Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Don't We Wish

There is much of interest in this short Washington Post profile of historian Simon Schama. It does have some unfortunate lines, though. For example, in the discussion of his latest book on black slavery being abolished in Britain, this comes out:

The focus soon shifts to those African Americans who, having heard the triumphant news from London, were soon invited to leave their rebel masters and aid the British army during the Revolutionary War. Eighty to a hundred thousand left the plantations to do so.

Why wouldn't they? They now knew that the British definition of freedom -- unlike the one in the Declaration of Independence -- at least in theory included them.
Ironic in a piece largely dedicated to Schama's good writing and solid history that a journalist would write so poorly, leading to bad history. Try this: either remove the entire phrase "unlike the one in the Declaration of Independence," or replace "at least in theory" with "in practice." Because in theory, the Declaration of Independence did include African Americans. Go ask Abraham Lincoln.

On another note, it really is sad that too many academics can't seem to help but drag politics and their own biases into every discussion. Here's a summary of the opinions of distinguished Maryland professor Ira Berlin (as summarized by the reporter):

Schama is "expanding the terrain for all historians," Berlin adds, at a time when history is being "squeezed out of schools by No Child Left Behind" priorities and shouldered out of review media by dog-training books.
Sigh.

What's more, the man didn't choose to write yet another Founding Father biography -- the surest route to selling history these days. He's telling "a really different kind of story," Berlin says, "one with great drama and significance."
No drama and significance in the Founding Fathers, that's for sure.

Anyway, read the profile because it would be nice if one of you became a big famous rich historian like Schama.... and then adopted me.

3 comments:

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