • Yes, its a Western problem surely (modernity & postmodernity), the British classes have been derelict for years! Look at the British decline in serious biblical & theological Christianity! As Paul wrote, “Always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Tim. 3: 7) Our society lacks reality and spiritual truth, which can only come before God In Christ, we must have Christ at the centre! But Christianity, especially Judeo-Christianity is under serious attack as Gentile Apostasy grows! It time for real Christians to stand up together, and take on this age! WE have the truth and the anwsers, but only Redemptively In Christ!

          Liked by 1 person

        • Btw, check out the books and writings of the Canadian born Evangelical Christian D.A. Carson, I loved his book (2012) The Intolerance of Tolerance (Eerdmans Pub.) Also his 2008 book: Christ & Culture Revisited was good!

          Like

        • Epistemological pluralism? Ugh! The biblical-theological and thinking Christian simply must challenge secularism’s ostensible neutrality and superiority!

          Like

  4. the unit says:

    Enjoyed reading here yesterday. Read the blog article several times, the linked article, and enjoyed the comments very much. I had a little of the to “round me” required courses the first year or two then it was I guess Bismarck’s Prussian system for chemistry major, with much math and physics. Every thing was exact melting points, boiling points and etc. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Yep, and only being right counts. In those fields.

      Like

  5. Pingback: The Lost Tools of Learning | nebraskaenergyobserver

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