History and Milestones

Well, it’s 9 November and I’m reliably informed that we have a birthday to celebrate. I’m not supposed to tell you but it’s Jess’s birthday. How old she is, is protected by the Official Secrets Act, 😉 but my understanding is that it’s somewhere between 18 and 80, but if I knew more, I couldn’t tell you, since I don’t want her to kill me! She might show up here but why not jump over to AATW and wish her a happy birthday by giving her even more than her usual stupendous readership. I’ll see you there. [By the way, the link goes to a multi-part piece of fiction written by four of us over there, I’d say it’s not bad for amateurs.]

Happy Birthday, Dearest friend!!!

In full disclosure, Jess also aimed me towards the rest of the things we will talk about today.

In other news, lets talk about history and it’s place in the world a bit. The other day I showed you a link to John Donne’s Gunpowder Day sermon. It’s here, if you missed it. That work was done by NC State and it’s most impressive. But other universities are doing some great work along the same lines. One of them is the Virtual Past which is a University of East Anglia Enterprise. Their website has some samples of their work, which is quite impressive.

Do go and have a look around. I assume some US institutions other than UNC are doing this as well, if you know of some, showcase them or tell me in comments because in a good many ways, this is one of the best ways to teach history in the 21st century.

While we’re hanging about in Norwich and the UAE, there’s another program I want to highlight. It’s called the ThoughtOut Project, and I really like their objectives. Here, I’ll let them tell you:

As the editorial assistant for History, the journal of the Historical Association, I get the opportunity to look at cutting-edge research almost every day.  Proof-reading articles just before we publish them, I always get a bit excited because I know I am one of the first people to get access to that new information. It’s one of the most exciting parts of my job. Working for History,I feel like I am always learning. I get sent stuff like this every day! It’s glorious! History is a funny subject, like that. Even though it’s ‘old news’ there’s always something new to learn; Something you can relate to, or a situation one can superimpose onto your own. Putting yourself in the shoes of a character from history can be delicious escapism, or a humbling, thought-provoking experience.

As the managing editor for the ThoughtOut Project, I do exactly the same thing, but the packaging in terms of how we share the information we find is very different. ThoughtOut is an organisation aimed at sharing cutting-edge humanities research with the general public. I tend to use the phrase “curated by clever people, for clever people” although I get told that this is a little too self-congratulatory! That’s not really what I’m getting at when I say it, though. The most important aspect of that phrase is the second half. I am a genuine believer in the power of humanities subjects to inform and educate, not in a superficial learning-by-rote talking at people way, but also a in terms of a deep, self-motivated thirst for personal development. And this is not learning for people who have ÂŁ9,000 to spend each year, and 3 or 4 years spare to dedicate to a full-time degree. This is everyday learning for your average-Joe, your housewife, your teacher, your estate agent, or newsagent. This is also where the events that I run for ThoughtOut are especially interesting, […]

Continue reading History and the ThoughtOut Project

Obviously I, and you, are not going to agree with everything that British (mostly, anyway) academics write, but the articles I’ve read there I’ve found fascinating, and I think a good many of you will as well. And as an example, I have two years of college in Electrical Engineering Technology, and the humanities have made my life immeasurably richer. So what do they write about, you ask? Please do! Stuff like this By Heather Brooke


The humanities teach enlightenment; markets are blind.

In 1780, the American statesman John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail: “I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematicks and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, musick, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelaine.” A true student of the Enlightenment, Adams understood the difference between means and ends. Unfortunately for us, politicians, not statesmen, are determining current educational policy; with astonishing myopia they have decreed that the only subjects worth studying at university are those that can “forge links with business and industry.”

The study of the humanities in Britain today has lost a war that the people who teach humanities didn’t know they were fighting. Following the recommendations of the Browne report—overseen by a man whose career had nothing to do with education and everything to do with the corporate world of business and markets, commissioned by the Labour government and implemented by the Coalition—the funding of the teaching of the humanities in UK universities has been cut by 100%. The teaching of humanities will no longer be funded by the state at all: it will only be funded if students decide to pay to study the humanities, in a society urging them to think ever more instrumentally about education as a means to make money, rather than as a means to make better people.

According to the Browne report, “priority subjects” are science and technology courses, clinical medicine, nursing and other healthcare degrees, as well as “strategically important” language courses. Entitled “Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education,” the report made clear what the future of higher education would not include: the humanities were nowhere named in its 67 pages.

Continue reading THE CASE FOR THE HUMANITIES. (A hint, all you have to do is scroll down for the article, at least in my browsers.) 🙂

OK, you all know that I’m a huge proponent of the so-called STEM curricula, nothing changes that, we desperately need engineers and math majors and such but, if we allow the humanities to languish we will lose so very much of our heritage, and our knowledge base. I’m sure you’ve noticed how nearly all of us quote our founding fathers at the drop of a hat, even as she quoted John Adams above. The heritage of the English-speaking world is a treasure that must not be wasted, whatever the needs (real or imagined) of trade. I would remind you all that Andrew Carnegie, himself, after he built the largest steel company in the world, after starting as a telegrapher on the Pennsylvania Railroad, devoted the rest of his life to founding libraries all over the United States.

As I said above, do tell me about other institutions doing these types of things.



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