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In Which I Defend The Best Version of Postmodernism

May 23, 2017 at 9:51 pm

As a follow-up to the AskHistorians podcast episode the other day, Brian and I also had a discussion about postmodernism. Although I share some of his concerns, I wanted to take the opportunity to articulate a version of postmodernism that I think makes the most sense from a historical standpoint and defend that. We had the discussion immediately following our recording, so you’ll find I reference the podcast episode a few times. It’s (mostly) unedited, so there’s a few ums and pauses in there.  Anyway, an interesting discussion.

Monday Methods: A special episode of our podcast and a discussion post regarding: Post-modernism and history. How do we engage with it? Where do we go from here? What is the history of the future? from AskHistorians

Historical Theory, Methods, Theory and Historical Thinking Podcast

May 19, 2017 at 1:22 pm

A few weeks ago I recorded a podcast on historical methods, theory and historiography for the AskHistorians podcast. Thanks to the AH Podcast team for having me on. There’s so much more we could say about this topic. Who knows, maybe a follow up is coming down the road? The podcast came out today so check it out.

One Thing That People Get Wrong About History

April 27, 2017 at 9:00 am

Someone started a thread about common mistakes on AskHistorians. I think people fundamentally mistake history to be mainly about chronicling, when in fact the profession is much about about interpretation and analysis. Historians do gather information, there is no doubt about that. However, what they do after they have done that information gathering is a far more important part of the profession. Thoughts and discussion on /r/askhistorians.

Historical Thinking and Comparisons to the Present

April 26, 2017 at 12:08 am

This is a post from a few months back that I never crossposted here. Comparative History can be a powerful too, but it also have the ability to go awry if the comparison are made too loosely. My thoughts below the fold.

Facebook, Global Community, and Historical Theory

February 21, 2017 at 11:22 pm

Mark Zuckerberg’s recent manifesto about the future of Facebook has been making the rounds the last few days. If you fancy a longish read, they have it in its entirety over at Recode. Ezra Klein has one of the more interesting takes on the six thousand-word document, published on vox.com over the weekend. Klein is primarily interested in Zuckerberg’s account of human history as a trend towards larger and larger communities. To Zuckerberg, this means turning Facebook into a tool suitable for building a global community.

Better Historical Thinking Through Video Games

February 5, 2017 at 3:39 pm

Better Historical Thinking Through Video Games: Why Fallout 4 is a better historical game than Civilization VI


I have been meaning to write about Fallout 4’s “historical” narrative for a few months the now somewhat distant release of Civilization 6 gives me the perfect opportunity to talk about history in games.  The title is, I hope, at least slightly provocative, given that the Civilization series has numerous game mechanics that are explicitly meant to be abstractions of historical processes – technological advancement, changes in forms of government, the development and spread of religions. Meanwhile, the Fallout series is a mildly dystopian, post-nuclear, apocalyptic setting, set in an alternative future in which nuclear power permeated society and has very little explicitly historical content.  So, what gives?

What I’m Reading 1/16/2016 – MLK Day

January 16, 2017 at 10:25 am

Vox has an excellent article out today on Martin Luther King Jr. and his plans to help mount an extensive movement of and for poor people based around economic justice in America. Although this part of King’s worldview and these plans are well-known to scholars, it is largely unknown by the general public, who are usually taught only about his fight for racial equality and justice. I don’t think it is an accident that MLK’s interest in economic justice is underplayed and largely forgotten, but now is, perhaps more than ever, a good time to remember.

Read the article here.

What I’m Reading 1/6/2017 – There’s only one thing to be reading today

January 7, 2017 at 12:02 am

The Intelligence Community published their declassified report on Russian hacking today. Although much of the information had been released in bits and pieces before, this is the most comprehensive, official report on the DNC hacks and Russian propaganda mill attempts to influence the outcome of the U.S. election. There really can be no doubt about what happened, and it came from the top. You don’t need to rely on a news agency to tell you what it says,= because the document is public and available. You can download the pdf by clicking on the link below.

What I’m Reading 1/5/2017 – Longform journalism is not dead

January 5, 2017 at 9:19 am

I’ve recently come across two really excellent pieces of journalism that I haven’t seen talked about much in other places. The first was published at the tail end of 2016 by CNN and is about Donald Trump, “Trumpism,” and mythology of The Lost Cause. The second is an incredibly in depth and well-sourced investigative piece into Trump’s business connections in Russia over at The American Interest that concludes Trump has a lot of pretty shady business partners around the world (which really shouldn’t be surprising). You might not have time to peruse both of these immediately, but bookmark them and come back when you have a few minutes.

How Trump’s Victory Turns Into Another Lost Cause – This one has video and text. The video is about four minutes long. This one is interesting to me as a historian, because it really explores the way we remember the past and how that influences the way we see the present.

The Curious World of Donald Trump’s Private Russian Connections

What I’m Reading 12/25/2016 – Christmas Edition

December 26, 2016 at 12:19 am

A letter to historians of the future — the 2016 election really was dominated by a controversy over emails – Matthew Yglesias has an interesting article over on Vox today. While addressed to historians of the future as an ostensible plea that they realize what this election was really about, the article is meant to remind all of us that the election really was about a bunch of emails. Still, forget emails for a moment. Here’s one really important point:

And if something big and awful does happen, I know from my own reading of history that the scholars of the future will be sorely tempted to look for causes that are big in proportion to the consequences.

Let’s ignore Ygelsias’s subtle jab at historians (hey now!) and focus on what he’s actually saying. I read this as a reminder of historical contingency. That is to say, history does not necessarily happen according to some obvious pattern, set of rules, or even intuitive logic. Causes are not necessarily the same “size” as effects. In other words, good historians have to be open to the evidence before them and should avoid trying to fit the evidence into a particular narrative they have in mind. The narrative has to emerge from the evidence.

Luckily, I think Yglesias is wrong about future historians. I think they’ll be just fine.