Comments on: Paul Krugman, erstwhile historian? http://www.historiann.com/2010/02/25/paul-krugman-erstwhile-historian/ History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Sun, 21 Sep 2014 12:24:08 +0000 hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 By: John http://www.historiann.com/2010/02/25/paul-krugman-erstwhile-historian/comment-page-1/#comment-571621 Tue, 09 Mar 2010 03:23:13 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=9714#comment-571621 But what if it really IS the Greatest Country the World Has Ever Known?

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By: Saturday round-up: Sunshine, Unicorns, and Tumbleweeds edition : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present http://www.historiann.com/2010/02/25/paul-krugman-erstwhile-historian/comment-page-1/#comment-569583 Sat, 06 Mar 2010 15:47:55 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=9714#comment-569583 [...] only March 6, but I think we already have our Mansplainer of the Month.  Of course, it makes perfect sense that one 40 year-old 14-page article probably would have [...]

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By: Walt http://www.historiann.com/2010/02/25/paul-krugman-erstwhile-historian/comment-page-1/#comment-568909 Fri, 05 Mar 2010 12:24:46 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=9714#comment-568909 I know this is an old thread, but people in this thread have developed a serious misapprehension. He’s been writing about politics since the late 80s. His book on how much Reagan sucks, Age of Diminished Expectations, came out in 1990, long before he got the NYT gig (1999). Far from being an apolitical careerist, throughout the 90s he attacked many of the world’s leading economists (including Milton Friedman) for their right-wing ideas. Honestly, I think the only reason he got the NYT job was that he also attacked the Clinton administration’s flirtation with industrial policy (a la Japan), so they could imagine he was bipartisan.

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By: J. Bradford DeLong http://www.historiann.com/2010/02/25/paul-krugman-erstwhile-historian/comment-page-1/#comment-568616 Fri, 05 Mar 2010 01:38:47 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=9714#comment-568616 Somehow I don’t think Historiann has read Evsey Domar (1970), “The Causes of Slavery or Serfdom: A Hypothesis,” Economic History Review 30:1 (March), pp. 18-32. That’s a shame. She would be a better historian if she had. It is very good: http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/2003_archives/001447.html

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By: Lessons of History « The Edge of the American West http://www.historiann.com/2010/02/25/paul-krugman-erstwhile-historian/comment-page-1/#comment-568586 Fri, 05 Mar 2010 00:47:16 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=9714#comment-568586 [...] I think Historiann’s comment here is the best one: “You know that old joke about economists: ‘Sure it works in reality, but will it work in theory…‘” [...]

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By: scott http://www.historiann.com/2010/02/25/paul-krugman-erstwhile-historian/comment-page-1/#comment-566114 Mon, 01 Mar 2010 13:54:27 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=9714#comment-566114 Late to this post, but I was interested in your observation (accurate) that historians are usually influential only to the extent they help us celebrate our illusions about ourselves. You called it a “whig” sensibility. I just finished Daniel Walker Howe’s “What Hath God Wrought” about the US from 1815-46, and he spends a lot of time on Whigs as social critics of their country on issues ranging from slavery to women’s rights to treatment of Native Americans. Any thoughts on that? It seemed a little inconsistent, but my history BA is 20 years old and I’m just into it for fun now, so I’m curious to hear the professional take. Thanks! :)

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By: Paul S. http://www.historiann.com/2010/02/25/paul-krugman-erstwhile-historian/comment-page-1/#comment-564894 Sat, 27 Feb 2010 16:56:59 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=9714#comment-564894 I’ll admit that I wasn’t even thinking about the ethics and scholarship of individual authors when I wondered about the hostility. I had assumed that you were expressing a hostility to the whole style of history that focuses on narratives, the most influential individuals, and political and military events – that’s why I brought up Parkman and Gibbon. I was all wrong about that.

I still don’t think that the type of popular/biographical history written by McCullough, Goodwin, Ellis, etc., is necessarily in conflict with more inclusive social history, and I’ve never seen it as particularly “Whiggish” either. As far as I know, for all of their faults in scholarship, none of the “mass audience” historians claim that their subjects are more important than other fields of history – if anything, they seem to have been trying to make the point that the old subjects are still worth studying and should not be dismissed out of hand.

(I apologize for the delayed response – this might be too late for anyone to look be looking at these comments.)

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By: Historiann http://www.historiann.com/2010/02/25/paul-krugman-erstwhile-historian/comment-page-1/#comment-564319 Fri, 26 Feb 2010 20:05:40 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=9714#comment-564319 Divad: I’ll have to check out that article at The Nation. (Jon Wiener’s columns are the only reason I ever miss my subscription!) Thanks for the tip. FYI, “Big Tobacco and the Historians” is available on line!

I’m sure you are right, Divad and John S., about the influence of money. It’s just that it’s so foreign to my values that I find it hard to believe that people love money more than a good name and professional self-respect. (Well, maybe that’s unfair. They’re very good at what they do–it’s just that we’re in very different professions.)

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By: John S. http://www.historiann.com/2010/02/25/paul-krugman-erstwhile-historian/comment-page-1/#comment-564314 Fri, 26 Feb 2010 19:50:20 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=9714#comment-564314 @Historiann. There’s an even more fundamental reason to question McCullough’s lack of engagement with other scholars: it weakens his work, in fundamental ways. I remember reading Josh Marshall’s mini-review of _1776_ on Talking Points Memo (the erstwhile early Americanists taking a break from his political commentary duties). JMM wrote about how the book showed a depth of archival research and a strong narrative, yet also seemed to have a real ignorance of everything historians have written about the Revolution in the last two decades or so (a lot).

Celebrity dood historians often make a big deal about how they aren’t just writing in dialog with other scholars, but for a general audience. But if they were paying more attention to other scholars, they would write better books. That’s what intellectuals should want to do! (Heck–why do you think I am reading all this other stuff? I want to learn more and do better work of my own!)

But the money factor is a big deal (as Divad points out) and I think connected to the bad ethics as well. Put simply, there’s a lot more incentive to act badly when you’re getting paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for it. I remember when Stephen Ambrose was caught lifting a few pages from a book by Thomas Childers at Penn. I don’t believe the response went any further than “My bad. It was my research assistant’s fault.” I don’t believe there was any financial compensation (if there was, it was kept quiet). The $500 advance I got for my book didn’t tempt me to lift from anyone to tart it up a bit. But if it had been $500,000 would I have been tempted to “cut corners”? I’d like to say no, but cash is good to eat, as they say.

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By: Divad http://www.historiann.com/2010/02/25/paul-krugman-erstwhile-historian/comment-page-1/#comment-564309 Fri, 26 Feb 2010 19:31:00 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=9714#comment-564309 Doesn’t a lot of the motivation of “teevee” historians boil down to money and exposure? One of the things that struck me in the coverage of Niall Ferguson’s little dalliances was how damned rich the guy is. He rakes in what, about 10 million pounds a year? And what’s his reputation in the historical community? Granted, I’m not familiar with his economic histories, which is where he first made a name for himself, but I know WWI scholars don’t think too much of his books on the conflict. They were incredibly popular, though (and profitable).

There is a great, albeit very depressing, article in the latest Nation by Jon Wiener on how Big Tobacco has hired some 40 historians as expert witnesses to testify in their favor. One historian got half a million dollars for his trouble. And, of course, most of the research was farmed out to graduate students, at least some of whom were unaware of the true nature of their work.

While I think there’s something wrong with selling oneself to the tobacco companies, there’s nothing wrong per se with writing popular history. When money and exposure are the motivating factors for doing so, however, it will lead many to abandon their ethical integrity and often to shoddy and simplistic history.

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