More Creative Historical Thinking

Our conversation about how all history is revisionist and open to creativity with Michael Douma continues this week.

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Our conversation about how all history is revisionist and open to creativity with Michael Douma continues this week. Douma believes that a history classroom should not be about memorizing facts that a professor believes matter. It is more important to train people to think critically and creatively. Douma believes that history is always written from the perspective of the historian, describing it as, “a discussion without end”, meaning history is never completely solid or solved.

What is the definition of creativity? How is history like a pencil? Is history all conspiracy? What is a history buff? What is a crack-pot?

Further Reading

Michael J. Douma website

Creative Historical Thinking, written by Michael J. Douma

What is Classical Liberal History?, written by Michael J. Douma

Music by Kai Engel

Related Content

Creative Historical Thinking, with Michael Douma, Part One, Liberty Chronicles Episode

What is the Importance of History, written by David Boaz

Is there a Purpose to History?, Free Thoughts Episode

What is Classical Liberal History?, Liberty Chronicles Episode

[music]

00:06 Anthony Comegna: Mike Douma is an assistant research professor at Georgetown University and the director of the Georgetown Institute for the Study of markets, and ethics, he joined us last week for part one of a two-show series on his latest book, “Creative Historical Thinking”. We start today then with a question that has no doubt been keeping many of you awake at night. Welcome to Liberty Chronicles, a project of libertarianism.org. I’m Anthony Comegna. Who won the Governor’s election in Ohio in 1876?

00:46 Michael Douma: It’s a trick question. ‘cause there wasn’t one. The governors in Ohio in the 19th century, at least the late 19th century were elected on odd number years and…

00:57 Anthony Comegna: Rutherford Hayes had vacated the…

00:58 Michael Douma: That’s correct.

01:00 Anthony Comegna: Yeah, well, he became president.

01:02 Michael Douma: So this is a, this is an irony of the book, because I state that we shouldn’t care so much about minor historical facts…

01:08 Anthony Comegna: I say we continued to debate this a lot.

01:10 Michael Douma: Gubernatorial election in Ohio in 1875, and actually didn’t look that up. And I had a friend of mine who read the book an editor read the book ahead of time pointed out to me that there hadn’t been a gubernatorial election in that year, which is fine, for the purposes of the book, ‘cause I think it highlights this we teach facts of history, we teach content and I think that’s fine. I think there’s a role in civic education I think there is some basics that we should get but I signed much more with the historical thinking movement with the idea that after about eighth grade, or maybe 10th grade, we should really be thinking about how to interpret facts. We should be dealing with primary sources, we should be struggling with questions of meaning and interpretation.

01:58 Anthony Comegna: When I was in high school, I remember I was very good at a subject like history and I mean most subjects, because I was good at memorizing information and taking tests, so I did well in school. It was like a formula.

02:10 Michael Douma: Did you have a mnemonic? Did you have a…

02:13 Anthony Comegna: No, no, I just was generally interested and good at testing taking. So I figured out the formula of how to do well in school. And for history, I came out of it thinking history is a bunch of infor0mation, it’s a bunch of facts and figures and data, and you put it together and tell a story to communicate that. And then I got to college and I took a class on Medieval History and the professor said at one point, and then Rome fell in I don’t know 400 something, and I was just…

[overlapping conversation]

02:44 Michael Douma: You’re supposed to know that.

02:47 Anthony Comegna: 476. 476. There’s nothing more important in all of… No more important date in western history perhaps world history than 476.

02:58 Michael Douma: I think Roman was sacked and fell a number of times so I…

03:00 Anthony Comegna: No, but it was a great object lesson in what really doesn’t matter.

03:04 Michael Douma: Well, what I say is that there is no discipline outside of history, that there’s a greater difference between the way we teach it and what the professionals actually do. In our classroom, we simply teach content, when do historians, professional historians like you and I ever sit around and just try to recall dates. No, all we ever talk about is interpretation.

03:30 Anthony Comegna: Yeah, and I have a terrible memory for facts and figures now so let’s look it up right away.

03:37 Michael Douma: Yeah, we’re not training people to be creative in history classes.

03:41 Anthony Comegna: You always have a stack of books for…

03:44 Michael Douma: In fact this is like a scary word. Creativity is something you do in art class, history is about pure facts and you just have to know them. I could see some resistance at first when people come across this book, and say “Well obviously that just means a rewriting history to our own political motivations, revisionist history as pejorative”. All history is revisionist. If you’re not rewriting it, you’re plagiarizing.

04:14 Anthony Comegna: Yeah, or just being very, very boring, unoriginal which is hardly compelling at all, and it’s certainly not gonna change too many minds or directions in the profession, but it does. That does lead me right into my next question, which you brought up earlier. To what extent is your position postmodernist, then or how does your position interact with that school of thinking ‘cause especially in your discussion about space and time and the relative natures of these things you do sound very postmodernist. I wonder to what extent is that an accurate description of your own view?

04:53 Michael Douma: That’s also another difficult question. I think the postmodernists are important. They bring up a number of things we should be concerned about with history, they question whether we can objectively know something, whether our biases make it so that we can never come to firm conclusions whether the form of our writing, even the metaphors, the tropes that we use restrict us to writing stories that can only be written in certain ways. I share with them some of the sympathies but I’m not a postmodern in any of those senses, I don’t think, I believe the past objectively existed. I believe in the correspondence theory of truth, that we can come close to something. I don’t believe that history is largely fiction. I struggle with some of their subjectivism that borders on relativism. A lot of times, postmodernist swear they’re not, they say they’re not relativist, that’s usually a term that’s thrown at them unfairly.

06:00 Michael Douma: But no, I think history is, I think maybe why people might see some postmodernism in my work is because of a term what I think I do which is called historical pluralism, historical pluralism is this idea that you can have many interpretations of one event. And there’s this Dutch historian Frank Ankersmit, Frank Ankersmit, in Dutch, and he likes to say that you don’t have a weaker understanding by having an additional explanation, every additional explanation that you have makes the painting come more alive and stronger. That history described and explained from different perspectives is history better understood. And so, a historical pluralist like myself would say there is not one objective story to be told, there’s true stories and false stories based on correspondence theory. But we can look at any event and tell many different stories depending on what it is, that we wanna pull out there what do we wanna highlight what is important to us because history is always written from the perspective of the historian.

07:12 Anthony Comegna: Isn’t it also you then determining what facts correspond with reality.

07:19 Michael Douma: Now you sound like a postmodernist.

07:19 Anthony Comegna: I don’t mind that. Isn’t that true though, that it is the historian who’s always writing the history? So aren’t they the ones who are basically determining what they find convincing and…

07:31 Michael Douma: Yeah of course.

07:33 Anthony Comegna: Isn’t that problematic for something that tries to be scientific?

07:36 Michael Douma: Certainly that’s problematic, but that’s why we have a whole system of checks, that’s why we have historiography, that’s why we don’t believe willy nilly in the first explanation that comes up. If historians… This gets into problems of methods now, if historians only cite half of the letter every time, or if they’re avoiding all of the evidence to the contrary, they’re not doing a very good job and they get found out by others. But history is like philosophy in this sense that it’s a continuous argument. In fact, so I’ve spent some time in the Netherlands. This is why I bring up the Dutch. They have a phrase in the Netherlands about historiography, or history, they call it “A discussion without end” and this phrase hasn’t come into American historiography. We don’t talk about this very much, but I like to think of it that way. A discussion without end is that we’re never finished writing history, we’re never, it’s never completely solid.

08:32 Michael Douma: We have to keep talking through these things. It’s good for society. If we have arguments about the past, because we’re going to have different interpretations, we’re constantly gonna wrestle with this stuff. It’s bad if we accept one objective historical standard and then just move on from there. So the fact that we can’t know something, 100% isn’t a knock on history, it’s just that historical knowledge is not something like logic or revealed truth scriptural truth, or something where you can say, that it’s 100% true and known. And so the postmodernist critique that you can only know part of the past or you can’t know it all, therefore, you don’t truly know it is false in that sense, when we encounter other things we say this table in front of us, is black. If you don’t tell me all of the attributes of the table, you don’t truly know it. No, I’m telling you one piece of knowledge. I know this table is black, and we can do this with history too. We can tell one piece of historical knowledge without having to explain everything and we can be fairly certain about certain pieces of historical knowledge and work up from there.

09:51 Anthony Comegna: Yeah, I mean to me it all just comes down to be very humble, be very, very humble as humble as possible.

09:58 Michael Douma: That’s great. And this is another lesson that I sneak in in the book in a later chapter. We have a lot of historians these days who are calling for history to have a greater role in public policy. That historians should be like the economists, and constantly be informing the presidents of what to think because we have a special knowledge of how things develop over time. I think if anything, history teaches us that we don’t really know that much we have to be careful when we make these grand predictions or say that things ultimately happen in one way or another. Yeah, the more you learn about history, the more humble you become, the more skeptical I think you become.

10:36 Anthony Comegna: Now speaking of skepticism, could you tell us the difference between a history buff, a crackpot, a crank and a creative?

10:47 Michael Douma: I can try, yeah, this is something that I’ve been working on a little bit. I’m not saying that others might not have other definitions of these terms. A history buff, is somebody who is very, very interested in facts and things about history. They’re sort of like an antiquarian. They want to hold on to a piece of history, they want to memorize this knowledge, but they’re never very good at the analysis or the interpretation part of history, they don’t like historiographical debates. So, buffs can tell you everything about gubernatorial elections in the 19th century perhaps, or the Civil War, they make good audiences. They show up to historical societies, and this and that, they buy books, they read them, they digest them. But they struggle or just not interested in the abstractions of trying to figure out bigger picture stuff, arguing comparative history this way or that. So I like to think of the history buff as the general consumer of history and these are great people we need them. They perform services for historians, they create chronicles, they create databases, they read and write, they check over things they really know the facts of the past.

12:14 Michael Douma: Crackpots are people who… And distinguish between crackpots and cranks. So, crackpots are loons which is loony, crazy and cranks are not loons. So crackpots have just patently absurd views that are so far from the norm that nobody tends to take them seriously, right? Cranks however, and the term crank has a really interesting history. A crank is a person who cannot be turned, so it’s a pun. A crank cannot be turned. And this means a crank stands by their argument, no matter what evidence is marshalled against it, they’re just steadfast. So a crank is different than a creative person because both of them… Well the crackpot, the crank, and the creative might all come up with new ideas. The crackpot’s ideas are well usually so far out there, the crank’s ideas are not subject to discussion or can’t be overturned and the creative person wants to contribute to social dialogue, and is willing to be overturned. This is actually an issue in the field of creativity. They define creativity by saying that it’s something that’s new and useful. Well, how do we know what’s useful, socially useful? So other people have to come in and agree to this, and this is the communal aspect of history. We write history for other people. Other people have to agree with it, for it to be brought into the historiography it has to be related back and forth, connected up together. So the real key to be creative is to be open, to be networking, to be social, to be communal.

14:03 Anthony Comegna: Now, if I may, I just wanna read a quote, from the book real quick, you say “It is possible to write a creative history of the Finno-Ugric languages or clam bakes in Rhode Island, but neither seems to have the potential to become best sellers. Above all, however creative historians are unpredictable. So, the next great work of history might be just about anything.” Now, I guess my question is, are you calling me a crank?

14:31 Michael Douma: Yeah, because a long-time listeners of the show, consistent listeners of the show will know that Anthony has written about clam bakes in Rhode Island. I don’t even know why I use that, just that it’s a different topic. I like to pick on the dissertations that just write about Thomas Jefferson, and we need to write about Thomas Jefferson, there’s great people that write about him, but everybody wants to focus on the same thing again and again. And it’s important for historians to write about standard topics, but I also think it’s good to do one weird project, one creative different research project that maybe nobody else knows about, but maybe you discover something interesting. This is where differentiation in the field is important. And where we’re gonna find new discoveries on the margin really new, interesting things. And so generally, if you write that kind of stuff, it’s bound to fail. If you do really different things you’re gonna struggle. But it’s like playing in Las Vegas gambling, you can stick to tried and trued games where you’re gonna lose a little, gain a little, and you’re gonna be pretty much, even at the end, probably down a little bit or you risk it all on some interesting projects.

15:53 Michael Douma: And so, like I say, “Clam bakes in Rhode Island doesn’t sound like it’s gonna be a best seller, it’s not David McCullough’s next book as far as I know, but it has the potential.” If you discover something from time to time, people write really ground-breaking best-selling books about topics that would seem entirely obscure.

16:19 Anthony Comegna: So then besides me, of course, who are some of your favorite crackpots and cranks?

16:28 Michael Douma: Crackpots and cranks. Well, crackpots Alex Jones has been in the news recently, he’s always good for some humor.

16:36 Anthony Comegna: I mean people who for all of their faults and hey may be Alex Jones is one of these for you. But for all of their faults, you just really love listening to them or reading their out there ideas and topics.

16:47 Michael Douma: I know, basically, the History Channel has been taken over by crackpots and cranks, a combination of the two. I think they have almost nothing left besides them. So, I forget their names, but the guy for the Oak Island show, is a combination of a crackpot and a crank, I think. I like to follow some of that fringe history conspiracy stuff. I don’t believe in any of it, but it’s interesting to learn about their perspectives and see how they argue. They’re always connecting things. If you ever listen to right-wing radio or something, people will yell connect the dots and bang on the table, connect the dots like these dots are so obviously connected. That’s what conspiracy theorists do. They connect very disparate dots, disparate facts of information to weave together a huge narrative. And I think a conspiracist is different than a historian ‘cause a historian wants sufficient empirical evidence to bridge all those gaps in the story, and they’re willing to listen to other possible interpretations of how to draw the lines between those dots.

17:54 Anthony Comegna: I find it interesting that maybe perhaps like with the clam bakes example, you’re most likely to find new source material from these sorts of folks who have a hobby horse that’s perhaps a very unusual subject and they’re looking in places that most people wouldn’t bother.

18:13 Anthony Comegna: Sure, you might think of it as like a bell curve, right? Standard historians are in that first standard deviation or so in the crack… Well the crackpots are on the very far edge of the distribution, and they’re less likely to shape the whole field, but they might lead us in new directions.

18:35 Anthony Comegna: How is history, like a pencil? You compare history to Leonard Read’s essay, “I, Pencil” saying basically, nobody can do it on their own. So what do you mean?

18:43 Michael Douma: Well, this is true. If you think about every source that comes to you the number of people whose hands have gone into writing those letters, shipping those letters, archiving that material, bringing it to you from the archive, digitizing it for you, running the website that host it etcetera, etcetera, et cetera. After a while when your footnoting stuff you might write an article and you have 50 footnotes. You’re citing the authors of all those pieces, but you’re not citing all the people that contributed to them building those pieces. So you start thinking about this and building it out further and further. It really does become more of a communal activity, and you start to realize that really advanced history can’t be written short of there being a society, you have all these people with all these different roles like some Twilight Zone episode. You were the last person on Earth. It would be really hard to write history.

19:45 Anthony Comegna: And you actually, in a setting where you were sometimes probably feeling like the last man on Earth, at your home in rural West Virginia, you embarked on this campaign, which I think is great, very interesting, especially as it’s written in the book, to write a history of your home and your property. And you didn’t do it by yourself even though you’re on some fairly isolated property. Could you please, please, please tell us the history of your home, in an abbreviated version. [chuckle]

20:20 Michael Douma: Sure I’ll do my best. My house isn’t that old, but the property dates back to the 19th century. There was previously a house on there and I have the remainder of the barn from 1882. And if you’re doing the history of your house, naturally you go and you do the deed research. In West Virginia, that can be troubling because property markers records aren’t very good, and eventually you run out. So I ran out back in the 1880s. I took another tact, and I talked to local people. I found an 80-year-old brother and sister who grew up on my property in the 30s, and so I had an oral history component, as well as the documentary evidence. I then got a metal detectorist to come out to my property, and we dug stuff up. I then did my own essential archaeology and reconstruction of my barn and found new things. As I cut down trees I counted the rings and so I actually did some dendrochronological research on my yard and learned things about when certain trees were planted in different areas. And so I keep trying to find different historical tools or approaches that I can use to learn more about my house.

21:33 Michael Douma: And I even discovered a new one last week. For the first time in my life I bought a compass, a pretty good one, and I learned about declination. I didn’t know declination. This is the difference between absolute north, geographical north and magnetic north, which in West Virginia, it’s about ten degrees difference. So I used my compass on my porch, I set it out there, and I discovered that my house was aligned not to direct North, but to magnetic north, when they built it in 1986. And so I can imagine somebody was thinking, “Well, let’s align the house,” For whatever reason, “on this property,” they got out a compass, but they didn’t take declination into consideration when they put the first posts in the ground to shape the house. So you just learn these really curious little facts. And I keep thinking I’m at the end of my project, that I’ve learned as much as I could possibly learn about my house from researching it from all different angles, but I’m still seeking those other creative… You find stuff in the walls when you renovate a room, and sometimes it’s just a penny that says 1995 and you know they renovated room in 1995 ‘cause that’s a tradition to leave a penny in the wall when you renovate. But…

22:48 Anthony Comegna: Is that? Is it really?

22:50 Michael Douma: Yeah, yeah, so that might happen from time to time.

22:53 Anthony Comegna: See, I love that because that’s the sort of thing that I would never know. So if I were writing that history of my house, I would have to just assume, well, sort of in the way that archeologists do, that things are associated with each other. If you find them near each other, they’re associated. You don’t know for sure that this person whose body you have dropped this clay bowl or whatever next to them when they died, right then and there, but they’re associated together, they’re next to each other, close enough, we can pretty much say they’re probably around the same time period, etcetera.

23:27 Michael Douma: This was… A hundred and some years ago when people did history methods they used to talk about history, and then in later chapters, they would talk about the auxiliary sciences by which they meant things like numismatics, learning about coins, and epigraphy, learning about inscriptions, as if historians were all ancient and medieval historians that we were gonna be able to use these other sciences. But we actually forget about how useful some of the stuff might be, like folklore to understand why a porch is built in a certain way on a house, or talk to the metal detectorist because you can learn all sorts of things about where do they find coins around a house and why? They find them on the path to the outhouse ‘cause people are dropping coins as they’re walking out to the outhouse. Or they find them… Find the biggest tree on your property if it’s over a hundred years old, maybe they used to lean up against that tree and something fell out of their pocket. So you can learn from these specialized forms of knowledge certain things that you can incorporate into your historical toolbox.

24:30 Anthony Comegna: Did you find anything especially shocking or surprising that you totally didn’t expect while doing the history of your house?

24:38 Michael Douma: I wish I could say that I could I have but no… Well, I was shoveling out my barn. I won’t say what I was shoveling. It stunk pretty bad and hadn’t been removed in a long time, when I encountered… When I, with my shovel, hit a piece of metal. I picked it up and inside that piece of metal was a pair of Teddy Roosevelt style glasses from 1910, completely mint condition… Well, I wouldn’t say mint, but unbroken lenses, apparently some reading glasses that somebody had left in the barn a hundred years ago, fell in the hay, got covered by manure, never saw them again until this historian archeologist decided to renovate the barn.

25:17 Anthony Comegna: Yeah. If I remember correctly, you said that’s your favorite thing that you’ve found.

25:22 Michael Douma: That’s my favorite. I found a carpenter’s ax which fell between two vertical walls in the barn. As I took that wall out, I discovered the ax in the wall. So you can imagine they were up on the second floor of the barn, hammering away at something, cutting something, and the carpenters ax fell between, and maybe they kicked it behind him, they didn’t see it, and it landed in the hay and didn’t hear it, who knows? Or they just decided not to fish it out from the wall.

25:50 Anthony Comegna: And now I want to move to another quote on a claim that you make later in the book that may well be controversial to some people on this show, given how we’ve treated so many subjects so far. A cornerstone of my idea about history is that it’s really all conspiracy. It’s individuals working to their own self-interest. It’s perhaps not as sinister as conspiracy sounds to us by now.

26:21 Michael Douma: Maybe you define it in a different way.

26:24 Anthony Comegna: Right. And part of that is purposeful. We don’t like to think that people are always pursuing their self-interest, but when you come down to it, that is really what they’re doing, for better or for worse. So let’s talk about it more frankly. That’s the way I like to approach it at least. So then you make this… What I might say is a very controversial claim. You said when you start accepting conspiracy theories, you stop being a historian.

26:49 Michael Douma: Yeah, well, if you rephrase it in the way that you use the term, then obviously the sentence doesn’t apply, ‘cause your conception of all history is a conspiracy of the individual to shape things in their own advantage. But I would say another way of thinking about this is the conspiracist thinks that they will believe first and then prove it, or defend later with evidence. The open-minded historian should only believe tentatively that which they have evidence for. And so you come up with things, but you’re always willing to allow… The worst examples of historians are those who absolutely refuse to listen to alternative positions, or because they’ve done their life work on something they refuse to believe somebody else could possibly come up with something else or discover a different way of thinking about this. This is the old historian that shuts down the young historian at a conference, something like this sort of egoism or lack of humility that isn’t becoming of a good historian.

28:00 Anthony Comegna: Yeah, it seems in those cases that the humility really gets beaten down by probably some sort of political agenda or ideological agenda one kind or another. We can certainly think of current or recent examples of that, I imagine. So for closing, can you tell us what your histocratic oath is?

28:22 Michael Douma: Yeah, I tried to add some humor in this book, and I hope you’ll see it.

28:27 Anthony Comegna: I think I came across great. [chuckle]

28:31 Michael Douma: In the footnotes, right up front in the introduction, and of course in the closing. And I thought If creative historians are gonna distinguish themselves from others, what might they say? And so I thought sort of like a girl scout club, reciting an oath, and I put together a number of standard ideas about what history is and what I think it ought to be into this oath which you have before you.

28:58 Anthony Comegna: Well, let’s do this, let’s make this a thing where historians actually say the Mike Douma histocratic oath.

29:05 Michael Douma: Alright. So you read sentence one.

29:08 Anthony Comegna: I swear by Clio, the muse of history, and by Herodotus, Thucydides, Leopold von Ranke, Ken Burns, and Eric Foner, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath and indenture.

29:21 Michael Douma: Actually, maybe, now that you’ve read the first sentence, I should comment on this and then I’ll let you read the sentence, because the comments here are… So Clio, of course, is the historical muse in what is it, Greek philosophy? I’m terrible on my ancient history. Herodotus, Thucydides, are the fathers of history, the early Greeks. Leopold Von Ranke is the German 19th century historian who essentially created the professional discipline of history. Ken Burns of course, a very famous American historian, presenter of historical films. And Eric Foner who is like the American historian, recently retired from Columbia, the standard in the field. I like this idea that Eric Foner is the standard. This used to be joked about in some online forums a few years ago. There was this whole joke about you write your dissertation on one topic and then you find out the next day that Eric Foner has a book coming out on that topic so your career is ruined, [chuckle] because it won’t possibly compete with Eric Foner’s version of the Loco Focos, which is assuredly better…

[chuckle]

30:34 Anthony Comegna: Oh, my. Don’t say that. [chuckle]

30:36 Michael Douma: Not to say anything against you, but is assuredly better than [30:38] ____ version of Loco Focos.

30:38 Anthony Comegna: No, you’re right. Yeah, don’t do that.

30:41 Michael Douma: That’s what I should have said, is, “Did you hear that Eric Foner is finishing up a book?”

30:48 Anthony Comegna: Let’s move on. [chuckle] That I will use my historical knowledge to teach the youth to treat history as a creative discipline through lectures, interesting and various, material culture exercises, field trips, debates, and research projects, but never with a view towards requiring them to remember particular facts. Neither will I administer tests that ask merely for the recall of information.

31:17 Michael Douma: Yeah. And here I’m once again promoting this idea that classrooms, history classrooms, ought to be like laboratories or workshops. We ought to teach people to think like historians, work like historians in the classroom, to work on projects with us, to assemble things, whether it’s local histories, family histories, have them put things together. Because the lesson from the Montessori School of Education is that when you do something on your own, you gain confidence. When students learn historical facts or interpretation, they stand by… When they learn it their on their own, they stand by it and argue for it. When they’re just told it, it just goes right through them. It hardly sticks at all.

32:04 Anthony Comegna: On my honor, I will do my best to not be just a chronicler or plagiarist. I promise not to write another unnecessary biography of a founding father. I promise to help genealogists even when I don’t really want to. I promise always to be curious, to be dutiful in my footnoting, and never fail to listen to multiple sides of a story.

32:27 Michael Douma: Does anybody really ever want to help a genealogist?

32:34 Anthony Comegna: I’ve never considered it, but I wouldn’t want to. [chuckle]

32:36 Michael Douma: That’s the real question we have to ask here, because it’s… Genealogy is history that only is important or applies to that particular person. It’s not much you can abstract from it. What I say in the book is what you can learn is skills of how to look up information, how to understand family patterns, family naming patterns of descent, historical movements. So genealogy is an important other auxiliary skill that a historian should have, but the communication between genealogists who are sort of like fact mongers, personal facts that relate to them, versus historians who are interested in bigger interpretations that apply to everybody or all of society, sometimes that the connection between the two can be a little severe. So I encourage historians to have patience for the genealogists and help them if you know a little bit, but usually, they seem to know their field quite well.

33:32 Anthony Comegna: And I think this last bit also speaks to the fact that historians should be more creative in how they interact with people, and the kinds of things that they can offer the community. Even if you’re not out there changing people’s lives, there are always people around you who have some kind of questions that you could be the go-to person to help with.

33:56 Michael Douma: Yeah, and I have a chapter on the entrepreneurial historian, where I say they should do that stuff. If you think about pre-modern societies, historians had a role in the community. They were keepers of knowledge for the community, and people would come to them for questions. Now, in this modern or postmodern world, historians, they’re separate. This is why a lot of people are suspicious of the work that academic historians do. They’re not doing it in their communities, they don’t relate to other people, they’re up there in their ivory towers on their university campus. And we’ve had to create this whole field called public history to remind historians that they should be connected with their communities.

34:38 Michael Douma: I think it’s an obligation of the historian to help their neighbor understand historical events if they ask them, to contribute to the Founders Day parade of their local community, to go to the school to help local historians to collect things locally, or to answer questions that come in from people nationally. Once again, I’ll make a final remark relating to the Netherlands. From what I understand, and I don’t understand everything about the Dutch, it seems that historians promoted to the position of professor in the Netherlands have a component of their job which is like public outreach, which includes giving speeches, which includes being a sort of public figure. And I think it would be important for American historians to recognize that almost like moral obligation to be part of their societies.

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35:40 Anthony Comegna: There it is, folks, probably one of the best books on historical methods you will read for a long, long time, ad a new professional oath to match. I don’t know how many of you took the histocratic oath along with us, though you’re welcome to, but it certainly describes the path of this show, and I’ll do my best to help any of you genealogists out there whenever possible.

36:00 Anthony Comegna: Liberty Chronicles is a project of libertarianism.org. It is produced by Tess Terrible. If you’ve enjoyed this episode of Liberty Chronicles, please rate, review and subscribe to us on iTunes. For more information on Liberty Chronicles, visit libertarianism.org.

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