11 June 2007

Biography not History? Professionalism or Elitism?

"According to George Rable, a Civil War historian at the University of Alabama, Faust's Hammond biography was in its own way a provocation, and only in part because the book humanizes a man personally and politically objectionable to modern eyes. Though biographies of historical figures have found favor with popular audiences, [commoners] they're often dismissed by professional historians, many of whom, Rable says, believe that "the individual life is not the story of history."*

"Professional historians, especially young [youth and wisdom seldom sit on the same shoulders] ones, Rable says, are expected to write about social movements or intellectual trends [i.e., fads, popular culture, vogue, fashion] or economic classes of people at a particular moment in history. Rable himself, though he's quick to argue that he doesn't share that bias, nonetheless says he tends to steer his graduate students, for the sake of their careers, [contrasted with "the sake of truth and history"] away from writing biography." (My emphasis)

So much for intellectual honesty. At least someone admits the obvious. See full story here. With this story and the Gallagher controversy, does anyone else see old-fashioned "snobbish elitism" as part of the problem? Maybe it's just me.

*"That is one of the great lessons of history. It is simply that in the providence of God, ordinary people are ultimately the ones who determine the outcome of human events." —George Grant

Biography not history? Amazing.


Lawrence Underwood said...


Don't you just love the way George can come up with those sentences.

Beth said...

Thanks for writing this.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thank you for reading Beth.