"When you think about it, from the moment the first bombs began falling on Afghanistan in October 2001 to the present, not a single U.S. military intervention has had anything like its intended effect. Each one has, in time, proven a disaster in its own special way, providing breeding grounds for extremism and producing yet another set of recruitment posters for yet another set of jihadist movements. Looked at in a clear-eyed way, this is what any American military intervention seems to offer such extremist outfits -- and ISIS knows it."
"S’approprier l’Histoire : Balados et réseaux de concepts"
"Students from the old system were prepared to take the values and history and literature they had discussed along with them into the world, and use them as a way to think about their experiences. Students from the new system are unworldly to the point of absurdity. As William Deresiewicz lamented in a memorable article in this publication, they probably know how to talk in foreign languages with highly educated colleagues around the world, but they can’t carry on a conversation with their plumber—much less take an informed position on national politics, or even on the university governance issues that shape their experience as students and will shape their lives if they become professors."
But the most direct and powerful way to grasp the value of historical thinking is through engagement with the archive—or its equivalent in an era when oral history and documentary photography can create new sources, and digital databases can make them available to anyone with a computer. The nature of archives varies as widely as the world itself. They can be collections of documents or data sets, maps or charts, books with marginal notes scrawled in them that let you look over the shoulders of dead readers, or a diary that lets you look over the shoulder of a dead midwife. What matters is that the student develops a question and then identifies the particular archive, the set of sources, where it can be answered.
When students do research, they learn to think through problems, weigh evidence, construct arguments, and then criticize those arguments and strip them down and make them better—and finally to write them up in cogent, forceful prose, using the evidence deftly and economically to make their arguments and push them home.
A good humanities education combines training in complex analysis with clear communication skills. Someone who becomes a historian becomes a scholar—not in the sense of choosing a profession, but in the broader meaning of developing the scholarly habits of mind that value evidence, logic, and reflection over ideology, emotion, and reflex. A student of history learns that empathy, rather than sympathy, stands at the heart of understanding not only the past but also the complex present.
"From the individual to the collective, history gives you the opportunity to intently study the human experience. ‘What did this person say? What were they actually trying to say? What did they really mean? Why?’ Such simple and nuanced questions transport the historian into a wild and unfamiliar land; a land where he has to navigate the conflicted, confused, and utterly different personalities of countless human beings. Sometimes the trip is lovely. At other times it’s terrifying or disgusting. All the time it’s enlightening.
It’s impossible to turn off a brain once it starts thinking historically. You’ll continually want to hear people’s stories, you’ll carefully examine the motivations and actions of others, you’ll become a good listener, and, if you practice history long enough, you’ll start to understand. Or at least understand that you don’t know it all. And this understanding can lead to humility, appreciation, patience, and, hopefully, to more wholesome relationships."