Sunday, January 31, 2021

Some of us history majors like this essay...

 I am approaching the subject of this lecture with considerable trepidation. I know that among my hearers  there are professional historians whom I greatly respect, and I should not at all wish to seem desirous of instructing them as to how their work should be done. I shall write as a consumer, not a producer. In shops they have a maxim: "The customer is always right." But academic persons (among whom I should wish to include myself) are more lordly than shopkeepers: if the consumer does not like what he is offered, that is because he is a Philistine and because he does not know what is good for him. Up to a point I sympathize with this attitude. It would never do for a mathematician to try to please the general reader. . . . But history seems to me to be in a different category. The multiplication table, though useful, can hardly be called beautiful. It is seldom that essential wisdom in regard to human destiny is to be found by remembering even its more difficult items. History, on the other hand, is so I shall contend a desirable part of everybody's mental furniture in the same kind of way as is generally recognized in the case of poetry. If history is to fulfill this function, it can only do so by appealing to those who are not professional historians. 

-Bertrand Russell, as excerpted from his 1954 essay, History As An Art

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