Friday, May 9, 2014

Does "Why Study History?" Make You Blush?

This review comes from Graeme Hunter, a philosophy professor at the University of Ottawa. (What's the deal with all of these theologians and philosophers reviewing the book!).  It was published in the May 2014 issue of Touchstone.   While he praises my early chapters, he thinks my final chapters are not only "comical," but they make him "blush."  This is a very entertaining review.

The review is not available online, but here are a few excerpts:

The first three chapters provide a lively introduction to the discipline of history and some of the different ways in which historians practice it.  The middle two chapters lucidly present the contributions of Christian historians.  The three closing chapters are a dithyramb on the edifying character of the study of history.

Confession:  I had to look up the word "dithyramb"

The first five chapters introduce the discipline.  They would be enough in themselves to intrigue a series student.  The last three are a stirring call to arms.  An attentive reader will wonder, however, whether the serious, critical discipline to which has just been introducted can also be the tool for social and personal benefit described in the book's closing pages...

Now if history so easily become propaganda, how can it be a serious discipline?  Chapter 3, called "History is a Foreign Country," gives an excellent answer..."

Note:  Actually the chapter is entitled "The Past is a Foreign Country."

And finally:

The concluding chapters, as already mentioned, are heartfelt propaganda for the discipline, certain to interest both those contemplating going into history and their parents.  Careful readers, however, will be surprised at how the historical lion we meet in the early chapters, which resists all efforts to tame it, becomes the docile lamb of the closing pages.  Fea's valedictory words lavish too much praise on his discipline, but there is always a grain of truth in what he says.  In chapter 5, for example, he argues that history gives us our best shot at resolving the "culture wars."  That's a big claim.  The kernel of truth of which it is an exaggeration is Fea's fine insight that "our failing to bring reconciliation and healing to our divided culture is, at its core, a failure of liberal learning."

Some of the sweet-talk with which he closes I blush to mention.  History is said to be "public engagement," "spiritual discipline," and even "love."  Of course these are terms of endearment spoken by a lover of history to his beloved.  They, too, contain an element of truth, but like most pillow talk, they ring false or comical in the public ear.  The closing pages may recruit some students for the study of history, but not, I think, the kind historians should want.