There speaks someone who’s sure of his funding!

The fifth interview in Pallares-Burke’s The New History is with Professor Daniel Roche. I found this one rather unsatisfying. Mostly this was, I think, because in the UK at least the times have now moved on from when you could use your students as research lackies without crediting them on the subsequent work—the sciences have taught us how to do co-authoring, for which of course there is a strict code—and I don’t think many of us would think that it was in any way ‘good for us’ to be so employed without credit, if only because the benefit of the credit would be so substantial on an early CV. However, the bit which did cause the outraged spluttering from yer humble correspondent goes like this:

“What kind of contribution can the historians make in today’s world?

“I don’t think we have any lesson to teach and I don’t believe this is the role of the historian. It is very unusual for a historian to play a part in the political and spiritual organization of society. Our role, whatever the type of history we do, may just be to provide examples of critical reflection. I mean, it is the historian’s job, as I see it, to show that things are always much more complicated than people think.”1

So how could we summarise that, as a motto? ‘To problematise and complicate?’ Surely only one short step away from “To patronize and annoy” already, isn’t it? And heaven forfend we should try teaching anyone anything… Suffice it to say, I don’t think we should be in the game of intellectual one-upmanship that this seems to suggest, and I hope that I’m not.

1. Daniel Roche, interview with Maria Lúcia Pallares-Burke, Paris May 1999, ed. Pallares-Burke as “Daniel Roche” in eadem, The New History: confessions and conversations (Cambridge 2005), pp. 106-128 at pp. 126-127.

3 responses to “There speaks someone who’s sure of his funding!

  1. I’m glad you clued me in on that co-authorship business.

  2. What a contrast to Patrick Geary’s Reuter lecture in 2006 where he did stress the need for historians to engage with society as public intellectuals in stressing some of the key facets of history: change, criticism, etc.

  3. Quite: I don’t think I’ve ever read anything so refusenik of a public face by a historian. Though at least, when I think of things like the History Channel, I can sort of see what he may have meant; there, I think most of us when it hits our field go, “but it was much more complicated than that!” The difference is, we try and explain that in simple terms because our mission is teaching and dissemination, right?

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